Drug Resistant Infections May Be Spread Through Raw Milk From Herdshare Programs

Federal health officials indicate that herdshare, or cowshare, programs designed to get around restrictive raw milk laws may be resulting in the spread of food poisoning infections that resist antibiotic treatments. 

In a report issued this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which was published in the Journal for the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers indicate that a 2016 drug-resistant Campylobacter jejuni outbreak in Colorado was linked to a herdshare program, and resulted in at least a dozen illnesses.

Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep, or goats that has not been treated to kill harmful bacteria by using the pasteurization process, which involves heating the milk to a certain temperature.

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Herdshares are also known as farmshares and cowshares. They allow consumers to buy shares of a herd or specific animal that gives milk. In return, a farmer takes care of the animal and milks them. Because the consumer owns the animal, they are allowed to consume its milk even in places where selling unpasteurized milk to the public is illegal.

The sale of raw milk is illegal for human consumption in 20 states. However, eight states allow raw milk to be sold only through herd share agreements; including Alaska, Colorado, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

The CDC report, originally published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in February, noted that herdshare programs are not regulated by state or local authorities, which may increase the risk of such outbreaks and make them harder to detect.

“Shareholders were notified about the outbreak, but the dairy was not ordered to close,” the CDC researchers noted. “This report highlights the public health challenges of addressing a high-risk product that is not regulated.”

CDC scientists said they expect such outbreaks to continue to be a problem in the states where unregulated herdshare programs are allowed and called for state-level guidance.

Consumption of raw milk has become an increasingly popular trend, due to the belief that there are additional health benefits. However, the CDC and the FDA indicate that pasteurization does not reduce milk’s nutritional value and only kills harmful bacteria.

In many cases, outbreaks associated with raw milk products are more severe because more harmful bacteria are present. Unpasteurized milk has been recorded carrying E. coli and Salmonella which are two of the nation’s largest food-borne pathogens that result in thousands of deaths annually. Additional illnesses that can be caused by raw milk products are listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, brucellosis and other harmful food borne illnesses.

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