Food Law News - UK - 2002

FSA Wales Letter, 24 January 2002

MILK - Sale of Unpasteurised Drinking Milk and Cream in Wales

The FSA letter seeks views on options to regulate sales of unpasteurised (raw) drinking milk and cream in Wales. A detailed discussion of the issues relating to the consumption of raw milk can be found on the FSA web site, but in essence, three possible options are under consideration:

These options relate to drinking milk, not to unpasteurised milk or cream supplied to food producers, such as cheesemakers.

Raw milk has long been recognised as being of potentially high risk to public health, as it cannot be guaranteed to be free of pathogens (illness-causing bacteria) even when produced under the best possible hygienic conditions. The sale of raw cows' drinking milk has been banned in Scotland since 1983, and there have been restrictions on such sales in England and Wales since 1985. In September 1997 the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food advised that the sale of raw cows' drinking milk should be banned in England and Wales.

In November 1997, the Government consulted on a proposal to ban the sale of raw cows' drinking milk in England and Wales. Nearly 500 responses were received in Wales, and over 5,000 in England, objecting to the ban. In Wales, only 2 responses supported the ban. Previous consultations on the subject, in 1984 and 1989, had produced similar responses.

Having considered the responses, the Minister of Agriculture for England and the Welsh Secretary of State made a joint announcement in January 1999 that sales of raw milk would not be stopped. Instead, consumers would retain the freedom to choose, but public health protection would be enhanced by more frequent inspection of raw milk producers, more testing of raw milk including for the presence of pathogens, and stricter labelling requirements.

Why we are consulting again

Inspection of raw milk producers and microbiological testing of raw milk is now more frequent. However, stricter labelling requirements have not yet been implemented in Wales or in England. Since the joint announcement was made in January 1999, the National Assembly for Wales has taken responsibility for food safety and consumer issues in Wales, and the Food Standards Agency has been established. The Food Standards Agency's Advisory Committee for Wales (ACW) considered again the issue of raw drinking milk at an open meeting in December 2000, and concluded that the sale of such milk should be banned on public health grounds. Their conclusion was reported to the chairman of the Food Standards Agency. As a result, the Assembly Minister for Health and Social Services, who has responsibility for food safety issues in Wales, has agreed that this further round of public consultation take place in Wales, to determine whether stakeholder opinion has altered since previous consultations. The Assembly, advised by the Food Standards Agency, can then fully consider the issues and decide on the best way forward for Wales.

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