Pork industry educates Subway on antibiotics

The Subway restaurant chain recently brought antibiotics in animal agriculture back into the national food discussion with an announcement about changes in how they source proteins.

In late October, Subway announced policy changes on it’s website, saying that the chain will only serve proteins that have never been treated with antibiotics. The transition is set to begin in it’s over 27,000 restaurants as early as 2016.

The animal agriculture industry recently met with Subway to ask questions about the new policy, as well as to educate the company about the necessary use of antibiotics to keep animals healthy.

Pork production

The pork industry, along with representatives from poultry and beef, are educating Subway as well as the public on the necessity of using antibiotics in animal agriculture to ensure the animals are healthy and safe. (photo from pork network.com)

The Kearny, Nebraska, newspaper (KearneyHub.com) recently wrote an article describing Subway’s policy change as “running into a brick wall in Nebraska.” Livestock producers rely on antibiotics to keep their animals healthy, and Subway changed its policy, stating that they would “accept meat from animals that had been treated with antibiotics to control illness, but not given antibiotics to aid in animal growth.”

National associations that represent the pork industry had a lot to say on the topic. The website meatpoultry.com restated the National Pork Producer’s Council’s position that antibiotics must be available to producers to maintain animal health. The US Food and Drug Administration regulations on antibiotics in animal agriculture are increasingly strict, and they provide safeguards against resistance.

All pork organizations agree they need to educate the public on the necessity of pork production, as you’ll hear in this audio wrap:

 

 

For help in answering questions from the public, the National Pork Producers put together a video to help you educate people who have questions about why farmers use antibiotics:

 

WOTUS rule postponed nationwide

Here’s a conversation on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals staying the implementation of the controversial Waters of the US Rule (WOTUS):

 

WOTUS

The EPA’s implementation of the Waters of the US Rule was stayed nationwide by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals today. (Photo from alaskapolicyforum.org)

The Sixth Circuit has just stayed the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule nationwide, by a 2-1 vote, until it determines whether it has jurisdiction over the petitions for review.  The majority found a substantial possibility of success on both merits grounds (that the rule does not comport with even Justice Kennedy’s Rapanos opinion) and procedural grounds (that significant changes in the rule were never put to notice and comment).

The order is, “The Clean Water Rule is hereby STAYED, nationwide, pending further order of the court.”

A stay has the same practical effect as an injunction – it prevents the EPA/Corps from implementing the rule.

Expect the stay to last until the 6th Circuit makes a decision regarding the jurisdictional issue, which is expected sometime in November.

Here’s the link to the story on KLGR radio’s website:

http://www.myklgr.com/2015/10/09/6th-circuit-court-stays-wotus-rule-nationwide/

Here’s a video from the Kansas Farm Bureau featuring Paul Schlegel, the Director of Environment and Energy Policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C.

 

Mental stress hard on Agriculture

The recent collapse in commodity prices are putting a damper on agriculture’s bottom line, which can lead to challenges, especially between a farmer and their family.

Lower commodity prices and recent unfavorable weather have upped the stress level in farmers all over the country, and 2 experts at Kansas State University want you to know it’s normal, and it’s okay to seek help in dealing with challenges, many of which are unique to farming. (photo from fyi.uwex.edu)

Lower commodity prices and recent unfavorable weather have upped the stress level in farmers all over the country, and 2 experts at Kansas State University want you to know it’s normal, and it’s okay to seek help in dealing with challenges, many of which are unique to farming. (photo from fyi.uwex.edu)

Mental health can be overlooked in the day-to-day challenges of farming. During the down cycles, which are typical for agriculture, it’s more important than ever that farmers take care of themselves and their families. Mental health experts at Kansas State University say it’s easier to fight through the tough times together, rather than trying to do everything yourself.

“Typically, when we hear from people, it’s not one stress but a pileup of different things that are happening,” said Charlie Griffin, a Research Assistant Professor in the Kansas State University School of Family Studies and Human Services. “Financial issues, weather issues, the daily issues that always crop up like the combine breaking down at harvest time, and they all pile up simultaneously.”

Charlie Griffin

Charlie Griffin is a Research Assistant Professor of Programs for Workplace solutions in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University. (Photo from k-state.edu)

He added, “That’s when we really start to hear from people.”

Griffin said different sectors of agriculture could experience stressors while other sectors are succeeding.

“It depends on who you’re talking to and what sector (of Ag) you’re talking about,” said Griffin. “Throughout my time in agriculture, I’ve realized what may be good for livestock farmers may not be good for crop farmers, and vice versa. But if you look at the folks that are diversified, they can balance back and forth one way or the other.”

