Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mobile Milking System, Bureaucrats & Regulations

When I decided to actually build the mobile cowshed & process my own milk, I knew that the regulatory requirements would be the hardest part.

New Zealand trades on our food safety reputation. We need to protect that reputation. I'm aware that even small scale producers have the potential to put our whole reputation at risk too.

With this in mind, I delved into all the regulations that a mobile cowshed would have to meet. 

The regulations for the farm dairy side of things are in a document named NZCP1.

People wanting to process milk will also need to know all the requirements of DCP1, DCP2, DCP3 & DCP4. 

There is also the "Heat Treatment Code of Practice" & the "Operational Guideline: Dairy Heat Treatment" documents that need to be followed.

After wading through those documents, I had almost lost the will to live. But I somehow managed to get through the "Operational Guideline: Dairy HACCP plans" & "Operational Guideline: Dairy Processing Premises" as well.

An important point is, if someone wanted to use a mobile cowshed to supply a dairy company, they would only need to comply with NZCP1. 

Over the last 2 years I've tried to design a mobile system which I think will meet all these requirements. 

I met with a number of people in AsureQuality & I had an experienced food safety consultant look over my plans. This was to ensure that what I had planned to build will meet the regulations.

But you never really know how it will go until you actually try. So I just had to bite the bullet & do it.

Risk Management Programmes
Anyone wanting to milk cows need to operate under a risk management programme (RMP) that is registered with the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI). For example, all Fonterra farmers operate under Fonterra's RMP. Fonterra outline these requirements in their suppliers handbook. 

As I am my own dairy company I need to have my own RMP for the farm dairy & an RMP for milk processing.

MPI provide template RMP's on their website. The templates are essentially a "fill in the boxes" document.

I submitted my template RMP's to the Ministry of Primary Industries and waited.

Eventually the Ministry of Primary Industries responded to my risk management programme application with the following:

"Construction of yard and races – photos show gates directly onto the paddock.  The requirement is for a concrete or similar impervious yard, and the mobile milking trailer would need to be sited on a concrete pad."
"Our opinion is that a mobile milking unit such as you propose are likely to not meet the requirements.  Some modifications to your unit may be required such as having it permanently located or alternatively re-locatable to pre-approved sites where suitable facilities such as a concrete pad,........."
 A concrete pad, kind of defeats the purpose of the mobile system.

If we take a look at the requirements of NZCP1.
NZCP1 6.1 Floors, Yard Surfaces and Races  
All the floors of a farm dairy (i.e. in the milking, milk receiving, and milk storage areas, yards and associated storerooms and offices) must be made of concrete or a similar impervious material. These floors and yards must be uniformly graded, be able to be readily cleaned after every milking, and have a fall to allow drainage to approved outlet points.
The intent of "impervious material" floors, "readily cleaned" & "have a fall to allow drainage" is to ensure that effluent and waste water is not flooding all over the place & causing a smelly health & environmental hazard.

I have designed the system to ensure that all effluent, waste water & wash water is contained within the cowshed and drained to a single point where it is spread with a sprinkler. 

But we obviously don't have a concrete holding yard, which the code requires.

Instead of a concrete holding yard I am proposing an alternative method of ensuring waiting cows do not create an environmental & health risk.

Basicly I milk a small herd of cows and we move after every milking. So the cows are not waiting in the same area day after day and making a mess. We also ensure that the cows waiting to be milked do not wait more than 30 minutes. We also ensure the cows wait on new grass, this way they graze happily while they wait.

These measures combined ensure very little effluent is produced & we will meet the intentions of the regulations.

I'm confident that the mobile system will meet the requirements, it just a matter of getting it through the official channels & that is what is taking the time.

MPI have said:
"For alternatives to be considered a RMP would need to be developed specific to the nature of operations and these must be evaluated by an MPI recognised dairy evaluator then submitted to MPI for registration"
It's important to note the difference between an evaluator, verifier & an assessor. I have already had the cowshed approved by an dairy assessor, these are the same people who conduct dairy shed inspections on dairy farms. But I need an evaluator who seems to be the next level up from an assessor.

The problem is getting a "dairy evaluator" to inspect my cowshed & RMP. There simply is not enough people to conduct the work. Everyone in this field is flat out busy. I can't even get these guys to answer emails or return phone calls.
These evaluators are the same people who inspect the major dairy companies & I suppose I'm at the bottom of the pecking order.

Anyway, I had anticipated MPI may respond with the requirement for a specific RMP.

So I had spent the previous 4 months writing a custom RMP (consisting of over 7,000 words) that would cover both the farm dairy & the milk processing operations.

I would have submitted my custom RMP immediately, but I'm waiting for an approved evaluator to inspect the system & a verifier to inspect my pasteuriser.

Meanwhile, I'm milking my cows and spending money and going broke very quickly!

I can't sell my milk until MPI approve my RMP.

I can see a scenario where I submit everything again to MPI and they take their 20 days to respond, where by they ask a few further questions and then promptly close for Christmas!


  1. What a horrible situation. Seems to me that consumer protection is the primary reason for requiring RMPs. But at your scale you will know most if not all of your customers, and in all likelihood they'll be repeat buyers.

    Provided you give them (your customers) full disclosure of your methods and this RMP shizzle, why can't they agree to bear any residual risk? If you get them to sign a short statement to that effect and start selling them milk, who exactly would MPI be protecting if they try to stop you?

    I suggested adding something like this (a customer-supplier charter option) into the Food Act but it never got picked up. So maybe my suggestion is illegal. But on the other hand the Food Act is supposed to impose different RMP standards according to the scale of your operation, so you are kind of entitled to take a low cost approach I'd have thought.

    Good luck!

    1. Hi John
      MPI have developed template RMP's which are designed to reduce the compliance costs of small producers.
      Mobile milking sheds do not fit the template. Maybe once I've got through this, mobile systems will be able to use the template.

      I like your idea about the customer waiver.

      I've had some good news from MPI in the last few days. So won't be long now.