Mountain View Farm Organic Bath Milk has been recalled today following the death of a three-year-old Melbourne child and the hospitalisation of four others.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is alerting consumers about the recall, pointing out the bath milk contains raw – or unpasteurised – milk and is sold in one or two litre varieties.
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said in a statement Mountain View Farm Organic Bath Milk has been linked to a number of health concerns in young children after it was used as a substitute for regular pasteurised milk.
“The message from health agencies is clear: do not drink unpasteurised milk,” Rickard said.
“If you have this product, do not drink it in any circumstances. Return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.”
The sale of unpasteurised cow’s milk for consumption is illegal in Australia. However, the consumer watchdog says it understands some people do consume the product despite it being marketed as bath milk.
Rickard said while the Mountain View Farm unpasteurised milk is labelled as a cosmetic product and carries a warning that it is not safe for human consumption, the ACCC will investigate whether there was any breach of Australian Consumer Law.
“This product is sold in containers that resemble commonly used milk containers, and four children under the age of five have fallen ill after drinking contaminated raw milk in the last few weeks, while the death of the three-year-old has been referred to the coroner,” she said.
The ACCC said it is leading a national investigation of consumer law regulators, and will consider whether voluntary or mandatory changes to labelling for unpasteurised milk will need to be implemented to address health concerns.
Earlier this week the owner of Mountain View Farm, Vicki Jones, told 3AW radio the media had “sensationalised” the death of the three-year-old who had reportedly drunk her company’s unpasteurised milk.
“I’m in shock, I think it’s a bit sensationalised,” she said.
“The label actually says not for human consumption – it’s a cosmetic product, not for human consumption. Every time we’re approached by someone who says ‘can we drink this milk’ we tell them that it’s not for consumption.”
Melissa Monks, special counsel at law firm King & Wood Mallesons, told SmartCompany this is a “very tricky” situation.
“Even if a product features all important disclosures to customers so that they may be aware of any safety risks and how not to use the product, if a customer nevertheless misuses the product, it can still trigger legal obligations for the manufacturer or retailer,” she says.
These legal obligations include mandatory reporting within 48 hours of any death or serious illness or injury that they or any other person believes was or may have been caused by the product and it may also be necessary to conduct a recall.
Monks says there is also the prospect of negligence actions by consumers that have suffered loss or damage.
“It is difficult for the manufacturer, especially if they have gone to lengths to warn consumers, such as appears to be the case here where the product was labelled ‘milk’ and for cosmetic purposes, included a warning statement against consumption and the businesses owners reportedly informed new customers that the product wasn’t for consumption,” she says.
“It raises the question of how far should businesses have to go if a consumer chooses not to follow any warnings.”
SmartCompany has contacted Mountain View Farm for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.