30 Mar 2016

Are new milk rules a raw deal for allergy sufferers?

8:06 am on 30 March 2016

Allergy sufferers say they are being disadvantaged by new rules regulating the sale of raw milk.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The Ministry for Primary Industries classifies raw milk as a high-risk food and this month introduced strict hygiene and testing standards, and new rules for how raw milk is sold.

Massey University zoology student Ruby Mammone got her raw milk from Gorge Fresh Organics, which used a system of chilled collection depots to distribute its milk. That distribution method will soon be illegal.

Ms Mammone said when she drank regular milk her eczema flared up, but it did not when she drank raw milk.

"I'd have eczema really badly all over my hands and I wouldn't be able to touch anything. Then I stopped drinking normal milk for a while and it cleared up and went away, and then I started drinking this raw milk and it's fine it doesn't cause flare ups at all, but if I drink supermarket milk it does," she said.

Ms Mammone feared that soon she would be unable to buy raw milk.

Raw milk is not pasteurised and while its consumers swear by its health benefits it can harbour listeria, camplobacter and E-coli bacteria.

MPI said in the last six months there had been 13 infections directly linked to raw milk consumption.

The new rules only allowed farmgate sales and home deliveries, and a record of each customer must be kept.

Producers must also be registered and use signage and labels that warned raw milk could be dangerous for people, in particular those with weakened immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women and children.

Ms Mammone said she believed it was the bacteria in raw milk that meant she did not get eczema symptoms when she drank it.

"I think it has probably got to do with those healthy bacteria that are in there. They work with your body instead of against your body. They contribute to your microbiome and it's generally good for your skin, I mean Cleopatra bathed in the stuff."

Ms Mammone said she was not worried about the potential health risks.

Raw Milk Producers Association chairman Ray Ridings said while the association made no claims about the health benefits of raw milk, there was European research indicating allergy sufferers got relief by drinking it.

"Her claim is quite a common claim and it is actually backed up by European studies for both eczema and asthma.

"It's something that all raw milk producers hear from their customers all the time," he said.

It was a difficult time for raw milk producers because they wanted to do the right thing by their customers, Mr Ridings said.

"It's a really frustrating situation. Most of the producers are doing it for the likes of those customers because they hear those results or because they've experienced them themselves."

Palmerston North clinical dermatologist Dr Louise Reiche said some eczema sufferers were allergic to milk proteins so drinking raw milk would not help them, but the bugs in the milk might mean others did not suffer symptoms.

"One of the key probiotics is lactobacillus - lacto from lactose - and what we mean by that is if your gut or even your skin is lined with bacteria - and we are all lined with lots of bacteria - it depends on the composition of that bacteria as to whether we have relative protection or whether we are more exposed."

Despite research that indicated exposing infants to the right bacteria could help build resistance to eczema, asthma and hayfever, that had to be balanced against the safety of the wider community, Dr Reiche said.

"From a population community base I think it is much safer if in fact raw milk isn't readily available because I think the risks from it outweigh the potential benefits.

"When it comes to government policy they need to decide what's best for, you know, the common good."

Raw milk producers have until 1 November to register with MPI and comply with the new regulations.

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