Uncooked milk security and hen flu virus : Pictures


Cows graze at a dairy farm in La Grange, Texas, that sells raw milk to the public.

Cows graze at a dairy farm in La Grange, Texas, that sells uncooked milk to the general public.

Chiara Eisner/NPR


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Chiara Eisner/NPR

Uncooked milk is getting recent scrutiny, as hen flu continues to contaminate dairy herds.

A extremely pathogenic pressure of flu, lethal to birds, has unfold to a minimum of 58 herds of dairy cattle in 9 states, and to a minimum of two folks. Samples of unpasteurized milk have been discovered to comprise the virus, in response to USDA exams.

However whereas federal authorities have suggested folks to not drink uncooked milk, it’s nonetheless on sale and simply accessible in lots of locations throughout the nation.

Even in Texas, the place the hen flu in cows was first detected and the place it has been discovered in additional than a dozen herds, some farms promoting unpasteurized uncooked milk to the general public declined to have their provide examined, NPR discovered after reporters bought uncooked milk and submitted it for testing on Could 8.

The USDA-approved lab licensed to check the milk for the H5N1 hen flu virus known as the farms to hunt their permission to look at the milk, then additionally declined to check the milk for hen flu when the farmers didn’t grant it.

“[The farms] are conscious of what a nonnegative take a look at would do to their enterprise,” stated Brandon Dominguez, the Veterinary Companies Part Head on the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic laboratory in Faculty Station, Texas. “They requested that we don’t run the take a look at.”

After NPR reported that the USDA had confirmed the company doesn’t require labs to have permission from farms to check milk samples for hen flu, Amy Swinford, the director of the Texas A&M lab, added that another excuse the lab couldn’t carry out the take a look at is that reporters didn’t present the premise identification numbers for every of the farms. These numbers aren’t publicly obtainable; reporters did embody the license numbers of every of the farms once they submitted samples for testing.

The lab and the farms’ refusal to check samples of uncooked milk comes as scientists have criticized the federal authorities for being gradual to gather and report details about the virus. There was no widespread testing of dairy employees to grasp what number of could also be contaminated, no mandate that dairy farms take a look at their herds in the event that they aren’t shifting cattle between states, and no clear testing knowledge to assist federal authorities’ warnings of a possible risk of hen flu in uncooked milk that individuals drink.

Advocates and critics of unpasteurized milk sq. off

Within the void of proof, each side of the uncooked milk debate are shoring up their conventional views.

Public well being officers and lecturers say the dangers are at present heightened, and that precautions needs to be taken till there’s a clearer understanding of the scope of hen flu in dairy cows, and the way it’s spreading between animals and people.

“Pasteurization is efficient at inactivating the virus,” stated Don Prater, head of the FDA’s Middle for Meals Security and Utilized Diet, in a press name on Could 1. “[We] strongly advise in opposition to the consumption of uncooked milk – milk that has not been pasteurized – and suggest that the business doesn’t manufacture or promote uncooked milk or uncooked milk merchandise made with milk from cows exhibiting signs of sickness, any sickness, together with these contaminated with avian influenza virus,” Prater stated.

Uncooked milk advocates say the theoretical dangers are exaggerated and are the newest chapter of their lengthy, contentious battle with the federal authorities, which banned the interstate sale of uncooked milk within the Nineteen Eighties. “The FDA will take any excuse to blast us any method they will,” says Marc McAfee, a uncooked milk dairy farmer in California and founding father of the Uncooked Milk Institute, an advocacy group.

Uncooked milk on the market, however not really helpful

It’s not onerous to get uncooked milk in Texas. You may choose it up at a health heart in Austin, or drive on to the farmhouse stoops of dozens of uncooked milk dairies sprinkled all through the state. There, when you drop some cash in a lockbox, you’ll be able to go away with a chilly gallon of milk, straight from the cow, that’s by no means been heated to a temperature that will kill the micro organism and microorganisms that may be dwelling in it.

Cheryl Masraum was unconcerned about hen flu as she purchased uncooked milk from Stryk Jersey Farm in Schulenburg, Texas, between Houston and San Antonio.

“We had been maintaining on that, however it did not appear to be a risk right here,” stated Masraum, noting that the outbreaks in cows had been reported in northwest Texas, close to the New Mexico border. “I feel the uncooked milk is usually a a lot better high quality, and it simply tastes higher.”

Samples of raw milk from different Texas dairy farms that NPR collected for testing.

Samples of uncooked milk from completely different Texas dairy farms that NPR collected for testing.

Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media


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Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media

Masraum is a part of the small however passionate group of uncooked milk customers in America. Roughly 1.6% of U.S. adults steadily drink milk that’s by no means been pasteurized to kill germs, in response to a survey from the Meals and Drug Administration.

Now, the hen flu outbreak in dairy cattle has prompted federal well being officers to resume their warnings to the general public to not drink uncooked milk.

Public well being officers say they’ve lengthy really helpful in opposition to ingesting uncooked milk, as a result of it may harbor disease-causing micro organism. Pasteurization, the transient heating of milk, can kill or inactivate microbes..

Nonetheless, the chance of contracting hen flu from uncooked milk is basically theoretical. “There’s not an amazing quantity of research exhibiting the infectivity associated to this virus and uncooked milk merchandise,” FDA’s Prater stated throughout the press briefing.

