THE Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has led an excruciatingly drawn-out review of raw milk sales that has created enormous uncertainty for the milk producers and consumers.

Now the new regulations are out and farmers are coming to terms with what it means.

Two raw milk producers in our region have already announced they will shut down.

MPI officials seem unable or unwilling to grasp the vital distinction between milk from a small herd, often managed organically and which is milked exclusively for sale in its raw state, and "factory milk" which is only raw until it is sent off to the co-op for pasteurisation and further processing.

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I don't want to drink raw milk that's been held back from the Fonterra tanker. Industrial-scale dairy farmers don't have the same incentives to keep their milk scrupulously clean as small raw milk farmers do.

(Why else would so many conventional dairy farmers buy milk at the supermarket?)

Chester Burrows quoted MPI reports of illness caused by raw milk as he scrambled to defend the new regulations ("Raw milk rules to manage risk: MP", Chronicle, March 22).

But were those outbreaks traced to a raw milk or conventional dairy farm?

It's also widely considered in raw milk circles that MPI investigators take correlation as causation: if you're sick and you drank raw milk then we know why you're sick. This talk is going to continue unless the Ministry provides more evidence.

Unfortunately, MPI staff were too busy on Thursday to take my call. I wanted to ask:

1.By what method does MPI determine that an illness has been caused by raw milk?

2.MPI says illnesses in Northland and Auckland in the past two months were linked to raw milk. Was it from a specialist raw milk supplier or a conventional dairy farm selling a bit of raw milk on the side?

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3.How many cases of food-related illnesses in the past five or 10 years were caused by pasteurised dairy products?

Raw milk production is likely to have much less of an environmental impact, not least because many specialist raw milk producers use organic practices.

Let's take Whanganui's sole remaining raw milk supplier, Edo Mooij, who milks 20 cows. In winter the cows eat silage made on his farm rather than commercial feed containing palm kernel extract (PKE). Palm oil harvesting is destroying the habitat of tigers and orangutans in Indonesia.

Secondly, Edo does not apply synthetic fertilisers to his pasture. NPK-fertilisers are fossil fuel-derived and kill the microbial soil life necessary for health, and prevent or slow the run-off of excess nitrogen.

Together, PKE and NPK have enabled the intensification of dairying that is polluting our waterways. And Edo's is a family farm, of the small and old-fashioned sort. I trust small farmers to take better care of the land and the environment than I do the corporations that are buying up ever-increasing tracts of New Zealand's prime productive land.

We need more local food production and direct relationships between those who produce food (all too few) and those who eat it (all of us).

That would make for more viable farms, more farmers, healthier people and an improved environment.

-R K Rose is a fermenter, formenter and gardener with a liking for permaculture thinking.