35 people sick with Campylobacter in Wisconsin reportedly all drank milk from the same raw dairy

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?

Zinniker farm cows. Augusta Chronicle photo.

Zinniker farm cows. Augusta Chronicle photo.

State officials are blaming raw milk for sickening more than 30 people in southeastern Wisconsin, including residents from Racine and Kenosha counties.

Officials are warning consumers not to drink raw milk after test results and other evidence confirmed an illness outbreak involving at least 35 people, mainly teenagers and children, who drank unpasteurized milk, the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection announced this week.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services discovered 35 confirmed cases of campylobacter jejuni infection, including 21 patients under age 18.

The majority of the confirmed cases, 27, were from Walworth and Waukesha counties, the rest were in Racine and Kenosha counties. One person was hospitalized.

“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,” Steve Ingham, head of the Food Safety Division in the DATCP, said in a news release.

All those sickened had consumed unpasteurized milk. Thirty of the people identified Zinniker Family Farm in Elkhorn as the source of the raw milk. The farm sells raw milk through a “cow-share” program, according to state officials.

It is illegal in Wisconsin to sell unpasteurized milk to consumers, however several groups have organized nationwide to fight for the rights of consumers who want to purchase raw milk.

Groups like the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the Weston A. Price Foundation, which has chapters in southeastern Wisconsin, advocate for consumers who choose to buy products like raw milk.

The Zinniker Family Farm, a certified organic farm south of East Troy, has offered fresh raw milk through a Cow Ownership Program since the mid-1980s, according to the Web sitehttp://www.fieldsneighborhood.org. The farm also sells certified organic milk to an organic dairy in the state. Attempts to reach the farm’s owners were unsuccessful.

The farm sells milk to a defined customer list, state officials said….”

Read the whole story here.

Lead photo from this page.

David E. Gumpert has a commentary on the case, published Friday on his The Complete Patient blog. Here’s an excerpt from that:

What are we to make of the latest outbreak of illnesses attributed to raw milk?

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….”

Read the whole story on the Complete Patient blog.

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….”

See full story at Wisbusiness.com


Filed under News

14 responses to “35 people sick with Campylobacter in Wisconsin reportedly all drank milk from the same raw dairy

  1. thebovine

    Latest update:

    Associated Press – September 18, 2009 3:45 PM ET

    MADISON, Wis. (AP) – State agriculture officials have ordered an Elkhorn farm to stop selling raw milk after more than two dozen people fell ill.

    The order against Zinniker Farm Inc., says 35 people from Walworth, Waukesha and Racine counties have been diagnosed with campylobacter jejuni (cam-pil-oh-BAK-ter je-JOO-nee) since Aug. 13. That’s a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, cramping and vomiting.

    All the victims said they had consumed raw milk. Thirty of them said they got it from the Zinniker farm.

    Tests matched campylobacter jejuni found in 29 victims’ feces to campylobacter jejuni found in cow feces on the farm.

    State officials warned the farm in April that selling raw milk products is illegal in Wisconsin.


  2. People that fail to take simple but necessary steps to insure their food is safe are sometimes going to get sick.
    That’s just an undeniable fact of life!

  3. Michael

    There is always a concerning factor regarding the sudden appearance of pathogens in milk which was clean and healthy for 30 or 40 years. Why is this happening now only a few months after they got a warning from state officials to stop providing raw milk.
    One needs to be aware that it is rather simple to intentionally contaminate milk on a farm, just to sway the public against raw milk.
    As long regulators refuse to jointly develop a system which allows access and choice for people, I cannot help but think, that this is a setup just to proof their point.
    I do understand David Gumbert’s position, that we should use that as an opportunity to develop production standards. It only works IF the regulators are willing to do that. Their continued refusal to do that, makes them suspects every time there is another outbreak.
    I have no illusions that those who try to shut down this movement are able and capable to use any method necessary just to achieve their goals.
    History has taught us that those in power who fear that they might loose that control are able to do anything. Why should they be worried about peoples health when they ignore everything else effecting our health be it GMO’s pesticides or Government approved drugs.
    Sorry I have a hard time believing any official version of this story.

  4. thebovine

    Michael seems to be suggesting there might have been foul play involved, on the part of those who would like to see raw milk discredited in the public mind.

    We certainly wouldn’t rule out such a possibility. It will be interesting to see what new evidence might come to light in this case over the course of time.

  5. I guess, if you are going to feed chicken poop from chickens fed Arsenic to livestock — then it is most likely advisable to at least “pasteurize” the milk, or be willing to get very sick. At least that is what CFIA says about feeding chicken manure to animals. Oh well, what does CFIA know that the US producers do not?

