Comment: A ban on untreated milk? No whey!

IF THE Government has its way, untreated milk will on Tuesday be banned on the grounds that it is a potential hazard to human health. This is yet another ludicrous and unnecessary interference in the matter of what we eat, and will cause further damage to a farming industry still reeling from the crisis over BSE.

Quite why this decision has been made is a mystery to consumers of raw milk. It is not as if it is that easy to get hold of. Earlier legislation means that unpasteurised, green-top milk is already unavailable in shops, and each bottle carries the scary message, "This milk has not been heat- treated and may therefore contain organisms harmful to health". Those who wish to drink raw milk have to go to some trouble to obtain it and cannot possibly be unaware of the risks. We know we have to take full responsibility for our actions if we contract food poisoning, and are quite ready to do so. What makes the ban all the more galling is that raw milk carries with it known benefits - but of course they don't tell you that on the bottles.

Raw milk contains 25 per cent more vitamin C than pasteurised milk, as well as an increased levels of other vitamins and minerals. And a report by a Leeds University academic points to strong medical evidence that drinking raw milk can boost the body's immune system.

According to Dr Barbara Pickard, people with common dairy allergies find that the structure of raw milk - the whey protein is broken down during heat treatment - makes it more digestible. But most devotees drink it simply because it tastes delicious. It is sweeter than treated milk which, from the moment of pasteurisation, takes on a slightly sour character. In addition, raw milk keeps better and longer than heat-treated milk. In the light of all those attributes, it is doubly misguided, not to say depressing, that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is choosing to consider only the risk factor involved, minimal though it is. Is Jeff Rooker, the Minister for Food Safety at MAFF, in the habit of drinking raw milk? I presume not.

One would like to be able to draw strength from the events of nine years ago when a government ban was thwarted by a barrage of popular protest. Government attitudes have hardened since then. The food hygiene police have pursued their dream, and with a new government with a large majority and a love of bans, it seems certain they will now have their wish fulfilled.

The latest ban, proposed in November, has not been debated in parliament despite the Liberal Democrats asking for government time. Another such request, from Sir Julian Rose, the chairman of the Campaign for Real Milk, appears to have been likewise ignored. The Government simply does not want to know what it does not suit it to know.

Figures from the Public Health Laboratory Service (Slogan: "Protecting the population from infection") show that between 1992 and 1996, 218 people fell ill through drinking unpasteurised milk. Not one died. Yet instances of intestinal illnesses caused by other foods - including water, meat and poultry - average between 60,000 and 70,000 a year.

Comparatively speaking, green-top milk is one of the safest foods we can eat - the ban on selling it in shops sees to that. The milk passes from the cow to a refrigerated tank where it is stored at just above freezing point until it is bottled and delivered, usually by the farmer himself. From there it passes directly into the hands of the consumer, making it the least tampered-with dairy product available.

It would have made more sense if a ban had been proposed 40 years ago when milk was stored unrefrigerated in churns awaiting collection by the milk lorry, and it was still possible to be infected by tuberculosis and brucellosis from milk. It makes no sense to ban it now.

Once more it is a scientific report into cases of food poisoning that has influenced the proposal and not a thorough surveillance of the thousands of consumers of raw milk, the vast majority of whom have been devoted to it for years without a single intestinal infection. And Dr Pickard is surely right in his concern over the reporting of food poisoning, which he believes to be influenced by fashion. So do I.

Jack Cunningham, the Minister of Agriculture, has said that this will not be a government that tells people what they can and cannot eat. Not true! How can it be when food is taken out of a shop and is therefore unavailable the consumer - as has been the case with beef on the bone.

The ban on raw milk, if successful, will surely lead to further bans on "living" foods. Both Sir Julian Rose and Arthur Cunyngham, chairman of the Specialist Cheese Makers' Association and managing director of the Paxton and Whitfield cheese shop in London, fear that a ban on cheeses made with untreated milk could follow. At least a third of the stock in Paxton's would be affected, denying cheese lovers excellent cheeses such as Bonchester, Montgomery and Keens Cheddar, Ducketts Caerphilly, Lincolnshire Poachers and Ashdown Forester's to name just a few. A ban will diminish production of raw milk, making if difficult and expensive to obtain. The pity is that British unpasteurised cheeses have enjoyed a renaissance in the past 20 years. Much hard work by the cheese-makers has gone into their perfection; many are far superior to their French counterparts.

Why the propensity to ban living food? Why not target foods which are processed using chemicals known to be detrimental to health? Why in particular ban a food that is not in any way hidden in people's diets. Do the image builders of New Labour really think they are going to look good by saving fewer than 10 people a year from a stay in hospital? MAFF must surely be aware of the indignant public reaction to the decision to abolish the sale of beef on the bone. By hearing only what the scientists have to say, Mr Rooker will deliver a further kick in the teeth to the already fragile small farm communities, and discontent in the countryside will only increase.

'The Food Programme' on Radio 4 at 7.20 pm tomorrow examines the plight of farmers whose livelihoods would be affected by the ban.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion this leading designer and sup...

    Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Assistant

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a friendly, confident i...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Primary Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: At Tradewind Recruitment we are currently l...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Physics Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind Recruitment is currently working ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee