This week the Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Food Simon Coveney issued a written response to parliamentary questions posed by Tommy Broughan TD, Joe Costello TD and Luke Flanagan TD
See the questions posed, the Minister’s response and then our further response to this…
Thomas P. Broughan TD (Dublin North East, Labour)
Question No.523: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is drafting legislation that will result in the banning of raw milk; if there has been a public consultation on this issue; if not, why not; if he has reviewed the potential impact of a ban on raw milk on cheesemongers and other producers and businesses; if he is considering any other regulations for the industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Joe Costello TD (Dublin Central, Labour)
Question 525: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food his plans regarding the sale of raw milk; his plans to regulate the sale of this product and provide warnings for the public on containers; if he will engage with the producers and vendors of raw milk; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Luke Flanagan TD (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
Question 530: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason we need legislation on the sale of raw milk; the purpose of this Bill; if this legislation is being introduced to limit the retail of milk by small producers; his views on whether it is not more appropriate to have raw milk labelled as such and let consumers make up their own minds; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 5th July, 2011.
Ref No: 18270/11
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: (Simon Coveney)
The reason for maintaining a ban on the sale of raw milk for human consumption is to protect public health. This is based on strong advice from both food safety and public health professionals. There have been very serious health issues associated with the drinking of raw milk in Ireland and in a number of other countries.
The introduction of S.I. No. 910 of 2005 to implement the EU Food and Feed Hygiene Regulations in 2006 had the effect of removing the existing legal basis for the prohibition of the sale of raw cows milk for direct human consumption under S.I. No. 9 of 1996. Consideration was then given to extending the ban to cover goats and sheep milk. A consultation process was held during 2008 to determine public views on the proposal to extend the ban to include goats and sheep milk. Seventeen responses were received. Neither my Department nor the Food Safety Authority of Ireland were convinced that the submissions received provided any justification to oppose the expert advice that the extended ban should be supported in legislation.
While public health is the overriding consideration, it is also worth noting that legislation required to allow the sale of raw milk on a restricted basis would be much more complicated and would impose very significant extra cost on my Department in relation to oversight and enforcement. Failure to adequately oversee such high-risk business operations could result in serious national and international reputational risk, for instance in the event of an outbreak of TB being linked to the consumption of raw milk purchased from an establishment approved by the competent authority. It should be noted that the prevalence of TB in herds in Ireland puts us in a different position to most other Member States in the EU where the disease has been eradicated. It is inappropriate that Ireland should adopt the same approach to the consumption of raw milk as countries that do not have the same difficulty with TB and therefore have no associated risk.
In all the circumstances I am satisfied that a ban on the sale of raw milk for human consumption is fully justified. I do not propose to ban the sale of cheese or other products manufactured from raw milk, as the same risk to public health does not arise.
Article 10 (8) of EU Regulation 853 of 2004 provides that a Member State may, of its own initiative and subject to the general provisions of the Treaty, maintain or establish national rules prohibiting or restricting the placing on the market within its territory of raw milk or raw cream intended for direct human consumption. Section 54 of the Health Act of 1947 (as amended by Section 25 of the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006) has been identified as the appropriate primary legislation for this purpose and the Department of Health has agreed to promote a Statutory Instrument under that Act on behalf of my Department. The latest indicative timeframe for the introduction of the S.I. is end 2011, which includes allowance for a 3-month EU notification period.
In response to the written answer from The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: (Simon Coveney) Ref No: 18270/11 which was a response to Parliamentary Question No. 523 posed by Thomas P. Broughan TD (Labour, Dublin North East)
On the Matter of Raw Milk
A blanket ban is a draconian measure. We would like the opportunity to have an open debate on the sale of raw milk with a view to working together to develop sensible codes of best practise so that any risks can be minimised to within an acceptable level.
The central issue here is choice, if a well informed consumer, want to have the choice to drink unprocessed raw milk then why should this choice be denied to them. As a part of a regulatory system labelling can and should be introduced to inform all consumers of potential risks.
Examples furnished by the FSAI in correspondence to slow food Ireland, which we can only presume to be similar to examples furnished to the department of Agriculture by the same health authority, cite unacceptable risks from drinking raw milk and draw our attention to reported cases of illnesses.
Firstly, these cases were all from unregulated producers as there have never been regulations specifically applied for raw milk producers. Secondly, these cases relate to farmers or their families drinking their own milk and not selling it. It will never be possible for the state to legislate against this practise, therefore these types of illnesses are not relevant when discussing as we are – ‘the regulated sale of raw milk’.
We would enquire of the minister as to why there has been no public consultation for raw cow’s milk?
Furthermore, we would ask why this process has been taking place behind closed doors, without the involvement of stakeholders. We were of the understanding that this government led by Fine Gael intended to conduct all of its business in an open and transparent manner. There has been no public consultation on the sale of raw cow’s milk in Ireland in relation to this proposed ban.
It is disappointing to think that because something might be ‘complicated’ to regulate the only other option put forward is a total ban.
By the ministers logic; any new food products coming on to the market should be discouraged as it will cost the state money to inspect them.
Regarding costs, existing producers of raw milk are already being inspected by the Department of Agriculture, indeed the most likely source of raw milk for sale is from our current wonderful raw milk cheese producers who are already subject to current regulations and inspections by the Department of Agriculture.
Also, 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.
Currently all herds whose milk is being used in the production of raw milk cheese are tested for TB every 6 months. This is deemed by the Department of Agriculture to be an adequate measure to control the potential risk of transmission of TB through raw milk cheese.
This measure should also be applied in relation to the sale of fresh raw milk.
This measure will negate the ministers concerns over the possible transmission of TB through the sale of raw milk.
In terms of international reputation, by banning raw milk what we are actually doing is sending out a signal of no confidence in our dairy farmers.
Irish farmers continue and will continue to consume their own raw milk there has been no international or national damage to our reputation thus far based on this existing consumption.
Regarding risks – a huge amount of the foods we eat have risks associated, yet we do not ban them, instead we regulate in order to minimise risks. If banning raw milk, why not ban Shell Fish, eggs or even chicken?
In Conclusion, should the government’s aim not be to continue working in partnership with Ireland’s great producers and farmers rather than imposing a total ban without consultation.
There are a number of reasons that would indicate that it is beneficial for the government to take the time to stop and examine this issue further and request a public consultation not least that by banning the sale of raw milk, we are denying small farmers the access to a viable local business opportunity.
These types of ‘Nanny State’ laws where our every decision is taken away from us are very worrying. If we are allowed to decide for ourselves on issues such as whether to drink or smoke then why can we not decide if we want to drink raw milk; a pure and natural product.
We would call for the Minister to reconsider his position and give us the opportunity to put our arguments and responses forward in an appropriate forum.
8th July 2011