Until 2015 when raw milk cheese was legalised, Australia had enacted harsh legislation against raw milk cheese. The law banning unpasteurised milk products was passed in 1986 as per the Australia food standard code. With the country producing 12% of the world’s milk cheese, experts believed that Australia could easily influence most of the countries to start reassessing the unpasteurized milk and cheese production. Already, by 2011, countries such as the US were proposing a risk assessment on raw milk products including cheese.
But what led to the banning of the raw milk cheese in Australia? Well, the authorities cited the strict food standard code. In this post, we are going to look at the journey to lift the ban. We are also going to assess the current state of Australia raw-milk cheese industry.
History of Raw-Milk Cheese in Australia
For most of us who have been following this issue for a while, we know the fight that Will Studd have put in this issue. His against the ban dates back in 2002 when he imported 80 kilograms of Roquefort from France. We all know what happened with Food Inspection Program’s refusal to test the cheese for compliance. No one can forget the famous ‘cheese burial’ drama in 2003 after the court order to destroy Studd's Roquefort. That is after a legal battle that ended with Roquefort being granted a special government exemption later in 2005.
That is what formed the basis for the campaign against the law banning importation raw milk cheese as well as producing it locally for the domestic market. The battle was also waged by international bodies such as Slow Food
that blamed Australia for setting a bad example for the rest of the countries. After a lot of lobbying and petitioning to the parliament, Studd and his group got a reprieve with the lifting of the law in 2015
. This allows for the production of raw-milk cheese by local industries and domestic consumption.
Reasons For Government Banning Raw-Milk Cheese
Since the passing of legislation banning the selling and importing of raw milk cheese in 1986, Australia stood out as one of the countries with strictest laws barring this product. But the reason that has been cited by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) for this ban is health issues. For instance, the authority cited various diseases such as listeriosis tuberculosis, campylobacteriosis, brucellosis, and salmonellosis. However, the idea was challenged by consumer organisations led by Australian raw-milk cheese advocate, Will Studd.
Why The Government Legalised Raw-Milk Cheese
To float the law banning the production and selling of the raw-milk milk, a lot of fact-finding took place. First, it was to dispel the issue of disease, which was the main reason for banning raw cheese. The argument was based on the number of people that had fallen ill from the consumption of raw milk. According to a report released by FSANZ in 2011, few than 10 people had fallen sick in the past decade. According to Will Studd, the number was so insignificant to warrant a blanket ban of the raw-milk cheese.
Additionally, it is essential to note that this is not the first time that raw milk has been legalised in Australia. The business was still thriving in New South Wales and Western Australia. The regions had already legalised the sale of goat’s raw milk. Throughout the period, no diseases that had made the government ban raw-milk cheese was recorded. Therefore, the group led by Will Studd had a solid basis to have the law changed.
The $68,000 Grant
With the scrapping of the law banning raw milk cheese, the state embarked on a strategy to boost production to increase exports. Through the Advanced Foods Manufacturing Grants Program, the government planned to boost raw milk cheese producers with a whopping $68,000
to help them capture a larger share of the international market. The deal came through in 2018. The aim was to help the dairy industry expand the market that had been hard hit by the previous law. However, the grant was strictly for running the production trail and testing methodologies.
The Current Teething Problems In Unpasteurised-Milk Cheese
The government still has strings attached to the new law legalising raw-milk cheese production. There are still very strict requirements that have been out in place to guarantee the quality of the raw-milk cheese. Among these requirements is the coliforms testing
which stakeholders in the dairy industry are complaining about. So there are still some teething problems that need to be sorted out. The testing requirements are making it difficult for the cheesemakers to produce what the customer needs. That’s despite it having very little to do with food safety. These are just a few of the issues that need to be ironed out.