They’re Watching: For the CDC, There Is a Silver Lining in Any Raw Dairy’s Problems
For much of August, the nation’s second-largest raw dairy, The Family Cow in Pennsylvania, was shut down. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, as part of its regular testing of licensed dairies, had discovered campylobacter in several samples.
There were reports of illnesss epidemiologically associated with the dairy, the PDA and Pennsylvania Department of Health reported.
For weeks, The Family Cow’s owner, Edwin Shank, worked to rectify the problem. He tried different regimens cleaning his milking equipment. He refined the dairy’s system of critical control points. He reached out to microbiology and private agriculture experts for input.
He also tried to engage PDA officials in the process of building confidence that he was working constructively to isolate his pathogen problems and come into compliance. He even arranged a meeting with PDA officials at his farm that I understood to be quite positive in tone.
This bridge-building has been part of an ongoing process with Shank--he tests his milk more frequently and more extensively than the PDA requires for permitted dairies.
He had a frustrating time getting the campylobacter problem under control, however, as his farm’s milk continued to test positive for campylobacter on several lab assessments.
Finally, on August 25, he got the word. His milk had come back clean on two consecutive tests, and a state inspection was thumbs up. He was open for business.
But government officials weren’t done with The Family Cow. On August 30, five days after Shank reopened the dairy, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control put out a report about the The Family Cow's pathogen challenges, reporting on a recall in May, and essentially concluded that Shank was engaged in a losing proposition to produce pathogen-free milk--it used the dairy's efforts to be super vigilant about pathogens against it.
“Although the dairy has consistently adhered to PDA requirements for raw milk dairies and conducted milk coliform and somatic cell testing more frequently than required, this was not the first outbreak associated with this dairy,” the CDC report noted. There has been an outbreak in 2012 with 148 illnesses that “was the largest raw-milk-associated outbreak in Pennsylvania in the past two decades.”
You kind of get the idea of where this report is going in terms of lessons. One is that raw milk dairies are prone to repeat problems with pathogens “even under optimal conditions; seasonal changes in bovine bacterial shedding or inadequate quality control during milk collection might contribute to outbreak recurrence”
But more ominous from the CDC’s perspective is that “compliance with state regulations and increased producer awareness after an outbreak are insufficient to prevent future outbreaks. “ Thus, “public education should stress that avoiding consumption is the most effective way to prevent illness from raw milk products.”
There’s no consideration given to the possibility that The Family Cow could have some unresolved issue in its dairy operation. Perhaps the farm’s large flock of chickens is passing on the campylobacter to the cows. Or possibly the dairy hasn’t been doing an effective enough job of culling cows with high somatic cell counts.
There’s no acknowledgment given over to the fact that hundreds of dairies are producing raw milk without illnesses, day after day, month after month, year after year.
When it comes to the CDC, the answer is always the same, no matter what the issue facing a raw dairy: Raw milk is inherently unsafe, and there’s nothing that can change that reality. End of story.