Perhaps T.S Eliot said it best when he declared 'never commit yourself to a cheese without having first examined it.' Our food regulators have taken this mantra to heart.
In June this year, a ban was lifted on unpasteurised (raw) milk in 'hard to very hard', curd –cooked, low moisture cheese. See (comlaw).
This is the first outcome from a Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) review into raw milk that commenced back in 2009, and it's left many people in the artisan cheese and specialist dairy sector feeling like they got a raw deal.
All other raw milk products will remain outlawed, with the exception of a few European cheeses. The soft, blue Roquefort from France, the semi-hard Swiss Gruyere and Emmental and the hard Italian Parmigiano Reggiano are exempt from import restrictions – much to the relief of Australia's cheese aficionados.
The problem for artisanal cheese makers is they cannot compete with cheese being imported from Europe because it remains illegal to produce an equivalent semi-hard to soft raw milk cheese in their own country.
That is, unless you are in New Zealand.
The Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 is a paradox because New Zealand can choose to opt out.
This doesn't mean that New Zealand opts out in any of the lawmaking process for Australia. The Kiwis played a role in helping FSANZ maintain the status quo ban on most raw milk products while continuing to allow raw milk sale and consumption on their own shores.
In May 2012, a dairy farmer made headlines by importing New Zealand's first raw milk vending machine to dispense fresh, unprocessed milk from the farm gate.
The New Zealand 1981 Food Actstipulates that farmers can sell raw milk 'from the gate', provided they limit the sale to 5 litres per person per day.
And not surprisingly, New Zealand recognises all European raw milk cheeses. Bizarrely, Australia and New Zealand share the same micro-flora standards (one wonders how New Zealand soft raw milk cheese imports pass the e. coli test).
New Zealand government and industry representatives were members of the FSANZ Standard Development Committee for Raw Milk Products – the parent body for the review, which submits its proposal to the FSANZ Board – where New Zealanders are, again, part of the decision making process.
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