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The BBC's Morag Kinniburgh reports
"Making cheese by hand is a laborious process"
 real 28k

Friday, 24 March, 2000, 09:31 GMT
Cheese trade 'suffocation' warning
Dairy products can carry listeria
Scotland's traditional cheesemakers have warned new laws proposed by the Scottish Executive will destroy their trade.

The government denies this, saying the changes will help protect the public from dangerous bacteria like listeria.

But producers argue cheesemakers in England and Wales will not be subjected to such suffocating legislation.

The Specialist Cheesemakers Association fears producers of unpasteurised cheese north of the border will have to comply with strict new dairy hygiene laws in Scotland.

There is no public health risk, there is no need for this new legislation

Humphrey Errington
It is worried the proposed changes in the law will destroy the Scottish traditional cheese trade with the loss of more than 100 rural jobs.

Cheesemaker Humphrey Errington - who went to court to save his Lanark Blue Cheese five years ago - says he will have to close down if the legislation is introduced.

He said: "There is no public health risk, there is no need for this new legislation.

'No damage'

"We've already got good legislation, we are being treated far more toughly than the English cheesemakers are, and if this legislation goes through that will be the end of an ancient and unique Scottish cheesemaking tradition."

The Scottish Executive denies the change will damage raw cheese production.

But it says the new law will mean no cheese will be exempt from listeria and e-coli controls.

Cheese map of Scotland
Legislation could hit traditional cheesemakers
Professor Hugh Pennington is a world expert on E-coli and food infections. From his base in Aberdeen he is advising the new Food Standards Agency on the action it should be taking.

Prof Pennington said that as long as scientific doubts remain about the dangers the executive should proceed with caution.

He said: "It's a rare infection to be contracted from cheese, but it can be present there and because the consequences can be so serious for people, one obviously has to do something about it because people do die from this infection.

Parliamentary debate

"Unfortunately there are all sorts of technical issues which don't make it a simple problem. Just finding listeria is not the answer because there are listerias and listerias and some are more dangerous than others."

Prof Pennington added: "I think particular kinds of listeria, even if we're not absolutely certain whether all of them will cause a problem are things we look for and if we find them then we'll say that product's not really fit to eat."

99% of the population who are healthy people are prepared to take the risk, they want to eat something that tastes fantastic

PJ Clarkson
Sales of unpasteurised cheeses have grown in the last few years at Herbie's Delicatessen in Edinburgh.

Owner PJ Clarkson says it is enough to make people aware of the potential dangers of unpasteurised cheese, likening the debate to that surrounding BSE and beef on the bone.

"They are aware of the risks. They know that if you're pregnant or if you're elderly there is a risk associated with it.

"But for 99% of the population who are healthy people are prepared to take the risk, they want to eat something that tastes fantastic, they don't want to eat pasteurised, sterilised rubbish," said Mr Clarkson.

The Scottish Parliament will debate dairy hygiene laws later in the year.

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