Griffin adds, “The livestock farmers I’ve talked to are doing really well.”

Lower crop prices can typically bring on the most stress during the winter.

“I start hearing the stress from prices in early winter,” said Griffin, “when people finally sit down and add up their bills and their income, look at government payments, all to get ready for taxes, and that’s when the big picture comes along.”

Griffin said when crop prices take a big tumble, the temptation may be to draw comparisons to the farm crisis in the 1980’s. He said those conditions will always be hard to duplicate.

“I’m going to say the early 80’s were the perfect storm for agriculture,” said Griffin. “Everything went the wrong direction at the wrong time. Interest rates were sky high, people were borrowing big time to expand, prices fell out, input costs jumped, and the weather played havoc. Agriculture was hit hard.”

He added, “But the big thing was what happened in the banking industry. With people so dependent on borrowed money to operate from year-to-year, the banking industry changed how it was regulated. Bankers began to call in loans because they didn’t have enough collateral to cover it due to the drop in land prices. Everyone said that would never happen.

“We’ve certainly never seen anything like that again,” said Griffin.

Griffin said farmers are a very resilient bunch, but there are strategies he recommends for farm families to get through the lean years successfully.

“Be tight on your financial management,” said Griffin. “Make sure you’ve got some way of staying on top of it, including using a financial planner or manager if you need one. After all, the stress you know is a whole lot easier to manage than a vague stress you don’t know.

“The people who handle their stress better are those who go out and access resources,” said Griffin. “They go to Extension meetings, workshops, trainings, and they hire the kind of input they need. They’re learning how to do things better.”

Griffin said the other side of the coin is family communication. It’s all about how you’re handling any stress between you and your spouse, or any other family members in the operation.

“The important thing to remember is communication between family members takes work,” said Charlotte Shoup-Olsen. “It needs the most work and attention when things aren’t going well. That’s when arguments tend to happen.”

Charlotte Shoup Olsen is Professor/Extension Specialist in the College of Human Ecology at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

Charlotte Shoup Olsen is Professor/Extension Specialist in the College of Human Ecology at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

Disagreements are inevitable in family and business relationships, but it’s important to handle them correctly.

“Always be respectful in your communication with each other, even when you disagree,” said Shoup-Olsen. “You can disagree and still be respectful. In other words, you don’t call each other names, you don’t put them down with sarcasm, and you just be respectful.”

She said listening skills are a big key to resolving differences.

“Listen with the intent to try to understand where the other person is coming from,” said Shoup-Olsen. “Often times, in a bad conversation, you’re listening to see when you can pounce on something the other person said.”

She added, “It’s best if both parties take turns speaking and listening to each other, and doing so respectfully.”

Griffin said should the occasion arise where families are having a hard time talking, it’s important to get help.

“If you can’t sit down and talk about things in an adult way and successfully, the best thing you can do is get someone from the outside to help you,” said Griffin. “Not necessarily a therapist, but someone who can sit in and dialogue with the whole family and answer questions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching my first Goat show

My most recent assignment was to cover a goat show, aptly named, the Never Boering Goat Show, at the Freeborn County Fair in Albert Lea, Minnesota.  The complete article will appear in the Tuesday, August 4th edition of Agri News.  Here’s just a few excerpts and the accompanying video.

The Never Boering Goat Show took place in Albert Lea, Minnesota, on July 17, 18, and 19, at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds. The show had recently taken a 3-year hiatus after running for years in Sioux City Iowa. Cary Larson of New Richland resurrected the show and brought it to Minnesota.

“The show took place under this name during the county fair in Sioux City,” said Larson. “The gentleman who ran the show sold out of his Boer Goats because his interests had changed, which is not unusual. I called the gentleman up and said ‘I’d like to reboot the show. Are you okay with that?’ I got his blessing and ran with it.”

He said Albert Lea, Minnesota, is an ideal location for the reboot of this show.

“It’s ideal, especially with the crossroads of Interstates 35 and 90,” said Larson. “We have plenty of people who made the trip from South Dakota and Iowa here. The fairgrounds here are wonderful, especially for a livestock event like this.”

If you’ve never been to a livestock show, especially with goats, here’s a little bit of what I saw during the show:

Here’s part two:

Proposed changes to the Beef Checkoff

Many of the major American agriculture groups came together earlier this year to sign a Memorandum of Understanding regarding a proposed change to the national beef checkoff. The discussions were contentious at times, and at least two of the groups dropped out of the discussions due to disagreements.

