Farm Ireland

Friday 18 January 2019

'Health fears' for consumers as sales of raw milk continue to rise

Nicola Harley

Concerns have been raised over the growing popularity of raw milk, as consumers are lured to the unpasteurised drink by claims of health benefits.

It comes as a rise in farm vending machines is making it easier to buy.

There are now 180 registered raw cows' drinking milk producers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland compared to just 114 two years ago.

Due to the increase the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched a risk assessment into the safety of unpasteurised milk due to health fears.

A recent report by the FSA into people drinking raw milk, revealed that three quarters of those surveyed had only begun drinking it in the last year.

Its rise has been attributed to the belief it contains higher nutrients and has been advocated by dietitians, including wellbeing author Liz Earle, who lives on an organic farm in Wiltshire.

Louise and Jeremy Holmes, who installed a raw milk vending machine on Delph House Farm, in Denby Dale, West Yorkshire, two years ago, say it is popular with diet enthusiasts.

"Raw milk is sought after by clean eating Paleo diet enthusiasts, fitness enthusiasts and people wishing to make real butter ghee, along with those of us who remember and want to enjoy good old green top milk," they said.

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"We want to give our local community the opportunity to buy their milk from the cows they see grazing on their doorstep, as fresh as it can be."

Farmers have turned to selling milk themselves due to the decline in milk prices.

The UK's National Farmers Union said the public could be confident there were stringent safety measures in place.

"With huge fluctuations in the price paid to dairy farmers for milk (from an average of 33p/L in 2013 to 19p/L in 2016 and now up to 28ppl) it’s not surprising that many farmers have taken the decision to market and sell milk themselves, direct from farm, " a spokesperson said.

"This coupled to an increase in the interest for natural, raw, local food from consumers has led to an rise in demand for raw milk. There are many of ways of selling raw milk – in your own farm shop, direct from farm, in vending machines on farm or in local farmers’ markets. What’s vital is that consumers know the potential risks of consuming raw milk, and that’s why there are strict guidelines on both the sale and labelling of the product.

"Consumers can be confident that UK dairy farmers produce milk to the highest environmental, animal welfare and milk quality standards; and are inspected independently on these under the Red Tractor scheme."

10pc of UK population drinking raw milk

The proportion of the population currently consuming raw milk has increased from 3pc of the population in 2012, to 10pc of the population in 2018.

The milk may only be sold direct to consumers by registered milk production holdings at the farm gate, in a farmhouse catering operation, a farmers market or by a distributor.

To make it easier to access, farmers producing it have installed vending machines.

A recent FCA report revealed: "Those that are consuming it are relatively new consumers of RDM. They are consuming more regularly and they report an increase in their consumption levels over the last 12 months.

"Consumption appears to be driven by a belief that RDM has a higher nutritional value to conventional milks and although there is some awareness of the potential health/safety risks, these seem to be outweighed by the perceived nutritional benefits for those who are choosing to consume RDM."

Last September the FSA agreed to look into raw milk suppliers due to an increase in illnesses surrounding it.

The new assessment, which was launched this month, is due to report back in June with recommendations for changes to the controls governing raw milk production and sale.

A spokesperson for the FSA said: "The current controls were introduced to provide a balance between public health protection and consumer choice.

"A risk assessment is currently being carried out to determine whether the risk associated with consumption of raw drinking milk (and certain unpasteurised products made using raw milk) made in the UK has changed since this issue was last considered by the FSA Board in 2015."

The sale of raw milk is presently banned in Scotland.

It can cause life threatening illnesses such as Campylobacter, shigatoxin-producing E.coli, Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.

"Raw milk vending machines carry the same risk as farm gate sales. It has not been pasteurised and may therefore contain microorganisms that can be harmful to health," the FSA added.

"As such we advise that pregnant women, children, the elderly and those who are unwell or have chronic illness, who are particularly susceptible to disease do not to consume raw milk."

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