TB testing suspends raw milk sales

Features Posted 04/09/17
Pierrepont Farm in Surrey is a classic family farm run by Mike Clear and his wife Beverley with help from their herds person Emily Murch, who lives just two miles away. Their daughter Zoe is keen on farming, and will almost certainly return to Pierrepont once she has finished her studies.

Jersey cattle have been part of the Clear family’s farming operations for some time.

Mike Clear’s father had Jersey cattle in Essex and Suffolk before Mike ran a herd on the island of Jersey. In 2006, he brought his family to Pierrepont Farm in Surrey which is owned by the Countryside Restoration Trust.

As tenants of the trust, the Clears have shown how a family farm can thrive in one of the country’s wealthiest counties and involve the community in their success. The herd started at 52 milking cows, and with the help of three robotic milking machines, there are now 130 animals with the aim of reaching 140 soon.

Nearly all the milk from this high yielding, pedigree herd goes to Arla, the European dairy cooperative. But about 1.5% has been sold to the public as raw milk through a vending machine. “We have been selling between 250 and 300 litres of raw milk a week, and the aim is to reach between 400 and 500 litres,” Mike said.

That compares with about 16,000 litres a week which go to Arla. Raw milk is sold for £1.30 a litre or £2.50 for two litres. Arla is currently paying between 34 and 35 pence per litre (ppl), compared to this time last year when the price was closer to 27 or 28ppl.

Like other farmers who sell raw milk, Mike argues that the inspection is probably tougher than for conventional milk producers. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) test the milk at least once a quarter and do a full dairy inspection a couple of times a year. “They can also pop in randomly to take a sample, and our milk is tested regularly by Arla who could highlight something and bring in the FSA.”

This regime compares with conventional farms which are inspected about once every 10 years by the FSA, said Mike. “Most farms are part of the Red Tractor assurance scheme, and it is assumed by the FSA that that is OK.” On the hygiene side, the FSA does a plate count of bacteria and coliforms. “We also do private testing for salmonella, campylobacter and listeria.”

Raw milk sales have had “a bit of a blip” after the Clear’s license was suspended following a bovine TB test in February as part of the annual testing schedule. Three animals were inconclusive, and then one animal failed the re test. The cow was slaughtered and post mortemed, but no lesions could be found. Nonetheless, DEFRA is still not saying the cow is clear of TB.

Subsequently, a whole herd test was completely clear, and now the Clears have to wait for a second test in early October before DEFRA lifts the restrictions and they can start selling raw milk again.

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