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Underground trade in raw milk grows

An underground raw milk market is growing in Canterbury as people scramble to get their hands on the controversial product.

Carolyn-Rae Searle, a Weston A Price Foundation representative, said the demand for raw milk was rising. However, most suppliers were keeping a low profile because they were not certified.

The growing interest for the product has alerted the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), which is in the final stages of a farm gate sales regulation review.

Dairy farmers can sell raw milk on their farm as long as they are certified, sales are limited to five litres a person, and consumers are told the milk is unpasteurised.

Food safety concerns drive the restrictions as raw milk can carry bugs including listeria, E.coli, salmonella and campylobacter.

However, Searle said registering was too expensive for small suppliers who only had a few cows. As a result, an underground market was growing in the region.

“It’s word of mouth. It’s clearly not advertised.”

For Searle, this was more a return to traditional ways than a fad.

An uncertified supplier, who asked not to be named, said supplying raw milk without certification was a kind of “underground resistance” to government regulations and big milk producers.

“If you keep it underground then you can do it and keep going but if you advertise it then you have to conform to all the specifications.

“Just because the Government says it’s wrong, doesn’t mean we’re not going do it.”

Christchurch resident Jackie Donn has been buying raw milk for two years from “a private supply of milk which is quite legitimate”.

“I like the raw milk because it has far more goodness in it,” she said.

A raw milk drinker who asked not be named said her migraines, hay fever, and allergy to mosquito bites receded since she switched from pasteurised milk three years ago. Her son’s eczema had improved too.

The woman said she trusted her supplier despite them possibly not being certified.

MPI communications adviser Julie Buchanan said all dairy farmers must operate under a registered risk management programme.

“Shutdowns and legal implications can take place if they are found to be non-compliant,” she said.

Oxford farmers Geoff and Sandra Rountree will start selling the controversial beverage through a refrigerated vending machine at their farm gate this week.

The Rountrees are franchisees of raw milk company Village Milk, which has developed a network of six vending machines around New Zealand in just over a year.

Managing director Richard Houston said his franchisees were the only certified raw milk suppliers in the country.

_Cecile Meier reporting for The Press