It was eight years ago that Australian raw-milk cheese warrior Will Studd packed 80 kilograms of imported Roquefort into a hearse, draped it with the French flag and dumped it a local tip to the sounds of the French national anthem.
Studd’s public theatrics – after his stash was ordered destroyed under the Imported Food Protection Program because the cheese supposedly posed a health risk – eventually resulted in Roquefort being given a special exemption to a ban on the sale of imported raw-milk cheese in Australia.
Lobbyists have been calling for a ban on the production and sale of imported raw-milk cheese to be lifted for the past 15 years.
Raw-milk cheese is made from milk that has not been pasteurised to remove bacteria, which can cause diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, campylobacteriosis, listeriosis and salmonellosis.
After a protracted six-year review of Australian regulations by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), lobbying has again picked up ahead of what is likely to be the final nail in the coffin under the current review.
FSANZ said in a recently released report that it would amend the Food Standards code for very hard, low-moisture, raw-milk cheese only. There are already exemptions to current regulations for the importation and sale of cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and Grana Padano from Italy.
But the food authority has postponed the final decision on semi-hard and soft cheeses until it conducts yet another review. The report also endorsed the ban on the sale of raw cows’ milk saying it posed “too high a risk”. And there are signs that it will extend its tough laws to raw goats milk, which can be sold in New South Wales and Western Australia. Next year there will be a review of the current state regulations.
“The ongoing delay and past outcomes suggest that FSANZ are unlikely to recommend any major changes to the status quo,” Studd says on his website.
“But if these proposals are adopted without a challenge it will be years before there is an opportunity for another review.”
Studd argues that Australian artisanal cheese makers should not be restricted to the production of hard-cooked, low-moisture raw-milk cheese.
“Over the past two decades, international artisan cheese production has enjoyed a significant growth in demand due to a revolution in consumer interest. Many of these cheeses are made from raw milk and are recognised as having an infinitely superior flavour and authentic regional character when compared to similar cheeses made from pasteurised milk,” he says.
FSANZ admits that fewer than 10 people have fallen ill in the past decade from drinking raw milk on farms but it believes the risks justify its cautionary action. Studd believes that that FSANZ exaggerates the risks.
“There is no reason why any cheese made from raw milk should represent a greater degree of risk than those produced from pasteurised milk provided recognised international HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) guidelines are adopted in Australia,” he says.
He says FSANZ proposals do not recognise the changes adopted by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, which allow the production and sale of raw-milk cheese in New Zealand; do not encourage world best practice in cheese or milk production; and are anti-competitive and represent a breach of Australia’s commitment to the World Trade Organisation.
“The proposals are overly prescriptive and do not meet the Council of Australian Government (COAG) guidelines on primary production and processing standards that stipulate an objective of minimal effective regulation,” Studd adds.
If Australia’s raw-milk cheese regulations grate with you, Studd and his fellow lobbyists are encouraging cheese makers and food lovers to contact their Member of Parliament and email FSANZ at email@example.com before the comment period ends on the October 14, 2011.
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