RB51 Vaccine Related Illness In Raw Milk

A New Day For Raw Milk?

Raw milk consumers want a clean, safe product they can trust.

December 24, 2018

Farmers want to meet the growing demand for raw milk that Americans are increasingly consuming. The CDC and state agencies say they want to help keep people healthy. Until now, federal and state agencies' operating procedure has been to ignore the consumer-driven growth in the raw milk industry. Until now, agencies have attempted to squash access via threats, scare tactics, and intimidation against farmers rather than working with farmers on best practices and problem-solving. Given the recent RB51 vaccine episode, is a dramatic change taking shape?

In the past, if there was ever a suspected illness allegedly linked to raw milk, the CDC, FDA, and state agencies took an aggressive approach to immediately shut down a farm whether or not there was any actual evidence that an illness came from that farm. FDA and state agencies attacked farms for simply producing raw milk whether or not there was any indication of illness. Often, putting the farm entirely out of business and leaving lasting trauma on the family and never clearing farmer’s names when agency reports were inaccurate or mis-leading. It has been a few years (possibly coinciding with the Real Food Consumer Coalitions’ (RFCC) citizen petition to the FDA) since there has been loud and aggressive enforcement. However, these years have still seen enforcement action in other areas including "cease and desist letters" and economic sanctions against dairy farmers more generally.

Recently, the New York Department of Health identified a possible case of illness associated with RB51--a strain of bacteria found in the bovine brucella vaccine. On rare occasion, a vaccinated cow can shed some of this bacteria in the milk. This bacteria can go on to cause illness in some individuals.

The New York Health Department identified the possible source based on voluntary testimony from an ill person's family. Once the Pennsylvania farm was identified, a new approach proceeded. Miller's Biodiversity Farm in Quarryville, PA, as is protocol, was immediately quarantined, but only for the raw cattle milk and products produced with that.

Dr. David Wolfgang, VMD, MPH, Director of Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services with the PDA offered to help in identifying wether or not the bacteria strain came from that particular farm and, if so, which animal. Dr. Wolfgang’s team, with the assistance of RFCC (a consumer and farmer-facing group asked to help by the farmer) began on-farm testing immediately.

This type of unity ensures that consumers are getting the cleanest, safest raw milk possible from a farm they know. It also illustrates that state agencies are gaining an understanding that raw milk consumption is not a quick-lived fad and is a lasting demand. And it demonstrates to state and federal agencies that the best way to guarantee a clean, safe food supply is to work with farmers on safety and problem-solving rather than on draconian enforcement practices of laws that are useless to all those working to solve the challenges.

The way this recent RB51 vaccine related issue has been handled (to date) gives hope that a new day is dawning where farmers do not need to live in fear of regulatory agencies shutting down or economically destroying their farms. Rather, there will be cooperation to provide what everyone says they want--a clean, safe food supply with transparency and best practices at the forefront.

This recent challenge provides an exciting opportunity for raw milk farmers, consumers, and government agencies alike. RFCC looks forward to working with all involved to continue this hopefully new trend of agencies working in partnership with farmers who embrace transparency, as opposed to further emboldening an underground market that has no oversight whatsoever.

Liz Reitzig Helping Dr. Wolfgang Gather Info Regarding RB51 Vaccine-Related Bacteria Situation

Liz Reitzig Helping Dr. Wolfgang Gather Info Regarding RB51 Vaccine-Related Bacteria Situation