A raid of a popular Hawke's Bay raw milk producer was supposed to "gather evidence of offending". But Lindsay Farm says it has only fuelled a backlash that has it now struggling to keep up with demand. Sahiban Hyde reports.
Lindsay Farm was raided by the Ministry for Primary Industries eight months ago. Then came an ironic twist.
The Government's dramatic intervention in the raw milk market, part of a nationwide sting on unregistered or non-compliant raw milk suppliers, struck a nerve in the Hawke's Bay community.
Letters of support flooded in. More than 29,000 signed a petition to Minister of Agriculture and Food Safety Damien O'Connor to "Save our raw milk farms".
Suddenly Lindsay Farm's product was a commodity worth fighting for.
The family-owned operation in Central Hawke's Bay, run by Paul and Christine Ashton, Christine's father, Bryan Donovan, son Mike Ashton and daughter Ange Brooks, says that's translated to sales.
"We've had a huge increase in demand since the articles [about the raid] were published," Brooks told Hawke's Bay Today.
She said Lindsay Farm had picked up at least 100 new customers.
It is now pleading with MPI to change its regulations around the delivery of raw milk, so it can cater to the spike that MPI in part caused by its raid.
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MPI regulations allow raw milk (which is not pasteurised, standardised or homogenised) to be sold by farmers, but only on-premises or through delivery to a customer's home.
But Brooks says Lindsay Farm wanted to be able to deliver the raw milk to collection points and vending machines in town.
Covid-19 had sped up the need even more, she said.
"Post Covid-19 lockdown people are beginning to see the health benefits of raw milk, and we are struggling to keep up with demand," she said.
"We've had to dry off some cows because of the drought but we are still able to supply the raw milk."
Lindsay Farm has never signed up for MPI's regulated raw milk scheme, but will if changes are made to drop-off and vending-machine rules, Brooks said.
"We met up with Damien O'Connor [Agriculture Minister] before lockdown in February. He was more than happy with us to make proposals as long as they met the food safety guidelines.
"We wanted to be able to use collection points and vending machines in town. The way collection points would work is a customer would pre-purchase and pre-pay for their milk and then collect it.
"The vending machine in town would cater to a wider group of the community. They would pre-load a card and purchase.
"Damien wanted to resolve the issue, but if MPI pursues prosecution we will fight back."
Paul Ashton said he wanted MPI to adopt the best-practice safety methods that Lindsay Farm and other raw milk producers use.
"We want MPI to work with raw milk providers like us to help the growth and sustainability of quality, small-scale farming enterprises that can conveniently and safely satisfy the growing consumer demand for raw milk."
Brooks added the current structure around signing up for the raw milk scheme was simply "not working".
She said briefings published by MPI showed it was losing funds because there weren't as many raw milk suppliers who had signed up to the scheme as they originally hoped for.
MPI's Director of Compliance Services, Gary Orr, declined to comment in detail on Lindsay Farm's comments.
"The investigations into some raw drinking milk suppliers are ongoing so we won't be able to comment on them," he said.
"Our position on the requirements for the sale of raw drinking milk to consumers has not changed — these rules are in place to protect public health."
At the time of the raid, done after a two-year review of the Raw Milk for Sale to Consumers Regulations 2015, MPI's manager of food compliance, Melinda Sando, said the purpose of the co-ordinated site visits was to gather evidence of the offending and to allow further investigation of non-compliant sales.