Dairy farms should be exempt from the FDA’s proposed rule to protect the food supply chain from terrorism, says the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).
The FDA is reviewing comments on strategies to protect food against intentional adulteration, part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which would tell large businesses to address points in their processes which are vulnerable.
In general, the dairy industry is considered to be at risk because it deals with fresh food which is distributed and consumed quickly, and bulk batches of fluid products can distribute contaminants over large quantities.
But the NMPF says regulations should not be imposed on dairy farms, because milk leaving for further processing 'is not a significant public health risk' when it comes to intentional adulteration.
"In considering whether activities that occur on dairy farms represent a high risk for intentional adulteration, FDA concluded fluid milk storage and loading in a dairy farm operation pose a significant vulnerability," said Beth Panko Briczinski, vice president, dairy foods and nutrition, in the NMPFs response.
"However, for a number of reasons, we disagree with the premise that on-farm milk destined for pasteurization is a high-risk food and, therefore, we maintain that activities on dairy farms should not be addressed through this rule."
On-farm milk destined for pasteurization would be a 'poor choice' for an act of international adulteration, she said, because it is hard to determine its ultimate destination. It is also difficult to predict the length of time between adulteration and consumption – for example, fluid milk has a shelf life of a few weeks, yet cheese may be aged for more than two years.
In addition to pasteurization, milk may be exposed to a number of heating steps (for example milk powder would be baked in dough), limiting the risk of intentional adulteration from agents affected by heat.
The response from the NMPF said dairy farmers already have a number of defence strategies for biosecurity reasons. As an example, the Secure Milk Supply Plan is under development to deal with an event of foot-and-mouth disease.
Develop plans at local and regional level
"NMPF maintains that on-farm milk destined for pasteurization would not represent a food having a high risk of intentional adulteration and, therefore, we recommed that FDA exempt dairy farms from food defense regulations," Briczinski said.
"Should FDA decide to require dairy farms to comply with specific aspects of food defense regulations,
we recommend such requirements be developed in close collaboration with the dairy industry as well as other state and federal stakeholders through the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments."
However, the NMPF recommends dairy farms producing raw milk for direct human consumption should not be exempt.
"Raw milk for direct human consumption and raw milk products represent very attractive targets for intentional adulteration," said Briczinski.
"Because they will not be pasteurized prior to human consumption, raw milk and raw milk products have an expanded list of potential contaminants, including those that are heat sensitive."
"Raw milk has the additional vulnerability of having a short shelf life, and, additionally, some states do allow for retail sales of raw milk, which expands the potential geographic range of an attack beyond on-farm sales."
The National Milk Producers Federation is made up of members from 30 cooperatives, which produce the majority of the US milk supply. It provides a forum through which dairy farmers and their cooperatives form policy on national issues that affect milk production and marketing.