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
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    SQL DBA (2005/2008/2012, projects, storage requirements)

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

    Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

    £21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

    Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

    £15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

    Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

    £15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried