Ireland may once again halt the sale of raw milk for human consumption over the objections of raw milk producers and advocates who say a ban would not only deny consumers free choice, but would also be a missed business opportunity.
According to a story Wednesday in the Irish Times, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney says the ban on sales of unpasteurized milk will resume “as soon as possible.”
Ireland barred the sale of raw cows’ milk from 1997 to 2006, and most local authorities prohibited it before that, but the ban lapsed in 2006 due to a change in European Union policy.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland now says public health protections must come before consumer choice, citing risks of raw milk consumption that include TB, brucellosis, E.coli O157, Campylobacter and Salmonella.
In opposing the ban, the Campaign for Raw Milk has put forth economic arguments — raw milk commands a premium price and benefits dairies — and has also argued that raw milk production should be regulated, not prohibited.
The group wrote in a recent letter to Ireland’s public health officials that “we would welcome and encourage specific regulations surrounding the production and sale of raw milk in order to minimise and manage potential risks. As with any other food, proper regulations are always necessary and correct. In fact, it is by no means desirable that every dairy farm in Ireland be permitted to sell raw milk.”
Coveney rejects that suggestion, saying that regulating raw milk production would be both cumbersome and costly, and would still not eliminate health risks.
Ireland’s proposed ban would not apply to raw milk used to make cheese.
Scotland has banned the sale of raw cows’ milk and cream since 1984, when unpasteurized milk was implicated in 12 deaths and a number of illnesses. Milk-related infections have dropped in Scotland since then.
In Wales, unpasteurized milk is restricted to farm gate sales and must carry a warning label, which states that the Food Standards Agency “strongly advises” that raw milk should not be consumed by children, pregnant women, older people or those who are unwell or have chronic illness.
Raw milk policy in England was most recently revisited in 2002, when food safety officials concluded that relatively few people drink raw milk, and that those who do don’t heed health warnings about it.
Rather than increase the warnings on labels, the regulatory agency opted instead to revise its website to make clear the risks associated with consuming raw milk, particularly by vulnerable groups. It also advises that, despite being popular with some people, unpasteurized milk and cream can be harmful.