Fit for a queen, unfit for humans

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The Independent Online
In the latest clash between farmers and Government, producers of unpasteurised milk are planning a fierce campaign against a proposed ban which threatens them with bankruptcy.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced in November that it intended to ban the sale of raw cows' milk for drinking in England and Wales. It has been banned in Scotland since 1983. MAFF said it was acting on the advice of its scientific advisors, the Advisory Committee for the Microbiological Safety of Food, which had considered surveillance data on cows' milk.

The food safety minister, Jeff Rooker, said then: "There is no reason why consumers should be exposed to this risk."

But the farmers and up to 100,000 consumers of raw cows' milk think otherwise. Although unpasteurised milk has been banned for sale to shops and restaurants since 1985, its sale has still been allowed directly from farms and by doorstep deliveries. Regular drinkers include the Queen and Prince Philip, who have a herd of dairy cattle at Windsor and Prince Charles, who keeps a herd at Highgrove in Gloucestershire. As many as 500 farmers could potentially go bankrupt if the ban goes ahead. Most farms are in the West Country, Wales, Cumbria, North Devon and the Yorkshire Dales.

The last attempt to ban unpasteurised milk was defeated in 1989.

Sir Julian Rose, spokesman for the Association of Unpasteurised Milk Producers and Consumers, says feelings among dairy farmers are running high. He has written to the Queen and Prime Minister about the proposed ban and says that some farmers are considering a march to Downing Street to underline their anger at the proposal.

"The consumers of unpasteurised milk are choosing to drink it by buying it from farms or by having it delivered, and if the Government imposes this ban, it will deprive them of that choice," said Sir Julian. Farmers in Sir Julian's association are now distributing leaflets to all their customers, asking them to write to their MPs and to Mr Rooker. MAFF has sent a consultation letter to 180 interested groups and comments have to be received by January.