Raw milk: To ban, or not to ban…

The Debate The government intends to ban the sale of raw milk for direct human consumption before the end of 2011, further homogenising our food culture without sufficient public debate on the pros and cons of consuming unpasteurised milk. The ban covers the sale of raw milk of all species in the Republic of Ireland but does not include raw milk cheeses, raw milk butter, or the exportation of raw milk to countries where it is not banned. Whether you regard raw milk as manna from Heaven or the Devil's drink, its potential banning sparks many questions regarding food safety, freedom of choice, and Ireland's position as an artisan food producer. If you are free this Tuesday (6 September 2011) and wish to find out more, the Campaign for Raw Milk (aka Raw Milk Ireland) is hosting a debate in Dublin to examine the question from all angles. Debate: A RAW Issue: Should the Irish government ban raw milk for sale? Date: Tuesday 6 September 2011 Venue: The Sugar Club, 8 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2 Time: Doors open at 7pm. Event will commence at 7.30pm sharp. Cost: A €5 admission charge covers the cost of the venue. Any further monies raised will be donated to charity. Format: The event will consist of a panel debate with arguments for and against, audience participation, and a Q&A session. Chair: Aoife Carrigy, journalist and organiser of the 'For Food's Sake' series of food discussion nights Panelists: Panelists include journalist and broadcaster Ella McSweeney; farmer and raw milk producer David Tiernan; raw milk retailer Kevin Sheridan of Sheridans Cheesemongers; scientists; food and farming industry representatives (including representatives from Teagasc and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI)); and Ben Pratt, author of Nutrition's Playground and co-founder of www.naturalfoodfinder.co.uk. Booking: There is no need to book a place but the Campaign for Raw Milk would be delighted to receive advance confirmation of your attendance (email Elisabeth Ryan at irishrawmilk@gmail.com). The Campaign for Raw Milk The Campaign for Raw Milk believes consumers who wish to drink unpasteurised milk should have that choice. Campaigners want intelligent regulation of the raw milk industry and proper labelling of raw milk bottles to ensure the production and sale of top-quality milk. The UK and many other European countries do this. The Irish government believes the risks associated with drinking raw milk (e.g. pathogen-borne illnesses) are unacceptable. On the advice of the FSAI, it has proposed an outright ban on the sale of raw milk to the Irish public. Interested parties, such as farmers, retailers, restaurant owners, chefs, critics, foodies and members of the public who choose, for reasons of health or taste, to drink raw milk, have not been consulted. The government claims the public has been consulted, citing a very quiet public consultation in 2008 relating to the inclusion of raw goat's and sheep's milk in the legislation. But the public has not been consulted on the issue of raw cow's milk. The debate on Tuesday will include the government's reasons for banning the sale of raw milk in Ireland; arguments from those who say raw milk is beneficial to human health; and viewpoints from farmers who believe they should have the right to produce it for sale as a viable local business. There will also be raw milk to drink and raw milk cheeses to nibble afterwards. As a big fan of David Tiernan's deliciously creamy milk, the tasting alone should be reason enough to skip down to the Sugar Club on Tuesday if you happen to be moo-ching about town. Mother Nature or Nanny State? I was amazed to find unpasteurised, un-homogenised milk in Sheridans Cheesemongers last spring. One glass and I was hooked. It was (and is!) udderly delicious. Just as well the bottle tops are plastic, or any bird worth her wings would fly into the fridge to peck at the foil. I have also found I can tolerate raw milk better than pasteurised milk. Pasteurised milk can trigger a migraine for me; raw milk does not. Clean raw milk has myriad health benefits and is full of proteins, healthy fats, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and beneficial bacteria. Our bodies recognise it. Although pasteurisation destroys many pathogens in milk, the process can lead to other problems. According to the Weston Price Foundation in the US, "Pasteurization destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamins C, B12 and B6, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer." Some pathogens also survive pasteurisation. I had thought the sale of raw cow's milk illegal in the Irish Republic. But no. Although the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food