13 Oct 2016

Whey-off regulations stink, cheesed-off producers say

8:51 pm on 13 October 2016

Regulations governing raw milk cheeses are ridiculous and unaffordable, cheesemakers have told a parliamentary committee.

Biddy Fraser Davies and Jill Whalley offered raw milk cheese to a select committee to taste.

Jill Whalley and Biddy Fraser Davies offered raw milk cheese to a select committee to taste. Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

A select committee is considering the Food Safety Law Reform Bill, which was proposed after an inquiry into the Fonterra botulism scare in 2013 recommended the government tighten up its rules.

Biddy Fraser-Davies, 74, milks four cows in Eketahuna for her award-winning Cwmglyn Farmhouse Cheese, but told the committee that Ministry of Primary Industry (MPI) regulations were so expensive she could only just break even.

"All the regulations are written as though you're as big as Fonterra and that your batch sizes are thousands of tonnes of cheeses and not one cheese."

Testing for one of her cheeses was $1000, she said.

"I'm hoping that someone will see sense and put in a couple of clauses for small artisan cheesemakers."

She suggested those clauses should include cheesemakers who used 1000 litres of milk or less each week, and could prove they could stick to a "sensible and well-planned" programme for their premises and production processes.

"[They should] be allowed to operate with a very much reduced requirement for microbiological and compositional testing than is present in the current MPI protocols."

Jill Whalley, who owns an artisan cheese business called Mount Eliza Cheese, took a selection of imported cheese for the select committee to eat to illustrate her argument.

"The point that I'm making is that the micro-regulations that we operate under are up to a hundred times more difficult than our cousins in the EU operate under - and yet these cheeses are imported freely under a special treaty."

MPI has consistently said that raw milk cheese is a high-risk food and needs to be managed appropriately.

But Mrs Whalley said that was not the case.

"Raw milk cheese is not raw drinking milk and we seem to be tarnished with the same brush. Raw milk cheese has been a way of safely fermenting milk for centuries and centuries."