The firms, which all specialise in the production of traditional, artisan raw milk cheese, warned that it could threaten the future of the Scottish sector.
The five businesses – Errington Cheese, Isle of Mull Cheese, Galloway Farmhouse Cheese, Cambus O’May Cheese Co. and Finlay’s Farm Ltd – have taken to Crowdjustice, a crowdfunding platform specialising in raising money to support legal action, to raise the initial £15,000 they’ll need to prepare and submit their judicial review.
A spokesperson for the five said that they believe that the guidance, which was published in December last year, “does not reflect, and is contrary to, agreed EU industry guidance and established best practice” in its current format, adding that they are concerned that it would render raw milk cheese production in Scotland “unviable”.
The group had previously written to Food Standards Scotland to request a suspension to enable changes to be made; however they say that at time of writing this request has been refused.
The businesses have a fixed three- month window within which to initiate the review, with that window closing on 21 March, 2019.
The campaign, which was launched on Tuesday, can be viewed at: www.crowdjustice.com/case/save-farmhouse-cheese-producti/ and has so far raised over £8,000, just over half of its target.
Selina Cairns of Errington Cheese stated that this latest blow could put an end to the artisan unpasteurised cheesemaking industry in Scotland and put a number of long-standing businesses at high risk of closure.
She said: “It is with immense frustration that we once again find ourselves having to initiate legal action in response to action by Food Standards Scotland. This new guidance for Scotland will effectively regulate Scottish raw milk cheese out of existence.
“We have repeatedly invited Food Standards Scotland, and the committee responsible for drafting this guidance, to work with the industry to amend it to satisfy both industry and food safety requirements, and of course to align it with the agreed EU legislation and guidance.
“We can’t wait any longer. The risk of not taking this action is that Scotland’s artisan unpasteurised cheesemakers will be effectively shut down, while unpasteurised cheese produced elsewhere, with less stringent regulation, will still be sold in Scotland.
“To effectively remove specialist cheesemaking from Scotland would be an act of extraordinary self-harm to Scotland’s food heritage and to our nation’s growing reputation as a land of food and drink.”
A spokesperson for Food Standards Scotland responded that they would be meeting with the Specialist Cheesemakers Association and the Fine Cheesemakers of Scotland to discuss the guidance further in the next couple of weeks.
They said: “The purpose of the guide is to ensure a consistent and proportionate approach is taken by enforcement officials within these establishments.”
The Scottish Food Enforcement Liaison Committee (SFELC), which produced the guidance, has already publicly committed to reviewing the guidance and will consider any issues identified. Food producers can also talk to their local environmental health officer at any time if they have any concerns.
“The safety of food being produced in Scotland is our paramount concern and we support all responsible food businesses who share that aim.”