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Formal complaint submitted to FSA

From: Philip R.
Sent on: Saturday, January 26, 2013 3:49 PM

 

This following formal complaint has been made to the FSA relating to their conduct around the raw milk consultation. Hopefully it will make them think twice about papering over the known benefits of raw milk and the vast statistics out there to back up the case for raw milk.

They have 20 days to respond, and I will post the response on the message board on this thread.

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Dear Sir or Madam

This letter relates to a specific complaint regarding professional conduct of the Board of the FSA in relation to the proposed review of the regulations of raw milk licensed by the FSA for human consumption in relation to breach of criterion 3 and 5 of the government's code of conduct for public consultations by pursuing a consultation to obtain answers to questions already answered by its own evidence and, improper pre-empting of positions in contrast with the FSA's own evidence base. I would stress however that our interactions with FSA staff have been of the upmost professionalism during pre-consultation exercises and discussions. This is a formal complaint which, if unresolved I seek to be heard by the Ombudsman.

My concern relates primarily to Criterion 5 of HM Government's "Code of Practice on Consultation". The criterion states: "Keeping the burden of consultation to a minimum is essential if consultations are to be effective and if consultees' buy-in to the process is to be obtained".

Paragraph 5.2 states: "If some of the information that the Government is looking for is already in the public domain through market research, surveys, position papers, etc., it should be considered how this can be used to inform the consultation exercise and thereby reduce the burden of consultation"

Paragraph 5.5 states: "Formal consultation should not be entered into lightly. Departmental Consultation Coordinators and, most importantly, potential consultees will often be happy to advise about the need to carry out a formal consultation exercise and acceptable alternatives to a formal exercise."

Indeed, some of the Board members queried whether indeed the consultation were necessary stating that the FSA already had the scientific answers. Paragraph 46 of the March 20th minutes states:

"A Board member queried whether a consultation was necessary when there was so little to dispute and the FSA already had the scientific answers. Another Board member thought that this was a cultural issue and that the review might be a waste of public money."

Regarding the evidence which the FSA has available, The Microbiological Safety of raw drinking milk, report by Alison Gleadle, was submitted to the March 20th FSA Board Meeting. Paragraph 4.2 states: "that there have been no reported outbreaks of illness associated with raw drinking milk or cream in England and Wales since 2002", i.e. no reported outbreaks in over a decade. Providing clear evidence that the present licensing and testing regime is highly effective. Meanwhile, cases of illness did occur in Scotland, on private farms which no longer benefit from the strict testing and licensing regime available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, providing clear evidence that farmers consuming their own raw milk could be put at risk if the FSA halt the regulation of raw drinking milk and withdraw their support. Paragraph 4.5 states that "The ACMSF advised that the risk from unpasteurised sheep, goat and buffalo milk and milk products is also likely to be very low". This is a clear understatement when there were no outbreaks at all during that period. All these statements are provided with a caveat that the sample size is not huge, but nonetheless there is no evidence that licensed raw milk is a public health issue under the present regime and certain elements appear intent on reducing the sample size to zero.

The FSA's claim that the sample size is too small to make a value judgement is entirely false, as I can demonstrate. Raw milk is sold throughout Europe and indeed the world, providing ample data to broaden the study. For example, the Weston A. Price Foundation recently published analysis of America's Food and Drug Administration's own raw milk safety data, for food-borne illness for the entire population. Dr. Beals showed that Americans are about thirty-five thousand times more likely to get sick from other foods than from raw milk, thus reinforcing the FSA's own statistics in a country the size of Europe, thus providing the sample size that Alison Gleadle requested. The FSA have not used any international statistics such as this in any of their board papers, yet this information is widely available if they seek a larger sample size.
- www.westonaprice.org/press/government-data-proves-raw-milk-safe
The documents state that there is anecdotal evidence of vending machines selling raw milk in Continental Europe. They are in fact found throughout Italy, Switzerland and the whole of Eastern Europe. They are even installed in Tesco's car parks in Poland. Germany has raw milk regulations, called Vorzugsmilch, which translates to "special milk". These have been in operation since around the 1930's and approximately 80 dairy farmers there are selling raw milk in delicatessens. Again, the FSA has failed to obtain any data from Germany or any other country. It would be very easy for the FSA to contact other European government's to ask for their statistics but they have failed to do so, contrary to criterion 5.