The discussion included more than how to raise the checkoff from 1 to 2 dollars per head sold. Several major proposals to enhance the checkoff came out of the discussions as well.

“We came to a point in the discussions where we wanted to know what else we could do to enhance the checkoff,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Past President Scott George. “It took a lot of compromise across the board to get things done. We focused in on 4 main areas.”

Scott George

Scott George is a dairy farmer and beef producer from Wyoming, and he served as the President of the NCBA in 2013. (photo from BeefMagazine.com)

“If you debate a hundred different things,” said George, “you’ll never get agreement on all of them.”

The first discussion item was the biggest one, and it was how much to actually increase the checkoff.

“There were people that argued strongly that Australia is charging $5 a head on their checkoff,” said George. “Canada is charging $4 a head. These countries are competitors, and there were people in the room saying we need to collect $5 a head to compete with these folks.

“Others were saying to get back to par we need to collect $2.20,” said George, “but $2.20 is not easy for people to figure out. Let’s say you’re selling 137 head of cattle. A checkoff collector would have to multiply 137 by $2.20, and that’s not simple.”

When the group was putting the proposal together, representatives from the Livestock Marketing Association and the National Livestock Producers Association, which are both auction market associations, were involved in the process. George said they wanted to keep this process as simple as possible.

George said, “In the end, the group said let’s raise it at least a dollar. Let’s go to 2 dollars, because it’s simple and clean. Everyone can understand it. So the group compromised on the money.”

Beef cattle in Sale Ring

For each head of livestock sold, beef producers currently pay $1 per head to the national checkoff. A new proposal would change that to $2 a head, but have a refund available for producers who don’t want to pay the extra dollar. (Photo from angusbeefbulletin.com)

George said raising the checkoff amount requires an act of Congress. The group came up with an idea to make the process a little simpler.

“We proposed a change in the referendum process,” said George, “in which you can petition to change the checkoff amount in the referendum process, rather than requiring an act of Congress. So, we compromised on the dollar amount, and going forward, if in 5 to 10 years we feel like we need to raise more money, we do it through the referendum process and producers have the final say.”

George said when you talk about enhancing a program like the checkoff, there are a lot of costs that go into it. The idea of cost to producers led to talk of a refund policy.

“We decided the second dollar would be refundable,” said George. “If you don’t like it, you can get your money back. We thought of putting requirements in the agreement, like maybe they should have at least 10 cows. After all, it costs money to do a refund. Someone has to sit down, do the paperwork, and mail the money back to you. We also talked about charging producers a fee, but in the end, we said that’s not fair.”

George added, “If a person wants a refund, they should get the full amount, whether it’s a dollar for 1 head, or 10 dollars for 10 animals. A big selling point to this is we have people in Congress that don’t like checkoff programs, and the fact that constituents can get their money back for any reason might help us with Congress as well.”

He added that the initial $1 collected today would remain as it is with no refund allowed. This would maintain financial stability for the state Beef Councils and at the national level they can plan on a certain amount of money to run a program.

“In this Checkoff Enhancement Working Group,” said George, “some strongly advocated for a mandatory referendum every 5 to 7 years. But to do a referendum would cost the checkoff into the millions of dollars.

“Some members of the group strongly objected, saying they weren’t paying into the checkoff to spend millions of dollars every 5 years to see if they want to keep the program.”

The group then looked at several different checkoff programs as potential models of what they’d like to see. Currently, there are 19 different checkoffs with varied models in use.

“The checkoff that the group liked the most was the soybean system,” said George. “In the soybean model, the Secretary (of Agriculture) designates a certain time period every few years. During a certain month, the Secretary will say everyone can go to their government agency office to verify they are a producer who’s qualified to do this, and sign a petition for a referendum.

“If 10 percent of the producers sign the petition,” said George, “then the Secretary will hold a referendum.”

One of the big reasons for changing the petition process is consistency.

“There was a petition drive a few years ago,” said George, “and there were 3 different reprimand letters issued by the USDA because people were holding drawings for things like hats and boots. People were signing up thinking they were just registering for a drawing. In reality, there were signing a petition for a referendum.

“The USDA had to go back and hire an outside firm to take all these signatures that had been submitted and verify that they were producers,” said George. “When many of the people were called, they said ‘we don’t know what you’re talking about. We’ve never owned cattle in our life.’

