Raw milk vending machines, such as this on in France, are popping up all over Europe. Photo courtesy of cernlove.org

Health Impact News

While the sale of raw milk in the US has become so regulated, and in most states near impossible to obtain, most Europeans have great access to raw milk, including fill-it-yourself vending machines all over Europe.

One country that has apparently decided to crack down on raw milk sales, however, is Great Britain. It was announced this week that the Food Standards Agency (FSA – equivalent to the FDA in the U.S.) was prosecuting the Selfridges department store chain for selling raw milk at its flagship store in London. Also being prosecuted is the supplier of the raw milk, farmer Stephen Hook.

From reading several press reports in the UK on this case, here is what we have been able to learn about the facts of the case:

  • Selfridges began selling the raw cow’s milk from a vending machine at its department store in Oxford Street in December 2011, saying customers liked the taste of the traditional product.
  • The vending machine in Selfridges’ London store had been approved by local environmental health officers.
  • In England, unpasteurised cows’ milk can only be sold direct to consumers from farms or direct from the farmer. This includes routes such as farmers’ markets and milk rounds, or as part of a farm catering operation.
  • The FSA’s requested that Selfridges remove their raw milk vending machine in March last year (2012), and Selfridges and Mr. Hook complied and stopped selling the raw milk. Selfridges said they did not believe they had been breaking the law, and told the Guardian: “We have always supported unique products like raw milk. We see ourselves, like many farmers’ markets, as a platform to launch a variety of choice for our customers to enjoy.”
  • Mr. Hook told the Guardian: “Over the last five years I have sold hundreds of thousands of pints of raw milk and there has never been any illness.”

Nevertheless, the FSA has decided to put resources into this case, where the raw milk is not even being sold anymore, and prosecute Selfridges and Farmer Hook.

Why? The reasons or motivation for the timing are not so clear, but here is what the Independent has reported the FSA has said in the past regarding raw milk:

The potential risks associated with the consumption of raw drinking milk have long been recognised. Between 1912 and 1937, about 65,000 deaths from bovine tuberculosis were reported in England and Wales. In addition, raw milk was associated with many cases of brucellosis, food poisoning and other diseases.

If raw milk was such a public hazard, why did they have to dig up statistics from 1912 to 1937, and not more recent ones? The dates they chose were during the beginning of the “Industrial Age” and mass migrations to urban areas, where cows were also brought into the city to provide milk to the growing populations. Sanitation was obviously not what it is today, and the movement of small-scale raw milk suppliers today in the 21st century is in the opposite direction – out of industrial milk production and back to the country side and artisanal methods.

But here is one other fact to consider: The farmer, Stephen Hook, has starred in a full feature film about raw milk, The Moo Man, which currently is being promoted at the Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival. So by choosing to prosecute Farmer Hook, they have chosen a very high profile figure in the raw milk movement.

Sources for this story:

The Independent

The Guardian

Huffington Post UK

Farmers Weekly


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Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights
by David E. Gumpert 

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