Raw milk debate continues despite firm laws

Emma Rutledge and staff writers

Raw milk advocates continue to support the consumption of unpasteurised milk despite laws in many Australian states and territories, including Queensland, which make drinking raw milk illegal.

The bacteria in raw milk has been linked to illness and even death, especially in pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

But some raw milk sellers are getting around the state-imposed food safety laws by marketing the milk as a cosmetic product called ‘Cleopatra’s Bath Milk’, and suggesting that consumers bath in the unpasteurised milk.

Supporters of the consumption of raw milk claim the pasteurisation process, which is designed to kill harmful bacteria and prevent milk from souring, also kills off useful bacteria such as lactic acid bacilli and reduces other vitamin and mineral content, thus reducing the product’s health benefits.

But Dairy Australia Manager of Sustainability and Food Safety, Helen Dornom, refuted claims from raw milk drinkers that milk loses much of its nutritional value after pasteurisation.

“Pasteurisation is a heat treatment, certainly when a product is heated there are some implications.

“We [Dairy Australia] believe the milk that you consume is full of a lot of highly nutritious components.

“Dairy Australia believes those components are not adversely affected by pasteurisation to any great extent, and that the safety level is paramount and truly makes up for any minor issues from the processing.”

Food Standards Australia New Zealand spokesperson Lorraine Belongie agreed that milk was not safe to drink without the pasteurisation process.

“While there has been many advances in animal health and milk practices over the years, even really good hygiene processes won’t insure dangerous pathogens aren’t present,” Ms Belongie said.

“These are the kinds of pathogens that can cause really serious food illnesses, which overseas have been linked to a number of deaths.”

Yet raw milk advocate Phillip Higson, who has been drinking raw milk since he was 10 years old, said raw milk was healthier than pasteurised milk.

“I believe it is [raw milk] healthier, much more healthier, the others shouldn’t be drunk,” he said.

“We should have the right to have a natural product, and what they’re trying to do is process it so that someone has their finger in the pie to make money out of it.”

Ms Dornom said while Mr Higson’s view was not uncommon, improperly treated milk was not safe to drink.

“The issue comes up often that dairy farmers have grown up drinking milk straight from the vat,” Ms Dornom said.

“Unless it’s [raw milk] treated appropriately, in this case a pasteurisation process to render [safe] any potential microorganisms that might cause harm, it’s not viable for consumption.

Ms Belongie said if a safe alternative to pasteurisation could be created, it would be welcomed by industry.

“The industry has always supported alternatives provided they achieve the same level of safety.

“If there are processes that can achieve that, then industry would well and truly welcome the opportunity to have a look at those,” she said.

But Ms Belongie said while policy development in the industry continued to be revised, the risks created by raw milk had yet to be resolved.

“Currently Food Standards Australia New Zealand have been working on a policy regarding raw milk products,” she said.

“Risk assessment concluded that raw milk itself could not be sold because the risks associated with it were too great.

“I would say that milk is a very healthy product but that you also need to ensure that it’s a safe product.”

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