Monday, November 21, 2011

New Zealand's raw milk access in jeopardy

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is accepting submissions for its proposal for continuing to legally provide raw milk. Submissions close on 5 December 2011 (in 13 days). (Go here to get tips on writing a submission.)

As I understand it from reading the proposal, the reason is that a new Food Bill is currently before Parliament. The Food Bill makes no mention of the sale of raw (unmodified) milk, so if it is passed into law without amendment, there would be no restrictions on the sale of raw milk in New Zealand. (I'm really wishing MAF hadn't noticed this!)

Since pasteurisation was introduced in the 1950s, farmers have been restricted to selling 5 litres of raw milk at any one time from their farm gate to consumers who intend to drink it themselves or give it to their families.
Lily drinking a raw milk fluffy. 

Tightening up the 5 litre rule
MAF wants this '5 litre rule' to continue, but wants to tighten up how it is interpreted so that it doesn't allow for the commercial scale sale of raw milk in any sense.

As stated in the proposal, this is:

"because making raw drinking milk widely available would expose the community to potential food borne illness on an unacceptable scale. This is for two reasons: greater numbers of people would be consuming the milk increasing the likelihood of a food borne illness outbreak; and the risk of food borne illness is further increased as transporting and storing large quantities of milk increases the risk of the milk containing higher levels of pathogens."

MAF wants to make interpretation of the 5 litre rule crystal clear. Currently the wording in Section 11A of the Food Act is ambiguous, for example:
  • 'at any one time' could be interpreted as the same person being able to purchase several amounts of raw milk over the course of one day, as long as none of those purchases exceeded 5 litres.
  • it does not limit the amount of raw milk a farmer can sell, so farmers have the potential to set up commercial enterprises that sell directly to a number of consumers. (And operate independently of the dairy companies? Gasp!)
  • with phone and Internet banking available now, consumers can pay farmers without going to the farm gate, which confuses the issue of where a transaction has taken place.
Crack down on "non-compliant activities"
MAF wants to rein in what it considers to be "non-compliant activities", such as ‘raw milk clubs’ where consumers order and buy milk from a dairy farmer over the Internet or phone, and the farmer then has the milk delivered to a pick up point from which consumers collect their purchase.  

"This activity does not meet the original intention of farm gate sales, which required consumers to physically go to the dairy premises to pay for and collect the milk."

MAF's reason for wanting to close down these clubs?

"Visiting the dairy farm provides the consumer with an opportunity to assess the hygiene of the farm dairy they are purchasing raw milk from. The activity of delivering the raw milk to a point off the farm also exposes the consumer to greater likelihood of food borne illness as there are additional risks associated with transporting raw milk and storing it off the farm."

Urban-dwellers don't need to drink raw milk
MAF has observed a change in the social make-up of people drinking raw milk. When the 5 litre rule was instituted, one of the reasons was to give rural dwellers access to milk they might not otherwise have.

Nowadays, raw milk is increasingly being bought by urban dwellers with "an interest in natural and unprocessed foods, perceived health benefits, and/or taste." (Howdy MAF, that would be me you're describing.)

MAF is concerned because these consumers may not be as aware of farming practices and the risks associated with consuming raw milk. (Really? You think the people going to all the extra effort and cost to get raw milk haven't researched this?)

No cheese for you
The 5 litre rule is intended to provide for drinking raw milk only, not raw cheese-making, which would require much large volumes of raw milk (about 10 litres to make 1KG of cheese.)

Risk Management Programme (RMP)
Currently the Animal Products Act requires that any person harvesting raw milk for farm gate sales operates under a registered RMP. However, this is too difficult and expensive for MAF to enforce, so it never has.

What MAF is proposing
"Make limited amendments to conditions of sale, exempt farmers from the requirement to operate under a Risk Management Programme, and require that dairy farmers meet certain animal health and hygiene requirements."

The nitty gritty

Limited conditions of sale:
  • Only dairy farmers will be able to sell their own raw milk, and only directly to people purchasing it for their own consumption or for their household to consume.  
  • Dairy farmers would be restricted to selling a maximum of: 
    • 6 litres of raw milk per day to an individual (increased to from 5 litres fit conveniently into 3 x 2 litre size containers)
    • 120 litres of raw milk in total per day which would be, for example, the milk from approximately six milking cows or 24 milking goats. Assuming one customer purchases the maximum of six litres per day, this limit would provide a dairy farmer with 20 customers per day.   
  • Ordering and payment of raw milk can occur via the phone, Internet or other such means.  However, all raw milk purchased must be collected by the individual who will consume it or provide it to their family or household from the place where the animals producing the milk are milked, i.e. the farm dairy. This reflects the intent, where customers are buying raw milk on a ‘buyer beware’ basis and are therefore responsible for making decisions on the level of risk.
  • Milk will not be allowed to be sold or distributed from other premises or in other contexts, e.g. at local stores or farmers markets. Transportation and storage of milk off the farm adds a new level of complexity and increases the risk of contamination and growth of pathogens. 