    A little more, “of interest” on Arsenic Resistance in Campylobacter http://aem.asm.org/cgi/content/full/72/4/3069

  6. thebovine

    I’m pretty sure the folks at the Zinniker farm wouldn’t have been feeding chicken poop to their cattle, if that’s what you’re implying, cowboss.

  7. thebovine

    See today’s post for more discussion of related themes, in particular the contrast between how disease outbreaks are handled in raw dairies vs pasteurized dairies:


  8. So, please tell me again! why the folk at the Zinneker farm would not feed chicken poop to their livestock, it is a fully FDA sanctioned and approved feed stuff in the US, and it certainly is a lot cheaper than a morally and ethically acceptable diet for the livestock. I understand that there is substantial price pressure on milk in the US at present so this type of an abomination makes perfect sense to me!

  9. thebovine

    The Zinniker farm is biodynamic and has been so for many decades. In fact, it’s probably one of the first biodynamic farms in America. Organic farming as we know it today can be described as a simplified form of biodynamic agriculture.

    Knowing what I do about biodynamic practices and principles, I’m more than sure that feeding chicken poop to their cattle would absolutely not be among the practices that fit with that method and philosophy of farming.

    Ehrenfried Pfeiffer was the pioneer of biodynamic farming in North America after WW2. It is my understanding that his very successful demo farm was getting so much positive attention that folks who felt threatened by the possibility of biodynamics becoming more widespread were instrumental in introducing disease (I think it was Brucellosis) into Pfeiffer’s herd in an effort to discredit biodynamics. I’m not sure if this was ever proven. And probably there are folks out there who know more about the story than I do. Perhaps they could write a few lines here in the comments.

    This is part of the background to why people like Michael (above) and myself wonder out loud whether this incident is somehow the result of foul play on the part of opponents of raw milk.

    Certainly in the 1994 milk “war” at Michael Schmidt’s in Durham Ontario, a lot of “dirty tricks” were employed by opponents, including kidnapping of farm staff by East German thugs — we’re guessing they were hired ex-Stazi officers — ongoing surveillance by private investigators, and conspiracy to deny insurance to the farm until Michael pled guilty to charges.

    Even now, while the court decision in his present case is pending until January 2010, no bank would give him a mortgage in spite of an excellent financial picture — because he is “fighting with the government”. He was forced to resort to raising private financing from among supporters and cow-share members.

  10. thebovine

    Further to our discussion in the last few comments, here’s what the Zinnikers say about their farm on the home page of their website:

    The Zinniker Family Farm was established in 1943 by Max and Mathilde Zinniker. Starting out with only 10 cows, a few chickens and horses to work the fields, over the next few decades the farm grew into what it is today.

    Today the Zinniker farm is farmed by Mark and Petra Zinniker and Mark’s parents Richard and Ruth. There are 165 acres to the Zinniker farm with 120 acres tillable land, 10 acres of woods and the remaining in permanent pastures.

    The farm has a herd of 30 Holstein dairy cows, a breeding bull, approx. 20 head of young stock of varying ages and 220-250 free range laying hens.

    The farm produces hay (alfalfa), corn, oats, wheat, barley and field peas. All crops are harvested to feed the animals on the farm. Occasionally some hay has to be bought. During the growing season the cows are rotationally grazed on hayfields and permanent pastures. The free range chickens have access to nearby hayfields. In the winter the cows have a diet of Hay, some corn silage and grain (ground ear corn and oats with a mineral supplement).

    From the very beginning the farm has been worked biodynamically, a particular way of organic farming, based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. This methods focus on the farm being a whole organism, in which the farmer takes on the role of guiding the circle of fertility, in which the animals provide manure for the compost to fertilize the crops grown on the land, that in return feed the people and animals of the farm.The farm is also considered as part of a bigger cosmic whole, that influences the way things grow and relate to each other. Herbal and mineral preparations are used in the process of making compost, on the land and crops to bring these cosmic influences to the plants, animals and food.

    Since 2000 the farm has been certified organic by Oregon Tilth (OTCO) and shipped milk to Organic Valley. Since the mid-1980’s the farm has been supplying consumers with fresh raw milk through a Cow Ownership Program. The program has since grown in size and provides members also with eggs, raw honey from the farm, beef and handmade milk-based soaps.

    from: http://www.fieldsneighborhood.org/index.php?id=459

  11. Level Headed

    Nice job Bovine, you’ve really handled this issue professionally, including answering cowboss with succinct answers. How are the Zinnikers doing today?

  12. thebovine

    We have no further news on this case. We’ll post something if it comes our way. Thank you for your comments, Level Headed.

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