Raw Milk consumption in the UK

Raw milk consumption in the UK has increased a lot and more farmers are stepping into a new business.

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The Food Standards Agency released a Consumer Insight Report 2018 after a survey last year. Three quarters of those surveyed had only begun drinking raw milk produced for human consumption in the past year. In addition most said they drink it because they believed in the health benefits. Figure 12 of the consumer survey finding showed most of the participants believed it is higher in nutritional content that conventional milk. 

There has been a 5-fold increase in the volume of raw drinking milk (RDM) production in the UK from around 610,000 litres in 2012 to 3.2 million litres in 2017. There are now 180 registered raw drinking milk producers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland compared to 114 two years ago. In January 2018, 139 producers were registered to produce raw milk from cows, 27 from goats, 3 from sheep and 2 from buffalo.  

According to this Irish article: "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 same article said that a spokesperson for the FSA said: "the current controls were introduced to provide a balance between public health protection and consumer choice." 


Raw milk trends

Raw milk is currently available in the UK at the farm gate, from the raw milk vending machine at the farm gate, in a farmhouse catering operation, at farmers markets and it can also be sent direct from farmer to consumer with a courier service. This system is currently working very well. Figure 20 and 10 in the report shows what ARMM already knows. Farmers markets are a very important channel for farmers and consumers to connect with each other directly, without a middleman. Figure 20 also shows that the anti-raw milk camp took part in the survey as well, which may have influenced certain areas like figure 18 and a larger preference for government protection. It is still a very interesting report for those who are interested in raw milk trends. Figure 11 shows that many RDM consumers buy or drink it on a regular basis with almost one third (32%) daily. Figure 7 shows that most of the respondents heard about RDM on the television.

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This may indicate why Australia's assertive media censorship of raw milk is so effective. It seems like the media already understand what the consequences may be if someone breathes a word about the subject in the news. Raw milk supporters have talked to many groups and individuals who have expressed their support, but also their reluctance to do it publicly. Some have professed that they will publicly support it, when others publicly support it. We know that regulated raw milk has a small army of supporters in Australia.

Some multinational food processing corporations based in Australia own both milk and nut mylk processing companies and it is clear why they do not want RDM as competition. Perhaps they influence the Australian media to keep a censorship on RDM. Corporations are often corporate sponsors of the media. At a recent raw milk producers meeting in the UK it was discussed that conventional dairies want raw milk in the UK banned because it is impacting their sales. They are apparently saying that raw milk is a risk to human health in order to get it banned, hoping that they won't loose more sales to what they see as the competition. A recent Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defence Fund article calls the highlighting of the dangers of raw milk, while minimising the dangers present in pasteurised dairy selective science saying: "the alleged safety threats are routinely cited by opponents of raw milk."


Risk Assessment of raw milk

The Food Standards agency is now launching a risk assessment into the safety of unpasteurised milk. Raw milk consumption in the UK has increased a lot, however a recent Telegraph article said that 'concerns had been raised over the growing popularity of raw milk' but it didn't say who was having a problem with it. A recent document showed that the FSA is finalising legislation that brings in new compulsory labelling that mirrors the labelling requirement already used in Wales, see point 16, 17 and 18. Farmers are very unhappy with the FSA's proposed new labelling. A Farmers Guardian article said that it makes it sound like farmers were selling a 'toxic' product. Currently the labelling in England and Northern Ireland is required to include the following health warning:

This milk has not been heat-treated and may therefore contain organisms harmful to health.

The proposed amendment will require the addition of the following:

The FSA strongly advises that it should not be consumed by children, pregnant women, older people and those who are unwell or have chronic illness.

Another organisation recently said that the solution is not labelling. "The solution is RAWMI training, which includes the development of on-farm food safety (OFFS) plans and milk testing." Having studied the Raw Milk Institute's Risk Assessment Management Plan closely, it is pretty clear that this approach is valuable, sensible and essential. It shows farmers how to identify real risk on the individual farm and then shows how the risks can be managed or mitigated.

Strangely Northern Ireland is the only one of the three who is currently required to have a HACCP-based safety management plan. Point 9 in this document shows the major differences between the requirements in England and Wales compared to Northern Ireland. Introducing a requirement for a food safety plan/risk assessment on the individual farm can be beneficial but... let us hope that FSA can set it up in a fair way, without introducing unnecessary limitations or unreasonable high compliance costs on producers. It is possible to be both fair to consumers, farmers and the raw milk movement, and create a safer, better system with effective quality controls.

According to a report New Zealand is another country that may soon be reviewing their systems. According to the information in the raw milk section of this article there was criticism of New Zealand's raw milk system recently as well. It seems that both England, Wales and New Zealand may benefit from installing a food safety plan with emphasis on risk assessment, instead of forcing a myriad of other less important compliance on farmers.

It will be productive to consult with Mark McAfee and the team at the Raw Milk Institute. The combined experience and knowledge will be extremely beneficial. The experience may focus on identifying and managing the prominent issues and also the weeding out of the insignificant ones. Create safer, more effective and fair systems.

Read the follow-up article here: The Raw Milk movement is on the move.