Some cows are so sacred that they can get away with almost anything. One of these is raw milk. As someone who’s consulted to various branches of the food industry for around 30 years, you could imagine my surprise to see in Farmers Weekly last week, the smiling faces of the Timaru suppliers of campylobacter-contaminated raw milk, that was subject of a recall last month.
My surprise deepened at their “relief” that it was allegedly the water that caused the bacterial outbreak, and they expected to have their raw milk back on the “shelves” this week. Problem solved, all clear, never mind.
I expect that other food industry players were aghast, particularly the poultry industry which has, for a long time, been the country’s fall guy for campylobacter, and not so gently prodded over the issue by a range of academics.
Why, then, is it such a non-issue when raw milk is the campylobacter culprit? It’s because the people affected by the bacteria are also its biggest advocates. You have to suspect then, how often issues with raw milk go unreported. Interestingly raw milk advocates (who are not generally big advocates of other more processed foods), are probably the most likely to find such failures in other food systems inexcusable.
There is hypocrisy here because every food supplier works hard to prepare and offer safe food, yet raw milk is inherently risky. If any producer was going to offer a processed food with the same risk profile, the authorities would represent a substantial barrier. What’s clear is that other food categories need to work harder to cultivate their “advocates” to be half as passionate and supportive! If raw milk advocates don’t draw the line at potentially lethal bacteria, then how would they feel about glass and heavy metals?
One irony is that for many advocates of raw milk the attraction is the fact that it is not pasteurised, but MPI is advising producers to tell their customers to heat the milk to 70°C for one minute (i.e. self-pasteurise it to reduce the risk of bacterial infection). Good luck with that.