MPI: Illnesses led to halting milk sales

Chris Lethbridge says raw milk producers are unfairly targeted.PHOTO/JOHN STONE
Chris Lethbridge says raw milk producers are unfairly targeted.PHOTO/JOHN STONE

A Whangarei dairy farmer and raw milk supplier was asked to stop sales after two outbreaks of illness linked to his product, the Ministry for Primary Industries director-general says.

Wholy Moo owner, Chris Lethbridge, told the Advocate last week that he was closing down over compliance costs that were expensive and prohibitive.

However, MPI director-general Martyn Dunne says Mr Lethbridge was asked to stop sales after he was the focus of two compliance investigations in the past six months following two outbreaks of foodborne illness in the Auckland and Northland regions.

"Both outbreaks involved children as well as adults.

"In both cases, the patients reported regularly drinking Wholy Moo raw milk, and MPI investigated. As part of this MPI instructed Wholy Moo to cease sales until MPI was satisfied that its milk was acceptable for consumers.

"The more recent outbreak involved patients getting sick from STEC E. coli O157:H7, a strain of bacteria that, in severe cases, can lead to death."

MPI and the local district health board were able to test Wholy Moo milk for pathogens and test results have showed that the milk contained STEC E. coli O157:H7.

Since the investigation, Mr Lethbridge has advised MPI that he has chosen to stop his operations.

"Food safety is our number one priority, and MPI does not apologise for taking action on behalf of consumers," Mr Dunne says.

However, Mr Lethbridge denies that the illnesses have been proven to be linked with his milk product.

"We all get sick but just because they were drinking raw milk means they [raw milk suppliers] get picked on. MPI think they have proven [a link between the illnesses and his product] but I can't see how they have."

He said coliform bacteria can infect people through improperly cooked food, off chicken and even water.

Mr Lethbridge said he is 99.9 per cent the E. coli was not in his milk when he sold it.

"We can prove that we were grade free in the milk we supplied Fonterra all this current season."

Mr Lethbridge has put his 400 cow Hukerenui farm on the market, saying being forced out of supplying raw milk and the lowered forecast milk payment has made his business not viable.

Fonterra cut its forecast payout to farmers yesterday for a second time this year, citing Europe's continuing supply for depressing global prices. It expects to pay $3.90 per kilogram of milk solids in the current season, down from a previous forecast of $4.15/kgMS.

- Northern Advocate

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