The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is proposing to clarify rules for selling unpasteurized, or raw, milk and cream.
Vending machines and the internet have tested the definitions of the current regulations.
Under FSA proposals, raw milk and cream would continue to be sold directly from farmers to consumers, and they could sell raw milk via the internet and vending machines on their premises or in farm shops. Wider sales – through mainstream retailers and supermarkets - would remain prohibited.
"The routes of sale that have emerged over the last few years have tested the interpretations of the current regulations and where it is acceptable to sell raw milk,” said Steve Wearne, head of policy, FSA.
“We do not believe the regulations need changing, but businesses and those who enforce the rules need greater clarity on what is acceptable.”
A FSA survey estimates 4% of raw milk is sold from vending machines, while it is unknown how much is sold online.
The current regulations state raw milk can only be sold directly to a consumer from the farm or farmers market.
Cases such as Selfridges’ 2011 partnership with a farm to sell raw milk from a vending machine in the food hall (leading to a prosecution from the FSA, which was withdrawn when sales stopped) had led to differences of opinion on the law.
“We are conscious the market for raw milk is out there,” an FSA spokesman said. “Our main priority is consumer safety and we have to make sure all necessary measures are there. There’s a balance between protecting public health and respecting consumer choice.”
The sale of raw drinking milk and raw cream in Scotland is banned and the Scottish policy is not under review.
The FSA’s preferred option, to introduce measures to harmonize and clarify current controls, has been launched this week with a public consultation. The FSA wants to standardize labeling requirements. The consultation is available on the website and public meeting will be held (further details to be announced).
“We have a public consultation which finishes on April 30,” an FSA spokesman said. “We want to listen to other people’s views from industry, producers and the public. We will then put the recommendation to the FSA board, which is likely to happen later in the year.”
Raw milk can carry bacteria such as salmonella, E.coli and listeria. The FSA says pasteurization of milk is the most effective means of protecting public health from pathogens.