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 cows' milk, and in England and Wales they choose to do so regardless of the clear health warning about the risks associated with consumption (a label on the container or a notice displayed at a farm catering establishment stating 'This milk has not been heat treated and may therefore contain organisms harmful to health'). There is also thought to be some, limited, consumption of raw milk from other species (goats, sheep, and buffalo).

The number of registered raw cows' drinking milk producers in England and Wales has fallen from around 570 in 1997 to 102 in 2009. 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 are no known sales in Northern Ireland, and sales in Scotland have been banned since 1983.

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. Examples of such measures include effectively restricting sales of raw cows' drinking milk to the farm gate, introducing health warning labelling and increasing the frequency of inspection and microbiological sample testing of raw cows' drinking milk at registered production holdings.

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, when new European legislation on dairy hygiene was implemented, Scottish policy was reviewed and, following stakeholder consultation and scientific and medical advice, the ban was retained. In 1998, Scottish Ministers decided, again informed by consultation, on a further extension of the ban to raw drinking milk from sheep, goats and buffaloes. For various reasons, including uncertainty about the legal basis underpinning such action, legislation giving effect to this decision was not made.

Present situation

Under the new consolidated EU hygiene rules, which took effect from on 1 January 2006, member states were able to introduce or maintain national rules prohibiting or restricting the placing on the market, within its territory, of raw milk or raw cream intended for direct human consumption. This has removed any uncertainty about the legal basis for national controls in this area.

In the period since Devolution, there has been further policy consideration in relation to controls in Scotland and Wales.

In 2004, Scottish ministers reconfirmed their wish to maintain and extend the ban so that all raw drinking milk and raw cream sales in Scotland would be prohibited. This was introduced by regulation 32 and Schedule 6 of the Food Hygiene (Scotland) Regulations 2005 N0.505 which was later revoked and amended by the Food Hygiene (Scotland) Regulations 2006 N0.3 which came into force on 11 January 2006 and state that : ‘No person shall place on the market raw milk, or raw cream, intended for direct human consumption’. This extends the ban to include sheep, goats, buffalo and any other species farmed for its milk.

In 2000, the Wales Food Advisory Committee (WFAC), concerned that public health evidence supported a ban on raw drinking milk, called for a review of policy options in Wales. Informed by the outcome of a stakeholder consultation, which strongly supported the right of consumers to choose whether or not to consume raw milk or cream, WFAC subsequently concluded that a ban would not be altogether appropriate, given the balance of interest between consumer choice and public health protection. The Welsh Assembly Government then accepted the Agency's advice that the sale of raw drinking milk should be allowed to continue, and agreed to the introduction of an enhanced labelling requirement applying to all raw drinking milk.

This enhanced labelling requirement was given statutory force by the Food Hygiene (Wales) Regulations 2006 which implemented the new EU hygiene regulations and amended the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 in respect of Wales. The regulations, which came into force from 11 January 2006, require, in addition to the existing health warning, the following advice: “The Food Standards Agency strongly advises that it should not be consumed by children, pregnant women, older people or those who are unwell or have chronic illness.” The enhanced labelling requirement in Wales applies to raw milk from cows, sheep, goats and buffaloes.

Policy in respect of England was revisited internally in the Agency in 2002. It was noted that when raw cows' drinking milk policy had last been reviewed in England between 1997 and 1999, the balance of stakeholder opinion had been strongly in favour of the right to informed choice. There was, and still is, no reason to believe this had altered. It was further noted that relatively few people drink raw milk, and that those who do, do so regardless of the existing health warning, which is already clear. Little, if anything, was therefore likely to be gained by requiring the warnings on labels to be increased. Against that background, and taking account of the pattern of raw milk consumption, it was considered that the most balanced approach would be to maintain the existing regulatory requirements, but to revise the Agency's website material. The website now makes the risks associated with consuming raw milk, particularly by vulnerable groups, clear. It also advises that, despite being popular with some people, unpasteurised milk and cream could be harmful.

Current controls: England and Wales

1. The current controls on the sale of raw cows' drinking milk in hygiene and food labelling 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) or through milk roundsmen. Sales through other outlets have been banned since 1985 (although sales by the farmer at farmers markets are allowed);

b) the supplying animals must be from a herd that is officially tuberculosis free, and either brucellosis free or officially brucellosis 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 a) to d) above is monitored by inspections twice a year; and

f) the milk is sampled and tested quarterly under the control of the Agency to monitor compliance with standards for total bacterial count and coliforms.

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

a) is not subject to the restriction at 1a) above;

b) raw drinking milk from buffaloes has to comply with the herd status requirement at 1b) above;

c) raw drinking milk from sheep and goats must come from animals belonging to a production holding that is either officially brucellosis free or brucellosis free;

d) raw drinking milk from these 3 species 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; and

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 based 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; and

e) compliance with these requirements is, again, monitored at inspections programmed on risk.

Current controls: Scotland

Sales of raw cows' drinking milk and raw cows' cream have been banned in Scotland since 1983. In 2004, Scottish ministers reconfirmed their wish to maintain and extend the ban so that all drinking milk and cream sales in Scotland would be prohibited.

Current controls: Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has controls similar to those in England and Wales, but there are no known sales in Northern Ireland.

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