A year ago, the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) created a stir of excitement among raw milk drinkers when it said it was considering expanding access by allowing raw milk in vending machines.
But now, a year later, the FSA says nothing doing on the vending machines. The UK’s raw milk regulations will remain unchanged, with raw milk available directly from licensed dairies, according to a press release and a 15-page review of its raw milk policy.
What convinced the FSA to pull back on the foray into vending machines? One outbreak of illness associated with raw milk, following on a dozen years without a single raw milk illness. Unfortunately for raw milk fans, the outbreak came last August, a month after the the FSA had indicated it was open to the possibility of raw milk vending machines, and the outbreak involved two cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) in children; HUS is a complication of infection from E.coli O157:H7.
Here is what the official review states: “There were no reported cases of illness associated with RDM (raw drinking milk) in the UK between 2003 and August 2014….The first UK reported outbreak of STEC (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli) associated with RDM in 12 years occurred in autumn 2014 and involved 9 cases (7 primary and 2 secondary cases). This provides direct evidence of the risks associated with RDM and severity of the disease that can occur…..Prior to the outbreak of STEC O157 in 2014, the last outbreaks of illness directly linked to RDM in England occurred during 2002. In the most recent outbreak, 7 out of 9 cases were children and two cases developed Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS), a severe complication that includes kidney failure. This supports the established view that there is a heightened risk for vulnerable consumers…”
In conclusion, the FSA says, “There is sufficient evidence to allow us to conclude with a significant degree of certainty that the level of risk associated with RDM is acceptable for most consumers but this needs to be managed to ensure it remains at the current level. There is direct evidence to support the longstanding view that risks to vulnerable consumers are heightened and action may be needed to increase awareness of those risks.”
In its press release, the FSA offers a vague promise to re-consider expanding access if raw milk producers demonstrate ongoing safe practices. “The review does not rule out future relaxation of the raw milk controls if the industry can show a high level of compliance with the current rules. However, evidence from the review currently indicates uneven compliance across the raw drinking milk sector. It therefore concluded that it is not appropriate to introduce such a change at this time.”
Is the FSA being overly nervous? After all, the nine illnesses last year from raw milk still make the 12-year average from 2003 to 2014 less than one per year. And it doesn’t provide evidence of the “uneven compliance” with raw milk regulations. But then, isn’t that the nature of regulators, to be overly cautious in certain arenas? Especially if the industry in question doesn’t have a lot of financial clout.
(Thanks to Gordon Watson for his alert on the UK’s review.)