Zoey Coombs-King has begun the process of drying out their herd after MPI shut the farm down on Tuesday. Photo: Sara Hollyman.

Nelson farm shutdown for raw milk supply

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A Nelson Farm has been shut down for selling raw milk, but the owners say they don’t sell it to the general public, simply supply their farm partners.

Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) executed search warrants across the country on Tuesday after a year-long investigation into the illegal sale of raw milk.

Suppliers in Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, Horowhenua, Nelson and Southland were targeted.

Luke King’s family run Ratabank Farms in North Nelson and he says since regulations around the sale of raw milk changed in 2016, they also changed their business model.

“We don’t sell raw milk, instead consumers choose to become part of our legal partnership by becoming partners in the herd.

“The money they pay for milk is simply the cost of production and a wage for the staff.”

MPI’s manager of food compliance, Melinda Sando, says the purpose of the co-ordinated site visits was to gather evidence of the offending and to allow further investigation of non-compliant sales.

“We believe that the suppliers we visited are operating outside of the regulatory framework. By not adhering to the rules for selling raw drinking milk, they are putting consumer health at risk.

“There have been multiple instances in the past of people getting sick after drinking raw milk from some of these suppliers. We can’t let this continue.”

She says it’s not about restricting consumer choice, it’s simply about making sure everyone is following the rules.

“We support consumer choice. We’re not saying people can’t drink raw unpasteurised milk. What we are saying is that when people do choose to drink raw unpasteurised milk, they’re able to make that choice with a degree of confidence that the milk they’re consuming is produced within the regulatory framework.

“Purchasing from MPI-registered suppliers who are being audited regularly to ensure they are managing risks and testing regularly helps consumers reduce the risks if they choose to drink this product.”

Luke says they looked into what was involved with becoming an MPI registered seller but decided to change their business model to not sell to general public.

“We do regular testing through Cawthron, but to become MPI registered it was going to cost $400 a month for testing plus extra for audits and registration. So we decided to bring the people who want to drink our milk into our business.”

He says they have clear signage at their milk collection point that states people must become herd partners before taking milk from the property.

“We said ‘ok we’re not going to deliver it, we’re not going to sell it, we’re just going to become partners with our community members who want to consume the product’.”

Melinda says the suppliers in question have been using various tactics in an attempt to continue selling their product including selling it as bath milk or pet milk.

“These tactics are not legal in our view and are a way of getting around the regulations and avoiding the costs associated with being compliant including food safety testing costs, registration costs and audit costs.

“We make no apologies for holding to account, people who are breaching the regulations. The rules exist for a reason – to protect human health.”

King family member Zoey Coombs-King says they have begun the process of drying out their herd of 15 cows as they won’t be able to cover the cost of milking them while having to pour the milk down the drain.

The family say they will be liable for a hefty fine in the realm of $20-40,000 if MPI doesn’t recognise their farm partnership, which they say is a legal entity.

Melinda says all suppliers were able to take part in the consultation process around the introduction of new raw drinking milk regulations which came into effect on March 1, 2016.

“They knew what the rules were designed to do and why they were brought into effect.

“The suppliers need to stop selling unregulated product immediately. They’ll be able to resume selling once they have met all requirements to make them compliant. We hope they put human health first. It’s the responsible thing to do.”