Legal Threshold for Pus Cells in Milk Poised to Rise in Post-Brexit Britain

When Britain leaves the EU on the 29th of March next year, the nationwide food industry is poised to change. A new, almost 500-page report from the Office of the United States Trade Representative outlines the current barriers to foreign trade the office hopes to remove. Some of these changes could legalise previously disapproved food standards, such as allowing higher levels of pus in cow’s milk.

The report highlights food exported from the U.S. that is currently considered unsafe for human consumption by EU law could soon become legal to sell and consume within post-Brexit Britain. 

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The report explains its stance: “The United States continues to engage the EU regarding the unscientific ban on meat and animal products produced using hormones, beta agonists, and other growth promotants.” Conversely, many scientists believe consumption of food inclusive of these components poses no benefit to human health. 

Further, the Guardian comments that this “stomach-churning list of foods” will have a negative impact on human health. Currently, milk in the EU is permitted to be sold with up to 400,000 somatic pus cells in every millilitre of milk. Anything over that threshold is deemed unsafe. These pus cells are brought about when cows contract a bacterial udder infection, known as mastitis. An average of one in three dairy cows in the UK experiences this infection.

In the US, every millilitre of milk sold can legally contain up to 750,000 cells of pus, which is “more white blood cells in milk than anywhere else in the world, even though this often indicates infection in the cow,” the Guardian notes.

The average number of pus cells present in every millilitre of milk sold in the EU is 200,000 – which equates to one million cells in every teaspoon of milk. It is currently unclear what this figure could rise to if the British legal threshold is raised post-Brexit. Even organic milk is not exempt from containing somatic pus cells, as these products often don’t contain antibiotics to control the mastitis.

Recent data revealed that a third of Britain want to give up cow’s milk this year, as more consumers than ever make the switch to plant-based dairy products. In fact, dairy-free milk made from plants has been named the “future of milk.”

In addition to the allowance of higher levels of pus cells in dairy milk, post-Brexit, Britain may also allow the sale of meat containing hormones and steroids, crops containing pesticides and fungicides, some artificial flavourings, and one type of tallow (pressed animal fat, often beef or mutton).