British dairy companies are being forced to change the way they test their milk, leading to extra costs and more milk rejections.
The development comes in the wake of the recent Bowland Dairy case, in which the Lancashire producer of curd cheese was forced to close because of a dispute between the Food Standards Agency and the EU Commission over the way it tested for antibiotics.
Until now, when a sample of milk has failed an initial “rapid test” on delivery to a liquid dairy, the FSA has sanctioned a second, three-hour “Delvo SP” screening test to see if it is safe for cheesemaking.
But Brussels is insisting that if milk fails its first rapid test, it must either be subject to a “chemical confirmatory test”, or destroyed. Such a chemical test takes up to three weeks to deliver a result and is clearly impractical.
At the time, the FSA said it could not support the commission’s decision, citing “genuine differences of views on the science behind the testing for antibiotics”. But last week it about-turned and issued fresh advice to enforcement authorities.
“Where raw milk gives a positive result to an antibiotic screen test, the food business has two options. These are, either to carry out a chemical confirmatory test that will identify whether or not any antibiotic exceeds the maximum residue level or to reject the milk.”
The FSA says it reached this view having been given a firm commitment by the commission that it would review the whole issue of antibiotic testing.
“The FSA was quite prepared to contest this decision in the courts, but the government banned them from doing so,” he claimed.
A DEFRA/FSA statement insisted, however, that “the response to the commission was a UK government response which was supported by the FSA”. “There was no question of anyone bullying anyone else.”
The about-turn on milk testing followed a recent announcement by the commission that it was launching its own legal proceedings against the UK government for failing to take action against Bowland earlier this year, when an EU inspection team had first identified hygiene issues.
The EU Commission is sending a team over from its Food and Veterinary Office in November to inspect the whole UK dairy sector.