At this point I wish to make it clear that the Weston A. Price Foundation promote certified raw milk. Raw milk in Britain and USA and most other States in Europe is state regulated with a strict testing regime. We therefore wholly support the FSA's licensing of raw milk producers and their insistence that those farms who do fail or do not participate in the FSA's strict licensing and testing regime must pasteurise their milk. Our position is that untreated raw milk from intensively farmed cows is inherently dangerous but, that raw milk from farms which pass the FSA's strict raw milk licensing programme is inherently safe, as evidenced from the FSA's own data. Given that there have been no outbreaks for an entire decade we consider that the regime is fit for purpose and capable of adjustments as and when conditions and testing technology develops.
However, this complaint is not about the Foundation's position on the matter. Moreover it relates to conduct of the Board in pursuance of the consultation. In direct contrast to the evidence produced to the Board, Paragraph 50 of the March 20th minutes states:  "The absence of evidence of diseases associated with raw milk and cream was not equivalent to the evidence of absence."  and, paragraph 49 states that "If ACMSF supported pasteurisation it would be difficult to take a different view since scientific advice should take precedence over consumer choice (my emphasis)."

Statements in Paragraphs 50 demonstrate aversion to scientific method in this issue. A stated aversion to the FSA's board using the FSA's own evidence base, which has been collected by its own Officers at tax payers expense. This approach takes the precautionary principle to a total extreme, i.e. willingness to take policy action on an issue in a way which would be deleterious to consumer choice, taking action which would eliminate an entire segment of the dairy industry, representing over 100 farms, when there is no evidence of a public health issue under the present regulatory regime. To make matters worse, Paragraph 49 states that the Chair is willing to completely over-ride consumer choice, regardless of the consultation outcome, in the face of the un-evidenced opinion of appointed experts. Firstly, this shows total disregard for the consultation process with the Chair calling for a consultation then stating that the consultation results will be ignored, and secondly, the Chair demonstrates contradictory behaviour and bias by stating that he is willing to over-ride any strength of public opinion during consultation on the basis of said un-evidenced opinions. Rather than being judicial, clear bias is placed upon one side of the argument, in our opinion prejudicing the outcome of the proposed review from the beginning and indeed putting the mandate for a review under serious question. The minutes demonstrate that the FSA have not put due weight to its own evidence prior to forming its opinions and decision to consult on banning raw milk or amending the regime. Had the opposite occurred, one would expect the consultation and proposals to be defined by what the evidence demands. It is our opinion that this represents clear misconduct both professionally but also in relation to the proper approach to public consultation resulting in gross misuse of public funds to fund an unnecessary policy review and public consultation contrary to Criterion 5 of HM Government's "Code of Practice on Consultations".

The Microbiological Safety Report put to the Board is also deficient in that it refers only to the FSA's bi-annual inspections of raw milk producing farms. The report did not refer to the private tests which raw dairy farmers must carry out by law and present to the FSA. If the data from these has not been included it should be. Whilst we would encourage a review of the tests which are carried out, and many farmers voluntarily test for more than they are required to do so, it is highly disappointing that the specifics of the testing regime are not up for discussion or debate. This reduces the question to whether raw dairy is allowed to be sold or not. Failure to properly present information and data regarding the private testing regime is again, contrary to Criterion 5.

Members of the Board have stated their involvement with the industry and it has not escaped our notice that Dairy UK called for a ban of raw milk less than one year prior to the FSA Board pursuing the issue, which could explain the source of lobbying from the corporate dairy industry. An article evidencing their position is attached below. Dairy UK and the broader corporate dairy industry and processors would be forgiven for perceiving that independent farm gate sales and local milk rounds which by-pass milk processors are a thorn in their side. Indeed, increasing numbers of dairy farmers are with-holding bulk tank milk from processors to sell directly under FSA licence because they can receive between £1 and £2 a litre selling FSA certified raw milk vs sometimes just over 20p per litre from corporate buyers and processors. Clearly, the higher premium is a demonstration of consumer demand. In addition, the premium received on the basis of the FSA licence is a self fulfilling prophecy since, farmers receiving such margins have more than enough money to invest in the animal husbandry necessary for safe raw milk. We believe that conflicts of interest and prior positions should be investigated in the FSA Board pursuant to the issue of raw milk regulation and that consideration should be made towards those who have contributed towards decision making on the matter regarding conflicts of interest.

We are concerned that board members who have stated prior connection with the corporate industry, as evidenced by the podcast of the board meeting, could be bias towards it in matters regulating the industry's competition from small family farms. So much so it appears that the Chair of the board is willing to openly state that scientific evidence and consumer opinion should be by-passed in order to pursue the agenda of more tightly regulating or banning licensed raw milk sales. In specific relation to Criteria 5 of the Code of Practice on Consultations, the FSA has opted to pursue a public consultation on an issue for which they have the full evidence of its public safety, pursuing an agenda directly opposed to their own evidence with the Board itself voicing desire to go against scientific method and the results of the public consultation.

