Foot-and-mouth crisis:
Foods: farmhouse cheesemakers balk at heavy handed' ban on milk

April 16, 2001 The Independent (London) by Rose Price

The Agriculture minister Baroness Hayman has told cheesemakers that no cheese may be made from raw milk during the outbreak. The decision was taken on the advice of Lacocks, the arm of the Food Standards Agency responsible for environmental health inspection.

Cheesemakers see this as a draconian measure hostile to a small but highly successful sector of the food industry. They say pasteurisation would have a detrimental effect on the character of a craft-made cheese [And there is evidence that the foot and mouth virus can survive pasteurization. Check out "The Potential for International Travelers to Transmit Foreign Animal Diseases to US Livestock or Poultry." USDA:APHIS:VS Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health. August 1998.--BSE coordinator]

The Countess of Mar, a cheesemaker and member of the House of Lords, believes the correct level of risk to human health has not been calculated. "The cheesemaking environment is hostile to the bug. The likelihood of an animal with a cloven hoof eating contaminated cheese is almost nil," she said. "This is over-imposition of a law. Instead of using sense they have come in with a heavy hand. This is clearly an animal health problem, yet we have human health officials dealing with it." [Foot and mouth disease does indeed pose a human health risk--BSE coordinator];

Other countries believe cheese poses no risk of contamination. Washington has ruled that cheese, made from both pasteurised and raw milk, be exempt from the list of foods that may not be imported to America from a country with a foot -and-mouth outbreak. The French are also happy to continue to import British farmhouse cheese.

The dairy hygiene regulations of 1995 stipulate that cheesemakers in infected areas may not handle cheese made from unpasteurised or raw milk in case of contamination. But many cheesemakers insist that cheese made from unpasteurised milk bears no greater risk that that made with heat- treated milk.

The virus cannot survive for long in levels of high acidity or below pH6. During the cheesemaking process, acidity levels drop below 6. At this level of acidity, the virus lives for one hour in cheese made from pasteurised milk.

In soft cheese made with raw milk the virus lives for just a few hours but in hard cheeses made with raw milk the virus can live for up to 40 days.

Hard cheesemakers have said they are happy not to move their cheese for 120 days and makers of soft cheeses keep the cheese on the farm for at least a week.

The Specialist Cheesemakers' Association has stated that the risk of "transmitting the virus from the interior of cheese is highly unlikely compared to other possible methods of spread".

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