Milk restrictions leave producers feeling raw

By Laurel Stowell

8 comments
END OF A DREAM: Rudolf and Carlie van Dijk are closing their raw milk business after just 18 months.PHOTO/ FILE
END OF A DREAM: Rudolf and Carlie van Dijk are closing their raw milk business after just 18 months.PHOTO/ FILE

NEW regulations for the sale of raw milk are ending two small Whanganui region businesses and making life difficult for another.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is increasing the red tape around raw milk sales to "reduce food poisoning".

Chananel Farm, on SH3 south of Whanganui, will stop selling raw milk on March 19. Many of its 300 customers are upset by the change.

Over in Marton, Rudolf and Carlie van Dijk are closing their Village Milk business. Mrs van Dijk said because they sold small volumes they could not afford the extra costs the new rules will incur. Closure was a gut-wrenching decision, and the two will go back to contract milking.

"It's clear that small businesses aren't allowed any more," Mrs van Dijk said.

Edo Mooij also sells raw milk, from 723 No 3 Line, near Okoia. He estimates the new rules will cost him $8000 to $10,000 a year for extra testing, and $5000 for new equipment.

He started the business in 2014 and has a relatively modern set-up.

He'll carry on, but feels "at the mercy" of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), which will review the rules in two years.

"I will just have to keep going. On the amount of land we've got, I can't really survive without the milk sales on the mortgage we have."

If Chananel customers switch to buying from him, it will help, he said.

Whanganui's Rachel Rose has bought raw milk from Chananel Farm since 2010, after experiencing it in what she said was "the best cup of tea I've ever tasted". She likes that the milk comes in reusable glass bottles and contains enzymes that help break it down.

She uses it to make yoghurt, butter and a fermented drink called kefir and would stop using milk altogether if she had to buy it pasteurised.

Some say raw milk can help people with asthma, eczema and lactose intolerance. Others say it puts users at risk of potentially harmful bacteria like E. coli, campylobacter, salmonella and listeria.

MPI Deputy-Director Regulation and Assurance, Scott Gallacher, said the new measures were necessary to reduce the amount of food poisoning.

There are 64 pages of them. They came into force on March 1, but existing producers have until November to fully comply.

Mr Mooij has 26 cows and is milking 20 of them, selling about 100 litres of milk a day from a dispensing machine.

The rules will require milk to have a somatic cell count less than 160,000. The somatic cell limit for milk being pasteurised is more than twice that - 400,000. Anything less than 120,000 is "pretty much un-doable".

High somatic cell counts don't always mean a cow has mastitis, Mr Mooij said. Some cows had higher counts without being ill and the new rules mean he cannot keep them.

"I have got to get rid of one. Hopefully someone will buy her. Our cows have names, not numbers," he said.

At one stage feeding silage to cows was also to be banned, but that has been changed.

"All of Europe and all of North America feed cows solely silage for at least six months of the year, and they're happily drinking raw milk," Mr Mooij said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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