In relation to breaching Criteria 5, we also consider that the review breaches Criteria 3 "Clarity of scope and impact", which states that "Consultation documents should be clear about the consultation process, what is being proposed, the scope to influence and the expected costs and benefits of the proposals."
Paragraph 3.3 states: "Estimates of the costs and benefits of the policy options under consideration should normally form an integral part of consultation exercises, setting out the Government’s current understanding of these costs and benefits. A “consultation stage Impact Assessment”11 should normally be published alongside a formal consultation, with questions on its contents included in the body of the consultation exercise. An Impact Assessment should be carried out for most policy decisions and consultation of interested parties on the Impact Assessment and on equality assessments can bring greater transparency to the policymaking process and should lead to departments having more robust evidence on which to base decisions. It is important to read the guidance on specific impact tests, including the race equality impact assessment which is required by statute.12"

Clearly, the elimination of over 100 farm's ability to directly market high value raw dairy products, particularly with the dairy industry under such present strife, represents a very high cost which would need serious justification. Many of these farmers are organic or low intensity and would be out of business or be forced into intensive practice which they may not have capital to afford if they lost the ability to sell raw milk for between £1 and £2 a litre when wholesale prices are now circa 25p per gallon, which is less than the 1970's, in nominal values. Given that no outbreak has occurred in over a decade, the result of increased regulation would clearly have zero impact on food safety at a very high cost to the economy and consumer choice. We believe, that had the FSA complied with Criteria 5 and carried out a thorough and honest cost benefit analysis, that they would have opted to abandon this expensive review process during a time when the dairy industry as a whole is suffering severely from adverse market conditions. We consider the actions of the FSA Board in clear breach of Criterion 3 as there no evidence of any impact assessment.

Furthermore, there has been no impact assessment on the affects on human health. Three recent studies in Europe found that drinking raw milk protected against asthma and allergies.
- Riedler J and others. Exposure to farming in early life and development of asthma and allergy: a cross-sectional survey. Lancet 2001 Oct 6;[masked]):1129-33.
- Perkin MR and DP Strachan DP. Which aspects of the farming lifestyle explain the inverse association with childhood allergy? J Allergy Clin Immunol 2006 Jun;117(6):1374-81.
- Waser M, Michels KB, Bieli C et al. Inverse association of farm milk consumption with asthma and allergy in rural and suburban populations across Europe. Clinical Exp Allergy 2007; 37:661–70.
- Comment: Perkin MR. Unpasteurized milk: health or hazard? Clinical and Experimental Allergy 2007 May; 35(5)[masked]
- Loss G and others. The protective effect of farm milk consumption on childhood asthma and atopy: the GABRIELA study. Journal of Allergy Clin Immunol 2011 October 128(4):766-773.e4

Moreover, more people die from asthma every year than all food poisoning sources combined and there have been no outbreaks from certified raw milk for over a decade. Again, failure to take into accounts the potential health benefits of certified raw milk and therefore impact assessments on opportunity costs to human health place this consultation again in clear breach of Criterion 3 and any consultation questioning the ability to sell raw milk would have to undertake a thorough literature review of the health benefits of raw milk so that the potential risks can be taken in context.

-----------------

In addition to these comments I refer to another FSA Board meeting document in which the Board stated in the initial summary that they are united in the view that raw milk is inherently dangerous, yet a paragraph in section 10 then stated that there was no evidence that raw milk poses a health risk due to a lack of outbreaks. I wish to add to the complaint the improper manner in which this key evidence was missed from the summary and buried in chapter 10, providing further evidence that the Board is in breach of Code of Practice. I have not been able to find said document and I request that it be requested by Freedom of Information Act in order to provide background to this complaint.

I look forward to this complaint being formally put to the FSA Board and Staff and hope that this can be resolved with appropriate action so as to avoid an Ombudsman Complaint.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Ridley, MSc PGDip
London Chapter Leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation
and Campaign for Real Milk

1 Flowerdale Cottages
High Street
Markyate
Herts HP1 1TF
[masked]

1. HM Government's "Code of Practice on Consultation": www.bis.gov.uk/files/file47158.pdf
2. Minutes of the March 20th FSA Board Meeting: http://www.food.gov.uk/about-us/how-we-work/our-board/board-meetings/boardmeetings2012/120320/boardmins200312
3. Video of the March 20th FSA Board Meeting: http://www.flyonthewall.com/FlyBroadcast/FSA/LondonBoard0312/main.php?type=broadband&format=wm
4. Microbiological Safety of raw drinking milk, report by Alison Gleadle, Director of Food Safety, submitted to the March 20th FSA Board Meeting: http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/board/fsa120305.pdf
5. Dairy UK's public call to ban the retail of raw milk. Food Manufacture, June 2011.

 

 

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