The farmer who wouldn't cow-tow: Rather than supply supermarkets and face financial ruin, Steve Hook has developed a market for 'raw' milks

 

What if there were a simple cure for some of life's most common afflictions, such as eczema, asthma, or hay fever? Something that's natural, relatively inexpensive and that most people drink every single day. Now imagine this miracle salvation, which has sustained generations of children on farms across Britain, is at best tricky to source, and at worst illegal.

The sale of unpasteurised milk, which is already prohibited in Scotland, could be banned in England and Wales when the Food Standards Agency (FSA) unveils the results of its 15-month review into the booming market for "raw" milk later this summer.

That is the nightmare scenario for farmers such as Steve Hook, who has transformed the fortunes of his family farm since he started selling raw milk six years ago, if the FSA is swayed by some of the biggest voices in Mr Hook's industry, including the lobbying group Dairy UK.

A new film out this week will reveal the lengths that Mr Hook has gone to in his quest to keep his East Sussex farm afloat despite operating in a market where consumers often pay less for a product than it costs to produce. This leaves many farmers reliant on state handouts. "It's fundamentally wrong because it means the taxpayer is paying for the farmer's living. Indirectly, the taxpayer is subsidising the supermarket, which is making a profit out of its milk because it's paying so little," Mr Hook says.

Rather than play the supermarkets' game, one in which "the moment milk is pasteurised it turns into a commodity", Mr Hook has gone it alone, selling his raw version straight from the cow's udders to the consumer. The 12 pints he delivered out of the back of his Volvo to a handful of residents of nearby Hailsham in January 2007 have grown to 4,000 pints a week, which he sells across the UK via the internet. He had to do this because FSA controls only permit the sale of raw cows' milk directly from the farm where it is produced, something Mr Hook thinks is "fantastic. There's no middle man, no end seller, just me, which gives me control over my price. Plus it's great to sell a product you believe in." (He gets away with selling it online because the computer doing the transaction is based on his farm.)

He's subject to strict controls, of course: his milk, which carries a cigarette-style health warning, must pass stringent health checks, such are the potential risks. Mr Hook goes the extra mile, testing weekly for a plethora of pathogens. "The worst thing would be a food scare. That would be our brand and raw milk down the pan," he says. His 70-strong herd is also free of tuberculosis.

For all that the softly spoken Mr Hook is passionate about raw milk, The Moo Man, which wowed the Sundance Film Festival in January, is no campaigning diatribe. It follows Mr Hook and his family, from his father Phil down to his chihuahua Tinky, as they expand the business. This includes taking his favourite cow, Ida, to Eastbourne for a photo-shoot.

As in life, so on film; it's the cows that are the real stars: Mr Hook stands in a field, picking out some of the bovine celebrities to introduce me to. "There's Kitty; she's on the cover of the DVD. She doesn't take any nonsense, not even from the herd bully, Biddy. 'You're the boss, even though you're young, aren't you?'" he says, stroking her neck. "And Ration, she's our red carpet cow," he gestures to another.

Mr Hook hopes the film will help the public to "re-engage with where their food comes from". He adds: "People say afterwards that they'll never look at milk the same way again. We're in danger of losing our respect for food, which means it very quickly becomes a waste product." At anything from £1.50 to £2.50 per pint, depending on whether you buy it at one of the farmers' markets Mr Hook attends or from a far-flung corner of England, there is plenty of incentive not to waste his product. Contrast that with the 32p per pint Tesco charges if you buy it four pints at a time.

It's what Mr Hook regards as the benefits that mean people don't mind paying his prices. "There are only two similarities: they're both white, and they're both called milk," he says of raw versus pasteurised. "It was when a guy made a 120-mile round trip one New Year's Eve to buy 20 pints that I realised raw milk wasn't a commodity," he adds. Fans believe it can get rid of asthma, eczema and hay fever, as well as lower cholesterol. Research has also implied that it helps to reduce children's chances of developing allergies. The theory behind all this is that pasteurisation, which heats milk to 71C for 15 seconds, destroys good as well as bad bacteria.

And those risks? Well, the FSA's food policy expert, Bindiya Shah, admits that the watchdog could not find any outbreaks of food poisoning linked to drinking raw milk in England or Wales during the past 10 years. That said, Jenny Morris, who headed the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health's food safety team at the Olympics, insists those figures "might not be the whole picture. There are no indications yet that all the risks have gone away," she added.

Mr Hook, and the 100 or so other farmers also selling raw milk in England and Wales, must just wait and hope that the FSA is happy to let the customers carry on weighing up those risks.

The Moo Man is released on Thursday at selected cinemas nationwide. See the-mooman.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
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 Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?