A group of dairy farmers who produce and sell raw milk in the United Kingdom has created an association ahead of potential tighter legislation on the product.

The Raw Milk Producers Association (RMPA) is being launched on March 4, 2019, and any raw milk producer in the U.K. can join the group with membership costing £100 ($132) per year.

RMPA said it is the first such association in any country to work in partnership with the government. While there have been raw milk producer groups formed around the world most have been without the approval of their country’s governing body or in active opposition to them.

Licensed farm-gate sales of raw milk are legal but there is little official guidance or support for producers in terms of production standards, hygiene or microbiological testing, according to the group.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is currently consulting on enhanced controls on the production of raw milk in England and Wales with the comment period open until the end of April. Sales of raw milk and cream are banned in Scotland.

RMPA officials said the FSA plans led producers to feel it was the right time to collaborate together, and with the agency, to ensure new controls are “proportionate and supportive”.

Jonny Crickmore, RMPA chair, said it was keen to maintain a strong relationship with the FSA.

“The organization strongly believes it is mutually educational and beneficial that raw milk producers, consumers, and the government work together to bring better support and regulation to producers.”

The RMPA is offering three training days across the U.K. in the North of England on 29 April, the Midlands on 1 May and South of England on 3 May. The events will bring producers up to date with the government’s upcoming changes to raw milk legislation and include training in raw milk production best practice as well as providing networking opportunities.

Since the start of 2015 until end of 2017, five outbreaks linked to raw milk were reported in the U.K. In these incidents, there were 103 reported cases, of which 40 were laboratory confirmed and four were hospitalized. Main hazards were Campylobacter, Shiga Toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157 and Salmonella.

Due to a rise in outbreaks associated with raw/unpasteurized drinking milk (RDM) and an increase in producers and sales a paper on enhanced controls was presented at an FSA Board meeting in June 2018. Planned changes will provide greater consistency to controls already in place in Northern Ireland. Current requirements have been in place since 2012.

As of January 2019, there were 161 RDM producers in England and Wales. Raw drinking milk may come from cows, sheep, goats or buffaloes. It must carry the warning: ‘This milk has not been heat-treated and may, therefore, contain organisms harmful to health’.

While a ban seems unlikely, improvements will be required to ensure more robust controls and for food businesses to provide assurances to customers and the regulator that their product is safe.

As part of the review of the official controls, the FSA is going to be more explicit in how it requires firms to demonstrate they meet legal requirements. New controls will apply to all producers not already meeting the requirements, who will have six months to make necessary changes. The frequency at which testing should take place has not been specified as it will vary depending on the business.

Responses to the FSA consultation should be sent to foodhygiene.policy@food.gov.uk by April 30.

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