|Montréal, 4 déc. - 17 déc. 1999||
|It's all in the germs
Perhaps the attitude of the bureaucrats is best illustrated by the remark made by the Countess of Mar, a member of the steering committee for the Food Standards Agency who are charged with implementing EC directives. She reported that the agency regarded small food producers as
Hygiene problems are not the only hazards faced by the cheese makers. In Haverfordwest, a town in Wales, there is such a specialist who produced some
The farmer above was also instructed to put up a sign telling his visitors not to feed meat products to his cows. Under the EU anti-fraud measures he must keep records of the exact amount of milk fed to his stock. He does this by weighing each calf before and after they have suckled their mother! His visitors may also drink a glass of raw milk at his farm, milk which is regularly tested by two different sets of officials. However, he is also obliged to display a notice to the effect that his milk may contain bacteria which is injurious to health. For the privilege of having his dairy herd inspected, an operation which takes 20 minutes, he must pay £92 (
Back in 1993, the Danish Feta cheese industry was to be eliminated because they use cow’s milk and the white dye was to be banned. This would have stopped a very large export trade to Iran. Then the Danes were hit by a directive protecting products named after a geographical area, Feta may only be produced in Greece. While the Danes are allowed to continue to export, the
The UK government’s officials are unhappy with the fact that the microbial standards set by the EU milk hygiene directive have been derogated and they are pressing for an amendment to the law. Their imposition of standards will overturn a principle of food law, which says that a food may not be condemned unless there is evidence that it will cause harm. In future a cheese might be condemned because a laboratory test showed microbial levels above a certain standard, even if the scientific evidence showed the standard was not relevant to any assessment of health risk posed by that cheese.
Dangerous Lanark Blue
The most egregious case of this type of harassment concerns a small Scottish producer of Lanark Blue Cheese. This farm operating since 1981 with some 400 ewes was producing about 40 tonnes a year of the cheese for export and domestic consumption. Such was their devotion to quality that not only did they have their own testing laboratory they were the first cheese farm to be accredited with the Food from Britain quality scheme for specialist cheese makers.
Suddenly, in 1994, the Clydesdale District Council’s Environmental Health Office (EHO) informed them that their cheese contained high levels of the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) and that an outbreak of human listeriosis with a mortality rate of 40% was feared. Unless they recalled all their cheese from the market and ceased trading the EHO would forcibly close the operation.
The farm immediately carried out its own tests and, although using fully accredited outside laboratories, could not replicate the results claimed. They then discovered that the Council’s testing labs were using unorthodox testing methods and they informed the Council that they would put their Lanark Blue cheese back on the market. The Council immediately applied for a court order condemning the entire inventory of cheese. More tests were called for, and the farm and Council were instructed to retest the stock using a mutually agreeable laboratory. They agreed on a lab but then the Council pulled out and insisted that the tests be done by the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and that all communication with them must be through the EHO. The Council informed the farm that the SAC had found the levels of bacteria to be unacceptably high, went back to court and refused to permit cross-examination of the evidence.
To cut a long story short, after 11 months and five court appearances they were finally able to show the Council’s case to be a complete sham and the judge found the Council’s expert
The Council then claimed that the 1995 production of Lanark Blue cheese was as dangerous as the 1994 production and attempted to take core samples of every single days production. Again the farm returned to court with 70 laboratory certificates showing the cheese to be Lm free. An interdict was granted in spite of the council’s lawyer claiming that
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