How a lot hen flu virus is in milk?

The FDA discovered hen flu virus fragments in 20% of pasteurized, grocery retailer samples the company collected and examined, in response to a latest survey. These virus fragments weren’t able to inflicting an infection, in response to FDA exams.

In response to the federal authorities, the virus seems to be spreading between herds via the motion of contaminated cows. Within the present working principle, H5N1 jumped from birds to dairy cows in Texas in direction of the tail finish of 2023. Then, “the transportation of cattle from Texas to quite a few different states principally created issues in these states,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack advised reporters Could 10. Vilsack stated that the USDA’s present technique – of requiring cows to check unfavorable earlier than they transfer throughout state traces – is geared toward “making an attempt to comprise the unfold and finally permitting for particular herds to have the virus peter out.”

Uncooked milk advocates say their farms are small, and their herds are comparatively remoted. Uncooked milk can solely be legally bought within the state it’s produced in. “There’s been no publicity of our cows with cows which are optimistic from different states. We don’t purchase cows from different states. So why would [our cows] be optimistic?” McAfee, in California, says. No cows or milk samples from California have examined optimistic.

Virus researchers counter that there’s not sufficient ongoing surveillance to ascertain the bounds of the outbreak. “I do not know that we now have the knowledge as a result of we’ve not been systematically testing,” saysDr. Helen Chu, an infectious illnesses specialist at College of Washington in Seattle. “It is a virus that mutates in a short time, that goes from people to birds to pigs to cows – to all of those completely different species.” On condition that avian influenza is carried by wild waterfowl and migratory birds “who’re flying in all places and defecating into the feed of farms in every single place… I do not know that we have been trying [enough] to know for certain that that is the one occasion,” Chu says.

One strategy to decide if there’s H5N1 virus in uncooked milk, supposed for people to drink, is to check for it. Chu’s colleague Lea Starita, who leads a genomic testing lab on the College of Washington, has examined dozens of milk samples, uncooked and pasteurized, bought from native farmer’s markets and grocery shops. She has discovered possible viral fragments in about 5% of the samples, although the uncooked milk samples have examined unfavorable.

However testing uncooked milk for hen flu shouldn’t be taking place often, and farms have declined requests to have their uncooked milk examined, NPR and others have discovered.

“They’re frankly afraid of what is going on to occur to their farms, their households. It is not simply strictly a public well being concern. It is a difficulty of economics and albeit, survival,” stated Swinford, the director of the Texas A&M lab that declined to check the milk NPR submitted for evaluation.

On Could 21, an worker of the Texas A&M lab confirmed that the lab may ship the samples to a different laboratory for NPR, and that transport was a service the lab offered to shoppers. However on Could 22, Swinford known as a reporter to say that she wouldn’t permit that for the uncooked milk that NPR bought and submitted for testing of hen flu.

“I’m not going to facilitate that…as a result of these dairies advised us to not take a look at them,” Swinford stated.

Might consuming avian influenza in uncooked milk infect folks?

The federal authorities’s warnings in opposition to uncooked milk consumption are primarily based on identified risks. Uncooked milk has been implicated in meals poisoning of greater than 2,500 folks meals poisoning over the previous 20 years, with micro organism equivalent to Campylobacter and Cryptosporidium. However whether or not unpasteurized milk can provide folks hen flu is unclear.

Farm cats that drank unpasteurized milk from contaminated cows grew to become significantly in poor health – some cats went blind, skilled severe neurological results and died after ingesting it, in response to a latest report within the journal Rising Infectious Ailments. And mice that had been fed samples of contaminated, unpasteurized milk from cows in New Mexico acquired sick in a short time and had excessive virus masses of their respiratory tracts, in response to a Could 24 report within the New England Journal of Medication, co-authored by Swinford at Texas A&M.

Up to now, there aren’t any confirmed circumstances of people getting hen flu from ingesting uncooked milk. Two dairy employees – one in Texas and one in Michigan – acquired sick with avian influenza after working carefully with contaminated cows. In each circumstances, the employees developed eye infections and have since recovered.

On Could 1, the CDC stated well being authorities had monitored over 100 uncovered employees with out discovering any hen flu infections. However a veterinarian in Texas advised the publication Bovine Veterinarian of sick farm employees that haven’t been examined.

So far as customers go, McAfee and different uncooked milk advocates see the shortage of circumstances to be reassuring. If no one has caught hen flu from ingesting uncooked milk but, it might not occur in any respect.

However public well being officers keep that hen flu in dairy cattle stays a brand new, evolving scenario. “There are lots of unanswered questions, and far more to study,” says Lori Freeman, head of the Nationwide Affiliation of County and Metropolis Well being Officers. “Till we study extra about this specific pathogen spreading amongst animals and to folks, we needs to be taking an abundance of precaution.”

Uncooked milk farmers say they’re following the developments carefully, and dealing to make sure that their cows are wholesome and their milk is secure. And that these arguments are unlikely to sway a lot of their dedicated clients. “Those who comply with us – if FDA says it is unhealthy, they will run [towards] it,” McAfee says, “In my view, right here in California with our uncooked milk, it is a lot ado about zero.”



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