This week, MPI compliance staff executed search warrants at non-compliant raw drinking milk suppliers in Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, Horowhenua, Nelson and Southland, following a year-long operation.
MPI's manager of food compliance, Melinda Sando, said the purpose of the coordinated site visits was to gather evidence of the offending and to allow further investigation of non-compliant sales.
"We believe that the suppliers we visited today are operating outside of the regulatory framework. By not adhering to the rules for selling raw drinking milk, they are putting consumer health at risk,” Sando said.
"There have been multiple instances in the past of people getting sick after drinking raw milk from some of these suppliers. We can't let this continue.
"Raw unpasteurized milk is a risky product as it hasn't been heat-treated (pasteurized) to remove illness-causing bacteria including E. coli, listeria and Campylobacter.
"These types of bacteria most commonly cause severe diarrhea and vomiting, but occasionally some have been linked with more serious complications that include miscarriage, paralysis, meningitis and serious kidney problems in children. Raw milk may also be a source of tuberculosis.”
Sando said that MPI supports consumer choice and is not preventing consumers from drinking raw, unpasteurized milk.
“What we are saying is that when people do choose to drink raw unpasteurized milk, they're able to make that choice with a degree of confidence that the milk they're consuming is produced within the regulatory framework,” she said.
"Purchasing from MPI-registered suppliers who are being audited regularly to ensure they are managing risks and testing regularly helps consumers reduce the risks if they choose to drink this product."
Sando said the suppliers in question have been using various tactics in an attempt to continue selling their product including selling it as bath milk or pet milk.
"These tactics are not legal in our view and are a way of getting around the regulations and avoiding the costs associated with being compliant including food safety testing costs, registration costs and audit costs.
"We make no apologies for holding to account, people who are breaching the regulations. The rules exist for a reason – to protect human health."
She added that all suppliers were able to take part in the consultation process around the introduction of new raw drinking milk regulations, which came into effect on March 1, 2016.
Under the regulations, farmers who sell raw drinking milk to consumers need to register with MPI, follow hygiene rules when harvesting, bottling, storing and distributing the milk, frequently test their milk, and keep contact details for their customers so they can be contacted in case harmful bacteria is found in their milk.
"They knew what the rules were designed to do and why they were brought into effect. The suppliers need to stop selling unregulated product immediately and will only be able to resume selling once they have met all requirements to make them compliant,” Sando said.
"We hope they put human health first. It's the responsible thing to do."