Two raw milk operators in New Zealand have been fined for not following the rules around the sale and supply of such a product.

Paul Ashton of Lindsay Farm and Daniel Sproull, of Gorge Fresh Organics, also known as Yaw Milk, were sentenced in separate hearings at Palmerston North District Court, following investigations and prosecutions by New Zealand Food Safety. Ashton was told to pay NZ$27,500 (U.S. $17,000) and Sproull was fined NZ$20,000. (U.S. $12,300)

Vincent Arbuckle, New Zealand Food Safety deputy director general, said the verdicts sent a strong message to people or businesses that don’t follow the rules designed to protect public safety.

“Raw milk is inherently riskier in comparison to milk that has been pasteurized to kill potentially harmful bacteria. All producers of food owe it to their customers to follow food safety rules. Most raw milk producers understand their responsibility. Those who do not, should understand that we will act in the interests of public health,” he said.

The court heard that Lindsay Farm, in Hawkes Bay, sold around 2,500 bottles per week, with financial reports showing revenue of nearly $600,000 (U.S. $370,600) in 2019, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Campylobacter link and company reaction

They offered customers a limited partnership and claimed the arrangement exempted them from registration because clients were buying milk from cows they owned.

New Zealand Food Safety said it contacted the company several times, telling them to comply. Despite being prohibited to sell and distribute raw milk until they registered, they continued sales.

A Campylobacter outbreak was linked to milk from Lindsay Farm in August 2020. After this, the farm registered under the regulations.

In a statement on Facebook, Lindsay Farm said it didn’t initially sign up to the raw milk legislation because of restrictions around distribution.

“We have always adhered to the strict hygiene and testing rules since we started in 2008. MPI had always said they would never let us use our depots so it meant our customers needed to come to the farm or we deliver to their homes, that wasn’t going to be feasible so we worked with a lawyer to come up with a solution that meant we could continue to supply our 1,700 families. Hence the farm partnership was born.”

Lindsay Farm said it was devastated to receive the positive Campylobacter test in 2020.

“With an enormous amount of testing every cow and going over our systems and getting experts help we realized our water was what caused our issue. We put in our UV treatment system and the problem was solved.”

Targeted sector action

Fines were part of a wider New Zealand Food Safety investigation that began in late 2019, to ensure raw milk production is compliant and risks are reduced. It has seen nine operators charged so far, with offences against the Animal Products Act, including causing a risk to human health, failing to register, and failing to comply with legal directions to cease trading.

Revised regulations were introduced in March 2016, under the Animal Products Act and Food Act, that mean only registered farm dairy operators can produce and process raw milk, and they must comply with specific regulations, including hygiene and testing requirements.

Palmerston North-based Yaw Milk was also never registered to sell or deliver raw milk and sold it through a dairy husbandry agreement program. The company delivered milk to pre-arranged collection points and an investigation found some of it was not labeled.

“We’re not saying people can’t drink raw drinking milk. What we are saying is that when people choose to have it, they’re able to make that choice with a degree of confidence that the milk they’re consuming is produced within the regulatory framework,” said Arbuckle.

“Registered suppliers, who are being audited regularly to ensure they are managing risks and testing regularly, help consumers reduce the risks if they choose to drink this product. Compliance with the rules would have cost both companies NZ$10,000 to $15,000 (U.S. $6,200 to $9,300) a year, a small amount compared to the risk of exposing their customers to unnecessary risk.”

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