FSA Wales Press Release, 20 February 2003
Welsh Assembly Government Health and Social Services Minister Jane Hutt has decided that a voluntary change to unpasteurised or 'raw' milk labelling in Wales is to be introduced following a Food Standards Agency Wales consultation.
Sales of raw drinking milk and cream in Wales will be allowed to continue, but the Agency will liaise with producers to encourage them to change the labelling on their product to give a stronger warning of the potential risks to health associated with raw milk consumption.
This decision follows a review in Wales of controls on the sale of raw drinking milk and raw cream undertaken by the Food Standards Agency Wales.
The review followed a recommendation from the Agency's Advisory Committee for Wales (ACW) that sales of these products should be banned because of the risks to health.
The vast majority of milk and cream consumed in Wales is pasteurised. Pasteurisation involves heat-treating the milk in order to destroy any micro-organisms that may be present.
These can include E.coli O157 and salmonella. Unpasteurised milk has therefore long been recognised as potentially being of high risk to public health, particularly vulnerable groups such as the young, the sick, the elderly and pregnant women.
As part of the review, Food Standards Agency Wales undertook a consultation exercise with industry and consumers.
The views of consumers, the food industry, public health organisations and enforcers were sought on whether sales of unpasteurised milk and cream should continue as they are, continue with better labelling, or whether the products should be banned altogether on health grounds.
The results of the consultation showed that the very small minority of consumers who currently drink unpasteurised milk and cream believed very strongly in their right to do so.
This was a view shared by many people who did not actually consume raw milk themselves, but believed that those consumers who did should retain their right to choose.
Although the ACW considered that the evidence of the risk to health was enough to support a ban, it concluded from the responses to the consultation that sales of raw drinking milk and cream should be allowed to continue in Wales.
But ACW Chair Ann Hemingway advised the Minister that the Committee's view was that raw milk and cream packaging should carry more specific warning advice, stating that the products should be avoided by the most vulnerable groups.
The ACW considered that this recommendation struck the most appropriate balance by helping the consumer to make an informed choice about consuming raw milk or cream.
In her response, the Minister agreed that a change towards labelling containing more stringent warning is justified, but accepted the advice of FSA Wales that the feasibility of a voluntary change should be explored, before legislative change is considered. If this proves feasible and can be complied with by producers, the improvement could be in place before the end of 2003.
The Food Standards Agency Wales will be contacting producers to gauge their reaction to a voluntary change to labelling, and will be exploring the way forward.