Raw milk lapped up as review awaited

VILLAGE PEOPLE: Mark and Richard Houston with the automatic raw milk dispenser that is the centre piece of the Village Milk business.
VILLAGE PEOPLE: Mark and Richard Houston with the automatic raw milk dispenser that is the centre piece of the Village Milk business.

Village Milk, the Golden Bay business setting a precedent in the way it is legally selling raw milk to consumers, is proving there is public demand.

However, plans to set up franchises around the country have not progressed while other farmers await the outcome of a Ministry of Primary Industries review of raw milk regulations.

The 1981 Food Act allows farmers to sell up to five litres of milk daily to buyers who consume it themselves or provide it for their families.

Village Milk, owned by the Houston family, has imported an automatic milk dispenser to sell milk direct to the public from its Clifton farm, and in April it gained official approval with the ministry issuing it a notice of registration for its milk risk management programme.

Managing director Richard Houston said it was now selling between 200 and 300 litres of raw milk daily. It costs $2 a litre in a glass bottle which consumers can reuse.

With demand expected to increase with the summer influx of visitors to Golden Bay, they were concerned about keeping up the company's supply to local regular customers and were adding another tank, he said.

While demand from consumers was strong, so too was interest in buying Village Milk franchises from farmers from both the North and South Islands, said Mr Houston.

But because the ministry was still reviewing the submissions and options, farmers were reluctant to invest until those decisions were made, he said.

"We just hope they come to a decision that does not place us outside the rules. There is potential they could shut us down if they come back with new rules. Hopefully they make the right decision."

The Houstons have also made a submission. "Basically we've said there's massive public demand and people will be gutted if they cannot get hold of our milk, and it's good for them."

That demand has seen consumers, particularly in cities, try to use loopholes in the law by setting up raw milk clubs, ordering from a farmer and collecting it from a pick-up point.

Debate is also bubbling over the potential health safety risk of unpasteurised milk and its benefits.

That was highlighted in a Sunday programme screened on TV One, where health researcher Professor Bob Elliott, whose sister died from drinking unpasteurised milk, warned of its risks.

Mr Houston said there were risks in people who used loopholes and did not do it properly with a risk management programme that involved rigorous testing and safety regimes.

"There needs to be some sort of governing body that looks after the raw milk industry," he said.

Quality was Village Milk's No 1 priority, and it did not want fly-by-nights who liked Village Milk's franchise but were out to make a quick buck and would sell it on after a couple of years.

They wanted other like-minded people who were in it for the long haul.

Meanwhile, the South Island's only independent milk supplier Klondyke Fresh is calling for additives to milk to be disclosed.

Its chief executive, Graeme Brown, said: "Milk does not just contain milk any more. Additives should be required to be disclosed on the label, so consumers can choose whether they want pure, natural milk, or a cheap, adulterated alternative."

He said companies which adulterated their milk with permeate were cutting production costs, but undermined the nutritional quality of their product.

Permeate was a byproduct of dairy production used to volumise milk, and it changed the milk construction, he said. Cows did not have it in their product.

"Permeate is high in lactose - the sugar component of milk - and its addition decreases the nutritional benefit of what should be a great, healthy source of protein."

The Nelson Mail