New proposed labelling for raw drinking milk has been criticised by farmers for making it sound like they were selling a ‘toxic’ product.
The suggested changes have been put forward as part of a Food Standards Agency (FSA) review on raw drinking milk following an increase in the amount for sale, as well as a rise in related illnesses.
The proposals would require producers in England and Northern Ireland to label the milk with: “The FSA strongly advises that raw milk should not be consumed by children, pregnant women, older people and those who are unwell or have chronic illness.”
This would be in addition to the current labelling which has to include a health warning stating raw milk has not been heat-treated and may contain organisms harmful to health.
It is already a requirement in Wales.
Richard Tomlinson, producer of Naked Milk in Preston, Lancashire, said he would not be happy with the labelling, although he understood FSA was ‘trying to cover its back’.
“It makes it sound like it is some sort of toxic product”, he added.
“I have drunk it all my life, my children have drunk it all their life. Everybody who comes to the farm has a drink of it.
“If it was unsafe I would not sell it, because I am a food producer. I do not want to start making people ill. I am proud of the fact it is safe.”
In the UK, 151 producers sell raw milk, up from 108 in 2012, with the volume on sale rising from 610,000 litres to 3.2 million litres.
From January 2015 to December 2017, there were five reported outbreaks of illness linked to drinking raw milk, with more than 100 people potentially becoming ill and 41 laboratory confirmed cases. Five hospitalisations were reported over the same period and no deaths.
Farmers have raised concerns about the amount of available guidance on selling raw milk, from either the FSA or local environmental health offices, before any problems occurred on farm.
Mr Tomlinson added he believed sales were regulated sufficiently and he had a good working relationship with the FSA who regularly sampled their milk.
The FSA will publish a further report in June 2018 with the proposed changes ‘to improve the assurance’ of raw drinking milk production.