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by Richard Copus
Real Milk is alive and well in England. In fact, Real Milk in England is undergoing a minor revival in spite of—or perhaps thanks to—a recent challenge by the Labour Party.
The unpopular Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food (MAFF) has long opposed the sale of “green top” or raw milk in England. But they got nowhere under the Conservative party. When the Labour Party gained power, MAFF thought this city-based party would be the perfect vehicle for removing our beloved green top milk from the market. Within 4 months of being elected, the Labour Party recommended a ban on the sale of green top milk for “public health reasons.” They did not know what was going to hit them.
Sir Julian Rose, a leading organic Berkshire farmer and former chairman of the Soil Association joined with me to form the Campaign for Real Milk. I chose the name because I adore draught British ale and had seen how successful the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA as we affectionately call it) had been in preventing the large breweries from taking over our national drink. I had also just stood for Parliament for one of the three main political parties and was determined to use my newly found publicity skills to the full.
Over a period of nine months we put green top milk onto the front page of at least two national newspapers and Julian and I were interviewed on prime time TV and radio. Not bad for a drink that most people had never heard of and had no access to!
What went to the hearts of the public was the fact that the democratic right to consume a chosen foodstuff was to be taken away from them. The old fears of TB had gone with universal testing and consumers were becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of unprocessed foodstuffs. Also, people were becoming aware of the increased vitamin content of raw milk, together with its unique ability to strengthen the immune system.
It was a gruelling period. At one point we were almost certain green top would be banned for good. I enlisted the support of political colleague Robin Teverson, Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for West Devon and Cornwall, who issued a statement saying that imports of raw milk from the continent for personal consumption could not be banned. That put the cat among the pigeons! The vision of consumers bringing back cartons of unpasteurised milk from France, where it is freely available in the shops, whilst English farmers were prevented from selling it, eventually won the day. But not without its costs. Testing for producer retailers became stricter and more farmers fell by the wayside.
There are now around 200 green top milk producers in England and Wales. (Raw milk has been banned in Scotland for over two decades.) The smaller farmers sell it in traditional glass bottles with a green foil top—gold striped if they have a Channel Island herd—and all containers must carry a government health warning—the only warning on any British foodstuff: “This milk has not been heat treated and may contain organisms harmful to health.”
But the dangers are not yet over. Wales now has a devolved government. Some of the self-same former MAFF health officials who failed to get a ban put in place by the UK government are now trying in the principality. Their argument? Consumption has gone up!
I have spoken to the Welsh Food Standards Agency and told them we will fight any proposed ban as strongly as before. I have also warned them of the farce of milk crates being smuggled across the border from England (where green top would still be legal). Those of you who have seen the old Ealing comedy “Whisky Galore!” will know exactly what I mean!
We must all stand up for our freedom to be able to buy and consume exactly what we want. Let the consumer decide what is safe for him to drink, not faceless government bureaucrats.
If you are living in England and Wales at the moment and drink green top milk, please e-mail me and tell me who your producer is. We have no national register and need to have as many farmers on file as possible. If you live in Wales, please contact me as a matter of urgency. The more letters of support we can send to the Welsh FSA the better. It would be disastrous if a ban were introduced though the back door whilst we weren’t looking.
Finally, a word about “organic” green top milk which some are promoting. If we all insisted on organic green top, it would be virtually impossible to obtain and the health police would have won. In Britain, nearly all cows are fed on pasture and 85 percent of green top herds are pasture-fed, rather than confined to feedlots. However, only about 15 percent of green top herds are certified organic. It is too costly and time-consuming for most green top farmers to obtain organic rating.
Let’s fight for the right to choose!