French authorities have eased rules around the sale of raw milk because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The country’s Ministry of Agriculture has temporarily adopted measures making it easier for producers to market their unpasteurized, raw milk for direct sale. The agency also made it clear it was the operator’s responsibility to ensure the safety of any product placed on the market.

Sale of raw milk directly to the consumer can happen by completing an online declaration. Normally, the cow, goat or sheep milk producer must request authorization from authorities to be able to sell raw milk and then be subject to an inspection. At the end of the coronavirus crisis, the producer will have to apply if they wish to keep this status.

Move welcomed
Two dairy groups had sent an assessment of the difficulties faced by producers to the Ministry of Agriculture and asked for regulatory adaptations to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

The Fédération Nationale des Producteurs de Lait (FNPL) and La Fédération Nationale des Eleveurs de Chèvres (FNEC) welcomed the new measures, which will facilitate the sale of products from dairy farmers who are in difficulty because of the closure of their usual markets.

A formal response is not essential, but the return of the online form signed by an inspector makes it possible to clarify the operators’ situations. The groups advised producers to request this counter signature by the inspector.

Producers must ensure a good state of health for the animals involved in the milk production and that they are free from brucellosis and tuberculosis if they wish to sell from the farm. They must use drinking water for cleaning and disinfecting equipment in contact with raw milk.

Products need to be cooled after milking and stored at between 0 degrees C and 4 degrees C (32 degrees F and 39.2 degrees F) unless the sale is done on the farm within two hours after the end of the milking. It must also meet all microbiological criteria for Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and E. coli.

Weekly volume limits have also been suspended. The operators must keep a record of the quantities sold during the emergency period. Normally, a producer has the right to sell to an intermediary within a radius of 80 kilometers, or 200 kilometers in remote municipalities, but with volume limitations. At the end of the crisis, a request for approval will have to be made if the producer wishes to keep higher volumes than what the rules allow in normal times.

Situation elsewhere
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has told dairy farmers who are not registered as raw drinking milk producers not to give away or sell raw milk straight from their tanks.

The warning comes as some farmers may be asked by friends and neighbors if they can buy milk from the tanks, with some supermarkets seeing milk shortages on shelves, according to the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF).

Italian politician Mara Bizzotto said the price of milk is falling sharply as compared to the 42 to 43 cents per liter in January, it was 22 to 28 cents in March.

“Furthermore, many producers are complaining about the failure to collect raw milk from the cowsheds, which means an unacceptable waste of a quality fresh product and, above all, a loss of earnings for producers,” she said.

Copa and Cogeca had previously warned of “negative sentiment” on the dairy market, which is weighing prices down at a time that represents peak season.

Thierry Roquefeuil, chair of the Copa and Cogeca working party on milk and dairy products, said farmers and their cooperatives cannot bear the consequences of another crisis.

“The European Commission and the member states, have the responsibility to act now. Copa and Cogeca are calling for timely action to trigger the necessary measures and for private storage to be activated for all dairy products. Ensuring private storage for skimmed milk powder, all types of cheeses, butter, including for frozen storage of buffalo milk and/or buffalo curd would have a beneficial impact on ensuring year-round food security,” he said.

“It is also important to assess the impact that the closure of schools has had on the delivery of milk and dairy products to children in schools and to avoid unnecessary restrictions stemming from competition law in this force majeure situation.”

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has helped develop guidance on what dairy producers whose milk is uncollected during the COVID-19 pandemic should do when disposal by land application at the farm where it was produced is necessary.

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