banned its sale in 1996, an EU directive in 2007 quietly superseded that ban. In late 2010, a few people realised the implications of the EU directive and started to sell raw cow's milk legally, which brought to the fore the government's plans to ban its sale. If all goes smoothly, the ban will be finalised before the end of 2011. Legislation is at an advanced stage and should be introduced by the end of September, allowing for a three-month EU notification period. So, it looks like those pesky bottles of raw milk will be soon be in the government's cross hairs (or goin' bad on the Far Side if they choose to rebel 😉 ). So drink up now, or join the Campaign for Raw Milk to fight for a third way: the proper regulation of raw milk production. Effective inspection and excellent labelling of raw milk would minimise risk and allow consumers to make an informed decision about drinking it. Health: a risky business The Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney TD, cites the protection of public health (e.g. protection from E.coli infection, TB and other pathogens) as the number one reason for banning raw milk. He says the alternative – ongoing regulation of the industry – would cost his department too much money. (See here for Minister Coveney's written answer to Joe Costello TD, 21 July 2011.) In response to the Minister's statement, Elisabeth Ryan and Kevin Sheridan of Sheridan's Cheesemongers argue here that the few cases of ill-health cited by the FSAI to support the ban actually refer to farmers (or farmers' families) who drank their own milk (as yet an unregulated product), not to milk on sale. The Campaign for Raw Milk is calling for an open debate on the sale of raw milk, with a view to working with the government to develop sensible codes of best practice designed to minimise risk. As to the cost of regulation, the main raw milk producers are already inspected in their role as raw cheese makers and work to impeccable standards. In a raw milk-friendly future, the most likely producers would be raw cheese makers. Ms Ryan and Mr Sheridan add that “the vast majority of costs incurred in the regulation of all of our foods are borne by the producer and not by the state in any event.” Lots of foods are risky to eat. Shellfish, eggs and chicken are known sources of food poisoning, not to mention other foods implicated by research in the development of chronic disease, such as refined starch products, poor quality meats and pasteurised dairy products… Why not ban the lot? Artisan Island Ireland has extraordinary potential as a food island. We produce mouthwatering cheeses, artisan meats and delicious veggies, fruits and herbs. Why doesn't the government fully play to our strengths? Our true niche is slow food of fabulous quality, preferably organic and created with care and attention. We have some of the best grasslands in the world. We could even produce clean, regulated raw milk from different parts of the country, each subtly different due to varying grasses and herbs. Does the shadow of TB linger over our government's thinking? Is it stuck in a technological mindset that refuses to combine the best of traditional culture with the best of scientific knowledge to produce safe beautiful food? Does the prospect of free choice offend a need to control? Are there political and/or financial angles involved? Or is our public health image more important than actually keeping us well? As Elisabeth Ryan and Kevin Sheridan point out, should the government not be aiming to work in partnership with Ireland's food producers and farmers, rather than imposing a ban without consultation? Should the government not be taking time to examine the issue from all sides? 'Nanny State' laws bother me. I voted for more transparency in government (remember that one?). So far, there has been no true public consultation on the issue of raw milk and there will be no Dáil vote; the ban is being enacted as an amendment to current legislation, so no vote is required. As a citizen of this state, I should like our government to take a responsible line on raw milk (a) by regulating the industry in conjunction with farmers and producers and (b) acknowledging our right to choose what we eat and drink, especially when the substance in question is a whole food with a long history of human consumption. But just for now, I'm going to be a good girl. Our government says I am allowed to buy a Jemmy, a smoke and a nice fat bacon sandwich on thick white bread. Who am I to argue with our leaders? 😉 Some further reading Raw Milk Ireland: Links Raw Milk Ireland: Press (lots of articles) Weston A. Price Foundation: FAQ on dairy Article on raw milk from Dr Mercola

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