Processors not braced for potential raw milk benefits

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Raw milk Milk

As dairy farmers around the globe continue to raise concerns over the declining value of their products, unpasteurised milk is being touted as one solution to generate added value and profitability, albeit amongst staunch opposition from some manufacturers.

In the second part of a report into the raw milk market, looks at the potential for the US industry in entering unpasteurised production and the challenges facing manufacturers wishing to do so.

While raw milk products like cheeses such as certain camembert are protected under certain European designations, the US has banned the sale of unpasteurised milk and finished products in certain states.

However, amongst growing concerns over food hygiene and safety, even traditional markets like France and North American regions like Quebec have faced criticisms from health groups and even cheese makers over the practice of using raw milk.

US debate

Amidst this general uncertainty, Nelson Albano, an assemblyman for the state of New Jersey, has opened debate to ascertain the pros and cons of allowing raw milk sales in the state and the potential benefits there may be for farmers and the dairy industry.

The US-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), which represents processors and manufacturer in the country, says that both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control do not recommend consumption of unpasteurised dairy.

“In fact, many states still ban the sale of raw milk, and federal law prohibits the retail sale of unpasteurised milk across state borders,”​ the association states.

Allen Sayler, vice president of regulatory affairs & international standards at the IDFA, claims that even after considering the start up costs for producing raw milk goods, any potential benefits in using unpasteurised products appear negligible when considering modern technical advances.

“Some old cheese-makers believe the use of raw milk for making cheese improves the cheese's flavour, but modern cheese-making can produce these same great flavours, while virtually eliminating the possibility of becoming ill from eating the cheese,”​ claims Sayler.

Ban discussions

Despite some processor concerns, Albano last month opened discussion on the possibility of dropping a ban on the sale of raw milk products in New Jersey at an Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

The assemblyman told that, while the proposals were still very much at a discussion stage, consumers and farmers generally seem to be behind allowing lifting the ban. He says that some shoppers are already travelling to toher states to acquire raw milk

“In Pennsylvania and New York, they’re getting anywhere from $8 to $12 a gallon,”​ says Albano. “So if a local dairy farmer here in New Jersey was selling raw milk, he’d be able to get at least that much, so they definitely would be making more money, and that would be a great benefit.”

Quality challenges

From a US perspective, in order to reap any potential benefits of using raw milk in dairy production, consultancy group CheezSorce says that the industry must step up its focus on supply quality.

Neville McNaughton, president of CheezSorce claims that raw milk potentially offers new methods of differentiating ingredients and products from competitors relying on pasteurised production.

“It is more than just tradition, there is more readily available flavour potential in raw milk,”​ claims McNaughton. “It takes more effort to produce a great cheese from Pasteurised milk, having said that there is probably more likelihood of a lost vat in a raw milk operation.”

The consultancy claims that any potential industry benefits linked to raw milk are being lost though as a result of under strength production standards in the country.

McNaughton suggests that current government guidelines for unpasteurised milk and dairy production were representative of a minimum set of standards that he says create the impression of a job well done amongst some farmers.

While he conceded that some associations like American Cheese Society are playing a role in trying to aid processors through measures like seminars on​Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (​HACCP), more focus was needed on hygiene and safety at farm level.

“Much of the change needed on the farm, in the transportation system and in the handling of raw milk prior to the cheese vat is not just about Public Health and Safety,”​ states McNaughton. “There is a commercial aspect that can benefit the whole dairy industry.”

CheezSorce says that several areas where commercial loss may occur for both pasteurised and raw milk products could be eliminated by adopting a number of better practices during manufacture.

Larger process problems

Even considering these amendments though, McNaughton claims that production of raw milk-derived goods like cheese was better left to smaller scale producers and limited source operations.

“Large commercial raw milk operations would required farmers to produce milk of a higher standard than is now common,”​ he says. “It is perhaps important to mention that milk of apparently high quality can have sufficient contamination to cause significant commercial loss. Many of the bacteria implicated in quality problems would not be picked up on standard aerobic plates.”

CheezSorce says further challenges await larger processors looking to produce both pasteurised and raw milk-derived goods, particularly in separating the different production processes. In such an example, McNaughton says a manufacturer looking to introduce raw milk into a site primarily for pasteurised varieties has to consider a number of protocols to maintain hygiene.

“The act of taking raw milk into a processing room set up for pasteurised milk is in effect contaminating the post pasteurisation area of his plant,”​ he says. “Special protocols should be put in place to address staff movements and the potential for cross contamination of products such as aged cheeses in rinded formats.”

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