Raw drinking milk and raw cream control requirements in the different countries of the UK

Details of current controls for raw drinking milk and raw cream.

Consumption

Relatively few people buy and drink raw drinking milk (RDM), regardless the advice that ‘unpasteurised’ or ‘raw’ milk may contain harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning.

The number of registered raw cows' drinking milk producers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has fallen from around 570 in 1997 to around 100 in 2016. Raw cows' drinking milk represents only a very small fraction of total milk consumption, estimated to be of the order of 0.01% of cows' milk consumption. There is also limited consumption of RDM from other species (goats, sheep, and buffalo).

Historical development of the legislation

In respect of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Government has assessed the public health risks and proposed a ban on the sale of raw cows' drinking milk three times since 1984, most recently in 1997. Each time, the Government decided not to give effect to its proposal in the face of consumer opposition. Producers also resisted a ban. On each occasion additional measures to protect consumers were introduced.

The Scottish ban on sales of raw cows' milk and cream was introduced in 1983 following a number of milk-related illnesses and 12 potentially associated deaths. The introduction of the ban resulted in a marked decline in milk-related illness, which has been maintained in subsequent years. In 1995, the Scottish policy was reviewed and, following stakeholder consultation and scientific and medical advice, the ban was retained. The ban includes sheep, goats, buffalo and any other species farmed for its milk.

The 2014 review of the controls

FSA Board agreement on current controls

In 2012, the FSA Board agreed to review current controls and possible approaches to managing the risks associated with raw milk and cream, including consultation with consumers and other stakeholders. Options ranging from a requirement to pasteurise all milk prior to sale, through to removal of all sales restrictions were set out in a draft impact assessment issued for consultation on 30 January 2014. Following the consultation, options were reviewed in light of the stakeholder responses and evidence obtained from wider engagement activity which included a stakeholder event held on 31 March 2014. The review considered controls in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In July 2015, following consideration of the outcome of the review, the Board concluded that the levels of risk associated with consumption of RDM are generally acceptable where appropriate hygiene controls are applied. However, with regard to vulnerable groups, the risk is heightened. Communication of risks to these groups should be improved, including adoption of point of sale labelling in England and Northern Ireland that mirrors that already in use in Wales.

The Board also agreed that current restrictions on sale should remain in place as, in the absence of a quantitative risk assessment and limitations in the evidence base, there is uncertainty that the same level of consumer protection could be maintained if the current restrictions were relaxed to allow wider access to RDM.

The current controls in place aim to balance consumer choice, alongside public health protection and wider consumer interests.

National controls and EFSA opinion

Controls for RDM are provided in EU and domestic legislation. There are no specific controls for RDM in EU legislation but this provides for member states to establish national controls for the RDM than may restrict or prohibit sales to the national market. EU member state interest in establishing appropriate controls for RDM has resulted in an EFSA opinion review published in December 2014 which considered the main microbiological risks that may occur from RDM from different species, assessed the public health risk arising from new sales routes; identified and ranked potential control options to reduce public health risks from consumption of RDM. 

EFSA requested information to support this review and the FSA submitted the evidence supporting the consultation documents. EFSA recommendations provided information on available controls and their effectiveness rather than specific recommendations for member state action due to the different risk profiles that occur at a national level.

You can find the EFSA opinion via the link on this page.

Current controls: England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Controls for RDM are provided in EU and domestic legislation.

1. The current controls on the sale of raw cows' drinking milk in hygiene regulations are:

a) the milk may only be sold direct to consumers by registered milk production holdings (at the farm gate or in a farmhouse catering operation), at farmers’ markets (by the farmer) or by a distributor from a vehicle used as a shop premises (i.e. milk rounds). Sales through other outlets have been banned since 1985.

b) the supplying animals must be from animals that are healthy, and a herd that is brucellosis and tuberculosis free.

c) the production holding, milking premises and dairy, must comply with hygiene rules.

d) the milk must bear the appropriate health warning.

e) compliance with the food safety and hygiene requirements is monitored through twice-yearly inspections.

f) the milk is sampled and tested quarterly by Dairy Hygiene Inspectors to monitor compliance with microbiological standards.

2. The sale of raw drinking milk from sheep, goats or buffaloes:

a) is not subject to the restrictions at 1a) above.

b) RDM from buffaloes has to comply with the herd status requirement at 1b) above.

c) RDM from sheep and goats must come from animals that are healthy and belonging to a production holding that is brucellosis free.

d) RDM must comply with dairy hygiene rules and microbiological standards;

e) In England, raw drinking milk from sheep and goats, but not buffaloes, has to carry the health warning. In Wales, raw milk from all three species has to carry the appropriate health warning.

f) compliance with these requirements is monitored at inspections programmed on a risk basis.

3. The sale of raw cream:

a) is not subject to the restrictions at 1a) and d) above;

b) must comply with all the requirements that apply to milk products under dairy hygiene rules and microbiological standards;

c) must be made with milk meeting the herd status criteria described in paragraphs 1b) and 2b) and c) above;

d) raw cream is not required to carry the health warning but the words ‘made with raw milk’ must be displayed on the product.

e) compliance with these requirements is monitored through risk-based inspections.

Current controls: Scotland

Sales of RDM (all species) are prohibited in Scotland.

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