Is raw milk giving you a raw deal?

There is pressure within New Zealand and internationally to relax the regulations restricting the sale of raw milk.

There is pressure within New Zealand and internationally to relax the regulations restricting the sale of raw milk.

New Zealand’s economy is built on the success of its food and agricultural industry. Food safety is therefore critical for its success.

By Professor Steve Flint, School of Food and Nutrition, Massey University

Pasteurisation is mandatory in New Zealand for all milk products manufactured for export and most milk products manufactured and sold in New Zealand. Internationally, pasteurisation has been recognised, since the 19th century, for eliminating the food safety risks traditionally associated with raw milk.  Numerous surveys of raw milk show the traditional pathogens are still present. The microbial pathogens found in milk include Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia coli O157:H7. The need for pasteurisation has not changed.

There is pressure within New Zealand and internationally to relax the regulations restricting the sale of raw milk. The Ministry for Primary Industries have asked for submissions on this topic on more than one occasion.  The number of submissions favouring relaxing the regulations on the sale of raw milk and raw milk products outweighs the number of submissions against, largely due to pressure groups that do not understand the risks involved in consuming raw milk.

On a regular basis the web sites reporting food safety issues report foodborne illness relating to raw milk. On 25th March the Bafblog web site reported six northern Californian residents diagnosed with campylobacteriosis believed to have come from raw milk. In Australia, a three year old boy died last year from food poisoning associated with the consumption of unpasteurised milk. There are many more examples highlighting the danger of raw milk consumption.

Food safety is based on risk management and this applies to milk as much as to any other product. The following are key points relating to this issue:

  1. Risk management favours elimination of risk if possible. Pasteurisation of milk eliminates the risk associated with the consumption of raw milk and raw milk products.
  2. International trends in food manufacture are moving towards eliminating risk – some examples being the proliferation of retorted products on the market and the approval of the use of irradiation in the US for treating salads, meats and other products to ensure safety.
  3. Minimising, rather than eliminating risk for raw milk requires complex guidelines for the producers to adhere to and assumes that consumers appreciate the risks in drinking a raw milk product. The end result is a greater risk to the consumer through some slip-up in the complex guidelines not being followed or consumer ignorance.
  4. The demographic changes (age and illnesses that compromise the immune system such as AIDS and cancer) are increasing the proportion of individuals susceptible to food poisoning and hence at risk from consuming raw milk.
  5. There are no nutrients in raw milk that are not found in pasteurised milk and that are deficient in the New Zealand diet.
  6. Any proposed change to legislation puts an unnecessary burden on the consumer to make the right choice from a food safety perspective.

There is an abundance of literature supporting the benefits of pasteurisation and recording outbreaks of illness relating to un-pasteurised dairy products.

Rather than me spell them out in detail, I believe the following web site, with information from reputable international scientists, will carry more weight than I can provide and I urge those interested in this topic to read this.

There is good reason for New Zealand to take a stand on this issue, based on the precious nature of our dairy industry, our reputation as a food producer, as well as concern for the welfare of our own people.