Australia’s raw-milk image sours

Australia’s harsh legislation against raw-milk cheese has been highlighted as an example of what could happen in other countries where authorities are reassessing unpasteurised milk and cheese production.

Australia was singled out as of one of the countries with the strictest laws against raw-milk cheese at Slow Food’s biennial event, Cheese 2011, held in the Italian city of Bra at the weekend.

Australia produces 12 percent of the world’s cheese, but selling and importing raw-milk cheeses has been banned since 1986, with a few exceptions for cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and Grana Padano from Italy.

As previously reported by The Food Sage, a recent assessment report of raw milk products by Food Standards Australia New Zealand recommended no changes to the present situation. Additionally, there will be a review of current regulations that allow the sale of raw goats’ milk in New South Wales and Western Australia next year.

Australia’s sour raw-milk image fueled the launch of an international campaign for the rights of consumers to buy raw milk and for cheese makers to produce and sell raw-milk cheese. A new Slow Food website, www.slowfood.com/rawmilk, will be available in five languages and includes sections on health risks and benefits, local campaigns, legislation, education and animal welfare.

Australian raw-milk cheese advocate Will Studd warned the audience that the Australian example could be followed in the United States and in Europe.

“It is worth fighting for the right to a choice,” he said.

Back home, Studd is encouraging Australian cheese makers and food makers to contact their Member of Parliament and email FSANZ at  submissions@foodstandards.gov.au before October 14, 2011, which is when the comment period ends for the latest FSANZ report.

The situation for US-based raw-milk cheese makers in the United States is also precarious as the Food and Drug Administration is proposing a risk assessment that could lead to changes in the next 12 to 18 months. Currently cheeses can be made from raw milk if they are aged for at least 60 days.

In Ireland, proposed changes to the law could make it illegal to sell raw milk by the end of the year. Elisabeth Ryan, who leads a campaign against the Irish proposals, said the authorities wanted an international image of Ireland as a safe food country.

“This sterilisation of food trumps quality,” she said.

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.

While it was estimated that 100,000 people in Ireland consumed raw milk, there have been only two cases of illness from raw milk in the last ten years, Ryan said. In Australia, FSANZ admits that fewer than 10 people have fallen ill in the past decade from the consumption of raw milk. In the US product liability law firm Marler Clark documented 54 illnesses attributed to raw milk cheese in 2010.

Slow Food acknowledges the risks on its new website. The group  points out that tuberculosis and brucellosis  have been defeated in Europe and North America, but concedes it is important to consider the risks involved in eating such produce in higher-risk countries.  Italian researcher Roberto Rubino talked about the importance of maintaining the biodiversity of milk, which naturally contains many dozens of strains of positive bacteria.

In closing the discussion, Piero Sardo, president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, said:

“we had 10,000 years of raw-milk cheese before Pasteur, and we’re still here”.

“They can’t force us to eat sterile food, but nobody is going to defend us. We have to do it ourselves, by choosing, protesting, organising events, campaigning and refusing to eat plastic cheese.”

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Blocks of blue cheese (iStockphoto)

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One response to “Australia’s raw-milk image sours

  1. Pingback: About raw milk products | The Milk Maid Marian

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