Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Raw milk operators fined for illegal sales

Two unregistered raw milk operators have been fined for trying  to circumvent the rules that regulate the sale and supply of raw milk following an investigation by New Zealand Food Safety.

Paul Ashton of Lindsay Farm and Daniel Sproull, of Gorge Fresh Organics, also known as ‘Yaw Milk’, were sentenced in separate hearings at the Palmerston North District Court on Monday.

Mr Ashton was fined $27,500 and Mr Sproull was fined a total of $20,000.

New Zealand Food Safety deputy director general, Vincent Arbuckle said the sentencing send a strong message.

“Raw milk is inherently riskier in comparison to milk that has been pasteurised to kill potentially harmful bacteria. These pathogens can be particularly dangerous for vulnerable communities, including the young, the old, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems,” said Mr Arbuckle.

“All producers of food owe it to their customers to follow food safety rules. This is particularly the case for people who sell raw milk. Most raw milk producers understand their responsibility. Those who do not, should understand that we will act in the interests of public health.”

The sentencings are part of a wider New Zealand Food Safety investigation begun in late 2019, to ensure raw milk production in New Zealand is compliant and risks are reduced. It has seen nine operators being charged so far, with offences against the Animal Products Act, including knowingly causing risk to human health, failing to register, and failing to comply with legal directions to cease trading.

To minimise risk, new regulations were introduced in March 2016, under the Animal Products Act and Food Act, that mean only registered farm dairy operators can produce and process raw milk, and they must also comply with specific regulations, including strict hygiene and testing requirements.

Mr Ashton operates Lindsay Farm, in Hawkes Bay, which the court heard the company sold around 2,500 bottles per week, with financial reports showing revenue of nearly $600,000 in 2019.

They offered their customers a “limited partnership” and falsely claimed the arrangement exempted them from registration because customers were buying milk from cows they owned.

New Zealand Food Safety contacted the company a number of times, reminding them to comply. Despite being issued a Notice of Direction prohibiting sale and distribution of raw milk until they registered, they continued selling raw milk.

Foodborne illness cases, including children, were linked to raw milk from Lindsay Farm, including an outbreak of Campylobacter in August 2020. It was only after this event that Lindsay Farm registered under the regulations.

Sproull’s Palmerston North-based ‘Yaw Milk’ business was also never registered to sell or deliver raw milk and instead sold it through a “dairy husbandry agreement programme”. The company illegally delivered milk to pre-arranged collection points and the investigation by New Zealand Food Safety also found some milk was unlabelled.

“We’re not saying people can’t drink raw drinking milk. What we are saying is that when people choose to have it, they’re able to make that choice with a degree of confidence that the milk they’re consuming is produced within the regulatory framework,” said Mr Arbuckle.

“Registered suppliers, who are being audited regularly to ensure they are managing risks and testing regularly, help consumers reduce the risks if they choose to drink this product.

“Compliance with the rules would have cost both companies $10,000 to $15,000 a year, a small amount compared to the risk of exposing their customers to unnecessary risk,” he said.

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