Animal health and hygiene requirements: 
  • Only dairy farmers with TB-free herds will be able to sell raw drinking milk 
  • Dairy farmers harvesting raw milk for drinking will be required to follow hygienic milking practices such as washing teats before milking 
  • Equipment used to store and dispense raw drinking milk to consumers must be clean 
  • Raw milk would only be able to be sold in clean containers to prevent contamination with pathogenic bacteria 
  • Milk that is stored more than a certain period of time (e.g. two hours) before it is sold to the consumer would be required to be kept at an appropriate temperature (e.g. at or below 6 degrees Celsius or less).  
  • Dairy farmers would be required to keep records of who they sell raw milk to, how much was sold to each person, and when the sale occurred.  This would allow for enforcement of the limits on volume able to be sold and for trace-back if the farmer identifies any problems with the raw milk or there is a food borne illness outbreak  
Advantages of this proposal (as MAF sees it)
  • Continues to provide for farm gate sales of raw milk as originally intended
  • Continuing to limit the availability of raw drinking milk and better enforcing the new requirements would ensure there was no increase in the risk of food borne illness. 
  • Clarifying the inconsistencies with section 11A and the intent of the requirement would make the requirements more enforceable and ensure more risky activities such as delivery of raw milk to pick up points off the dairy farm, no longer continued
  • Removal of RMP requirement would resolve current compliance issues:
    • It acknowledges that MAF can't manage all the risks associated with raw drinking milk and consumers purchase it on a ‘buyer beware’ basis.  
    • It requires dairy farmers undertaking farm gate sales to meet some animal health and farm hygiene requirements, which will set clear food safety expectations and provide another level of protection for consumers. 
Disadvantages of this proposal (as MAF sees it)
  • Current non-compliant activities such as ‘raw milk clubs’ do not meet the original intent and will not be legal under this option, which limits consumer choice. (Thank you for this token nod in our direction. But too bad for us anyway, right?)
  • MAF will have little regulatory oversight of what is a high risk product, particularly where a dairy farmer does not hold an RMP for other milk harvesting activities. 
What the dairy companies have said
Large scale dairy processors have already made their voices heard, wanting to protect their dominance of the milk industry in New Zealand. 

Their submissions were posed under concern that more widely available raw milk could lead to greater potential for a foodborne illness outbreak, which could damage the reputation of the entire New Zealand dairy industry. This could result in problems for New Zealand’s exports of milk products.

And, as stated in the report, "Dairy makes a very strong direct contribution to the NZ economy. The dairy sector directly accounts for 2.8% of GDP, or $5 billion and dairy exports were $10.4 billion in calendar year 2009, accounting for around 26% of New Zealand’s total goods exports." (The dairy industry is powerful in New Zealand. Should it have more rights than citizens?)

Make a submission before 5 December 2011
If you would like to protect access to raw milk for consumers who don't live within cooey of a dairy farm, please make a submission

Also, if you would like to protect the rights of dairy farmers to sell direct to consumers, and not go through the ever changing control of a processing middle man, please make a submission. (Did you know that the payment dairy farmers receive for milk changes every a year and is entirely controlled by dairy companies. Some years dairy farmers get a high payout, others it is low. And farmers have no control over that because they HAVE to sell through a processing middle man.)

And if you want some say in what you pay for dairy products, please make a submission. The price dairy companies pay farmers for milk is entirely based on export prices and what the rest of the world is willing to pay for dairy. We don't get any advantages on what we pay for dairy products, despite living in a dairying nation. That's because we HAVE to buy through a processing middle man. Our prices are set by the rest of the world too.

Protect your right to buy milk direct from the source. Make a submission.

Submissions should be sent to: 

Food Policy Team 
Biosecurity & Food Directorate 
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 
PO Box 2526 
Wellington 6104 
New Zealand 

Delivery address: Level 10, Pastoral House, 25 The Terrace, Wellington 

Fax: (04) 8940726 


Please include your name and address on your submission. If you are making comments on behalf of an organisation, also include your title and the name of the organisation. 

Please make sure your comments can be clearly read as a number of copies may be made of your submission. 
Submissions backed by evidence and argument will carry more weight than statements of opinion.


  1. Hi Emma, great summary post!

    Reading the MAF arguments is SO frustrating. Firstly, they admit themselves that there are very few cases of illness from consuming raw milk (and even then, from what I have read, its very difficult to prove the source of a food poisoning illness). So they are proposing changes to prevent an increase in illness even though they can't prove that there would be any increase, however they don't even consider the stronger anecdotal evidence of the BENEFITS of raw milk.

