New conditions see raw milk producer shutting up shop

By Mike Regan

MILKED OUT: If you have a taste for whole milk fresh from the cow then it just got harder to find a supplier - Wholy Moo producer/retailer Chris Lethbridge has made his last milk run. PHOTO/JOHN STONE
MILKED OUT: If you have a taste for whole milk fresh from the cow then it just got harder to find a supplier - Wholy Moo producer/retailer Chris Lethbridge has made his last milk run. PHOTO/JOHN STONE

Forget the glass half full - Wholy Moo milk bottles are now all totally empty.

Wholy Moo, the brainchild of Hukerenui dairy farmer Chris Lethbridge, stopped trading on March 1 after the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) imposed a raft of new conditions on producer/retailers of raw milk.

Those conditions would have added about $5000 a year, including two audits and additional testing costs, plus about double that figure to separate his retail processing area from his dairy, required under the new standards.

The number of tests he would have been required to do doubled from six under the previous regime.

"And if something went wrong we would have to pay $150 an hour for someone to come out to the farm to check up on the operation."

Other restrictions include not being able to take milk to businesses, because, according to Mr Lethbridge, "MPI is worried about milk getting warm on the way home". He added the same rules don't appear to apply to people buying meat from butchers or supermarkets.

"I believe MPI set out to stop us from trading and that's what they have achieved," said a very annoyed Mr Lethbridge.

He started trading on October 1 last year in response to falling global dairy prices, growing the business to return up to $1500 a week - a welcome addition to the farm income, when the global milk market continues to seek new lows.

Mr Lethbridge was selling up to 450 one- or two-litre bottles of whole milk a week. He bought a refrigerated truck and had recently moved into the Auckland market - mainly around Warkworth and Whangaparaoa - and says there has been "huge" response from many of his customers to him closing the business.

His customers include people who use his milk to make cheeses or yoghurt.

"Many have told me they don't want to go back to pasteurised or homogenised."

Mr Lethbridge milks 400 cows and is a Fonterra supplier - he is one of the few dairy farmers in the region to achieve no grades (milk contamination) this season.

MPI's testing regime is another source of irritation as his milk hygiene is demonstrably exemplary.

"It's quite a big deal to be grade free this season, because of the high rainfall - but that doesn't mean anything to MPI, we still have to test to their specifications.

"I'm very disappointed that MPI is forcing raw milk producers out of the market - the product is great and there's a big demand for it."

And the timing of ending the operation couldn't be much worse - he had just bought 3000 glass bottles (imported from Germany) which he's now going to put on Trade Me.

- Northern Advocate

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