This story first hit the news Thursday and we’ve yet to see any report that quotes a statement from the farmers involved. The Bovine has also tried to contact the farmers, with no success so far. So for now, we can only go on what has been published in the media. Here’s an excerpt from a story from the JournalTimes.com titled “Racine County residents sickened by raw milk“. A sidebar on the story asks victims to contact the reporter, presumably for followup reports. David E. Gumpert, in one of the articles below asks a very pertinent question — why can’t we use such cases to fine-tune raw milk production systems so this kind of thing doesn’t happen instead of as a pretext to restrict raw milk access even further?
“State officials are blaming raw milk for sickening more than 30 people in southeastern Wisconsin, including residents from Racine and Kenosha counties.
In Wisconsin, some 35 illnesses from campylobacter seem to have been linked via testing on consumers and cows to raw milk provided to consumers who are leaseholders at Zinniker Family Farm. I couldn’t reach anyone at Zinniker Family Farm for comment.
The consumers have become ill with campylobacter, which is generally less severe than other pathogens, like E.coli O157:H7 and listeria. But occasionally individuals do become very ill from campylobacter, via a complication known as Guillain-Barre syndrome, and there are reports that one of the victims in this outbreak has GBS.
It seems to me there are three possible responses by all concerned:
One is the approach being taken by the authorities: use this for more fear mongering, as conclusive evidence that consumers shouldn’t drink raw milk. Wisconsin officials have done that and gone a step further, suggesting that herd share type arrangements shouldn’t be allowed.
A second approach, by the dairy owners and raw milk advocates, is to deny that the outbreak was caused by raw milk. I haven’t heard anyone among the pro raw milk contingent claiming that. In fact, Pete Kennedy, head of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, told me this looks like “an open-and-shut case” of illness linked to raw milk.
A third approach is one we rarely hear about on the part of authorities: Let’s figure out what might have gone wrong at Zinniker Family Farm, and help them and others correct the problems. Moreover, let’s help our raw milk dairies produce safe raw milk as a way to support dairy farming in the U.S., since conventional dairy farming is nearly untenable economically for small dairies.
I’ve suggested this economic development approach to regulators from a number of states—when I attended the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) session in July and the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS) session in April. Everyone I mentioned it to looked at me as if I was crazy. The comments were to effect, “We have to worry about safety.”
But when you think about it, that’s not how regulators treat other foods. They take the attitude that spinach, lettuce, and beef producers need to find ways to minimize illness, so they can continue as viable businesses.
Indeed, there were comments following my previous post about a federal initiative to liberalize meat distribution from small slaughterhouses, to enable interstate shipments. In other words, government officials taking a common-sense approach to make life easier for small producers, and give consumers wider access to specialized products from small producers.
Why not the same approach to raw milk?
It get back to ideology. The fact that there is an outbreak of illness from raw milk shouldn’t be taken as an excuse to make life more miserable for raw dairies. Yet that is what happens….”
And finally here’s another report on the story from Donna Gilson at Wisbusiness.com:
“MADISON – DNA test results and other evidence have now established that an outbreak of illness involving at least 35 people, the majority children and teens, was linked to drinking unpasteurized milk. Wisconsin food safety officials are cautioning consumers not to drink raw milk and farmers not to sell it to the public.
“Laws requiring pasteurization of milk have been on the books for more than half a century, and there are good public health reasons for that,” said Steve Ingham, head of the Food Safety Division in the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
“We have very compelling evidence linking these illnesses to drinking raw milk. This is the third major outbreak in Wisconsin since 2001 that has been tied to raw milk consumption. That’s not to mention a number of smaller ones in which the link was strongly suspected, but patients were unwilling to identify farms that provided the milk. So far we’ve been fortunate that the infections have not been life-threatening, but raw milk is an inherently risky food and it can lead to other, more dangerous illnesses, including E. coli 0157:H7 infection.”
An epidemiologic investigation conducted by DATCP and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has found 35 confirmed cases of Campylobacter jejuni infection, including 21 patients under age 18. One person was hospitalized. All the patients had consumed unpasteurized milk. Thirty of the patients identified Zinniker Family Farm, Elkhorn, as the source of the raw milk. The farm sells raw milk through a “cow-share” program. Twenty-seven of the confirmed cases were in Walworth and Waukesha counties; the rest were in Racine and Kenosha counties.
Additional testing showed that the Campylobacter jejuni isolated from 25 of the patients – all linked to Zinniker Family Farm – had the same DNA fingerprint. Manure samples obtained directly from milking cows on that farm also tested positive for Campylobacter jejuni with the same DNA fingerprint. Manure on the cows’ udders or in the milking barn environment can contaminate milk. Pasteurization kills Campylobacter jejuni and other disease-causing bacteria in milk.
Campylobacter jejuni are bacteria that cause symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever, nausea and vomiting. Rarely, an infection may lead to paralysis, which may require hospitalization and artificial respiration. This generally occurs after the initial symptoms have disappeared. Campylobacter can be transmitted by consuming food contaminated by animal feces or handled by someone with the infection who has not adequately washed his/her hands after using the bathroom.
Milk samples from the farm taken after the initial outbreak did not test positive, which is not unusual, Ingham said. Cattle shed the bacteria intermittently, so the bacteria may not have been present when the samples were taken. Changes in sanitation procedures could also explain the absence of bacteria in later milk samples, he said.
Because Zinniker Family Farm sells milk to a defined customer list, there is little risk to the general public in this case. However, the outbreak should discourage consumers from joining “cow-share,” membership, or other similar arrangements to buy raw milk, and should discourage dairy producers from adopting such an arrangement for their farms, Ingham said.
“Selling raw milk to consumers is illegal in Wisconsin. Some farmers believe that such arrangements exempt them from the law. They are mistaken. The law says that owners may consume raw milk from their farms, but those owners have to be true owners with a real financial stake in the farm. And the law clearly says that unpasteurized milk can be sold only to a licensed dairy plant or to other licensed businesses that sell to dairy plants,” he said….”