: Raw milk raid at Willunga Hill: Enforcing food safety

Raw milk raid at Willunga Hill: Enforcing food safety

Paul Marks
South Australia
The battle between consumer choice and public health reared its head again when officers of Biosecurity SA and the Dairy Authority of South Australia raided Mark Tyler’s Willunga Hill dairy during May this year. Biosecurity SA’s concern is public health and the enforcement of food safety policy. They want Tyler to register his dairy operation. Tyler, however, claims the policy does not apply to his operation because he is not a milk producer. Instead, he simply looks after a small herd of dairy cows for other people.

Tyler setup ‘My Cow’, a cow-share program, about six years ago. Applicants purchase a one per cent share of a cow for $27.50. Shareholders then pay a small monthly boarding fee. Each share yields 6.5 litres of raw, unprocessed milk monthly. Shareholders may either collect the milk from the dairy or, if they pay a delivery fee, from one of a number of suburban Adelaide collection points.

A raft of Legislation, Regulation, Standards and Codes of Practice apply to milk production. Accreditation by the Dairy Authority is required to produce, transport or process milk. The sale of raw drinking milk is not permitted. A recent Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (‘FSANZ’) review of restrictions on the production and processing of raw milk decided ‘the risks associated with raw drinking milk cannot be reduced sufficiently and such products present a medium to high level of public health and safety risk’.

Some people claim raw milk is better than pasteurised milk and assert their right to decide what milk they consume. Tyler claims his operation is a legitimate means for shareholders to acquire raw milk. After all, farmers and other cow owners are permitted to consume the milk their cows produce.

Biosecurity SA insists that Tyler’s cow sharing arrangements are a ‘breach of the Act that covers raw milk’ while Tyler says, ‘We have fully complied with the legislation and relevant compliance order…We have a contractual agreement with shareholders and an obligation [to continue to supply milk].’ It seems, ultimately, the courts will determine the question. In the meantime, shareholders are happy because they continue to receive their supply of raw milk.

A Queensland farmer produces and sells raw milk as Cleopatra’s Organic Unpasteurised and Unhomogenised Raw Jersey Milk, a beauty product. The product is clearly labelled advising consumers it is not fit for human consumption. Tyler’s operation also provides shareholders raw milk. Since the raw milk raid, the label on Tyler’s milk reads: ‘WARNING, RAW COW’S MILK, The Government of South Australia consider that this milk is NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION. They say all cow’s milk should be pasteurised before consumption’.

Raw milk sales for human consumption are permitted in many countries, including New Zealand. Producers must meet high standards to gain accreditation. Consumers acknowledge potential risks and agree not to share the milk outside of their immediate family.

FSANZ are conducting another inquiry into the processing and consumption of raw milk products. The call for submissions is open. Arguments in favour of consumer choice are strong. Indeed the European Union’s response to the continued prohibition of raw milk sales in Australia was scathing pointing out it denied citizens choice without fully investigating regulatory schemes to account for the safe production and sale of raw drinking milk.

Public health and safety are paramount but adopting the practices of countries that allow raw milk sales could benefit all parties. If raw milk sales are allowed, Tyler’s operation would be subject to formal monitoring to ensure it meets high public health standards. That sounds better than the current situation. In the meantime, raw milk consumers continue drinking ‘bath’ milk.

PAUL MARKS is a lecturer in the Flinders Law School.

(2013) 38(3) AltLJ 196
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