    Second, there is no reason why you can't make cheese from 6L of milk. Sure you need 10L to make 1kg of cheddar, but when we had excess milk we just used whatever we had, so you can use 6L and make a 600g cheddar, doesn't really matter. Also you can make decent sized soft cheeses from small amount of milk as you remove less whey. So their arguments relating to cheese make no sense.

    Its also awful to restrict farmers to milk from about 20 cows, so basically they are prevented from making a living from selling raw milk and will be forced to sell to dairy factories for crappy prices (often 20c/L in Aus).

    The arguments about consumers assessing the cleanliness of the farm is ridiculous! Unless you have some knowledge of the process of milking you won't know if its clean or not. They should just enforce the risk management plan, as it is enforced in other food manufacturing operations. They just need to do spot audits, its not that hard.

    The list of minimum hygiene requirements is shocking! That should be required for ALL milking not just raw milk. See how pastuerisation allows farmers to get away with sloppy practices?

    And finally the dairy companies protecting their own interests once again. NZ doesn't export liquid milk, so any problem related to raw milk is not going to reflect badly on cheese, butter and milk powder products. That is a very tenuous connection.

    I still don't understand how this comes under MAF's jurisdiction, sure its food processing and should come under NZFSA. In any case, I think its time to put the consumer first, let the consumer choose, why not just put great big warning labels on the milk and let people make up their own mind.

    Emma, maybe you should make this even easier for people by drafting a list of points to include in a submission, some people may want to voice their opinion but don't know where to start writing.

    Good luck!!! In Aus we can't buy raw milk AT ALL, so the rights you have now are precious, don't let them be further eroded.

  2. What an awesome summary - cheers Ian

  3. Liz, that is such an awesome and in depth comment you've written. Thank you for taking the time to write all that.

    You've inspired me to write another post helping people to make their submissions.

    Cheers lady!

  4. Where can I buy raw milk around auckland region

  5. Hi, to find out about farms selling raw milk in Auckland, contact Natalie at natalie (at) styleplaza (dot) co (dot) nz.

    1. Actually, Natalie has changed her email address. Contact her on n.ellett (at) xtra (dot) co (dot) nz

  6. Hi, do you know where to get goat milk in wellington? I'm in johnsonville. Thanks.

  7. Hi, you could contact Anita who lives in Porirua. She was advertising free cows and goats milk on Freecycle. Her email is a_schurmann (at) hotmail (dot) com

    I don't know any other contacts for goats milk.



  8. hello Emma, I have just come across your post and unfortunately it is too late to make a submission. We get raw milk in Nelson, from a supplier with an organic herd and all the licenses, permits, plans etc that you could ever wish to see, but they live WAY out and currently bring a refrigerated tanker in to a shop where we now all have to go to get our milk. (note, we all have to travel a good distance and then take our milk home in a hot car!!) We are learning to make cheese, mainly hard ones, and are getting very pleasing results; we'd love to go into it full time but this regulation will mean that we are forced to have our own cows, won't it - we won't get very far buying 5litres a day each (2 of us)from a local farm. From what I read, it is prohibitively expensive to own your own cows and make boutique cheese in smaller quantities. Why can't they make it simple but safe???

    1. Hi, Im in Nelson too and looking for raw milk, could you put me in contact with whoever you get your raw milk from? Geez its tricky to find someone!

    2. I'm also in Nelson and wanting to get raw milk for cheese making. Being in a "Unit" I cant have my own cows in the back yard, so to speak and would expect to be able to get up to 20ltrs per purchase.
      Can anyone advise me who can cater for my needs.

  9. Thanks for the blog. My first time here. I just relocated to Wellington. I'd like to get raw cow's milk. Can you tell me how / where to get it?

  10. Hey Jo, thanks for your query. You can contact the Wellington Weston A Price Foundation Chapter leaders to sort out a source for your area:

    Wellington: Ian Gregson 04) 934 6366 & Deb Gully 04) 934 6366,,



  11. Hi, I am in the Marton/Feilding area can anyone tell me where to get raw milk from?

  12. Hey Emma, Finally made it here - great site! Do you know what the outcome was with these MAF restrictions?

    I like your recipes, will have to go back to soaking oats again. I did over winter, but am hooked on my two egg omelettes and chives from the garden. Francie helped me get my carrot seeds in yesterday - rainbow seeds from Kings. I've never had any luck with carrots before so am excited to see if anything will happen this time!

  13. hi am from auckland and would like to know where to get some fresh cow milk in auckland plizz

    1. Hi Naaz, get in contact with Natalie from the Auckland chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation - n.ellett (at) xtra (dot) co (dot) nz


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