The US Department of Ag had to verify producers knew they were signing up for a referendum when they were told it was just registering for giveaways.  (photo from commons.wikimedia.com)

The US Department of Ag had to verify producers knew they were signing up for a referendum when they were told it was just registering for giveaways. (photo from commons.wikimedia.com)

George said, “This is one of the issues we’re trying to address. By having producers go to an FSA office or Extension building, setting aside a set period of time, and having it every 5 years, we thought this would be a good compromise.”

The Checkoff will still bear the cost of the referendum, but the USDA would help bear the cost of gathering the signatures. Producers could petition for getting rid of the checkoff, or even increasing the amount of the checkoff through the process too.

George added, “If, in 5 years, during the month of January 2020, the Secretary will say the beef producers can go in, sign up, and if ten percent of them go in and say they want to increase the checkoff to $2.50 a head, they’ve then petitioned for a referendum. The process allows you to step forward for an increase, or to eliminate the program as well.”

He said this was yet another compromise in the process.

“Under our current law (the 1985 act), if 10 percent of the producers sign a petition at any time, and request a referendum,” said George, “the Secretary of Ag will hold a referendum. We thought that was a good safeguard; so let’s leave that one in there as well. So, if producers get upset with the checkoff for any reason and ten percent sign the referendum, then bang, the Secretary will have a referendum and we’ll have a vote.”

George said it was important to the Group to give the producers the final say in whether or not the checkoff will continue.

“Under this whole process, we’re talking about working through Congress to get it passed, get the President to sign it, and then get the Secretary to write the order,” said George. “But before it would be enacted, it will all have to go before the producers in a referendum. The producers need to have the final say. The Group was unanimous on that declaration. Nobody needs to force this down someone’s throat.”

The last thing the Board did was deal with some confusion over the involvement of industry groups in the checkoff.

“The checkoff benefits every cattle producer in the country,” said George. “I don’t care what segment of the industry, be it cow/calf, stocker, feeder, or dairy. I don’t care if they raise bucking bulls or roping steers. In the end, it brings value to every single segment.”

He added, “It’s not political. Just because NCBA does some of the checkoff programs, it doesn’t mean only buy cattle from NCBA members. It’s fallacy to think that. But there are other industry organizations that want to be involved.”

George said it’s important to remember that the group that has authority over the checkoff is the 20 member operating committee, which has ten Federation seats and ten Beef Council seats.

“Right now, the Beef Board has a separate nominating committee that interviews candidates for the Beef Board seats. The Federation (of state Beef Councils) has a separate nominating committee to interview candidates for their seats. So we came up with a compromise in the interview process.”

He said the Beef Board nominating committee has 7 seats, and the Federation nominating committee also has 7 seats.

“What we’re proposing is 7 additional seats be given to industry organizations that want to participate,” said George. You’ll have a 21-member nominating committee to interview candidates for the Federation and the Beef Board seats. They will have to receive a two-thirds majority vote to move that candidate forward.”

One group in particular didn’t like that suggestion, but George said there were good reasons for it.

“They said ‘we just got all the policy people kicked out of here,’” said George. “But other groups said having industry organizations sitting in the room looking at the quality of candidates and helping with the decision gives them ownership and involvement. It can’t help but educate the people about who they are interviewing and what we’re trying to accomplish with the checkoff.”

The goal of this process is to get qualified candidates for the Beef Operating Committee.

“This idea was a compromise, just like the others,” said George.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota turkey growers hit hard by H5N2

An avian influenza outbreak began in Minnesota on March 4 of this year, with the first report coming from a commercial turkey flock in Pope County, Minnesota. The Minnesota Board of Animal Health website said the virus has been found in wild birds, as well as backyard and commercial flocks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to people from the H5N2 virus to be low. In fact, the Board of Animal Health website said no human cases of the H5 virus have been detected in the United States, Canada, or internationally.

Minnesota is the largest producer of turkeys in the Union. Over 5.5 million birds have been affected by the outbreak, with turkey flocks around the state being hit the hardest. A few chicken flocks have been hit too. So far, 84 farms have been affected, and the virus has hit 21 of the state’s counties.

Steve Olson is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, and he’s reminding the public that turkey is safe for human consumption (Photo from minnesotaturkey.com)

Steve Olson is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, and he’s reminding the public that turkey is safe for human consumption (Photo from minnesotaturkey.com)

KLGR radio (Redwood Falls) Farm Director Dustin Hoffmann spoke with Steve Olson, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, about the outbreak, and was kind enough to share the audio with me. You can listen to the report below:

 

 

 

If you have general questions about avian influenza and biosecurity, the Board of Animal Health has a phone number to call: 888-702-9963

 

To report a potential outbreak, please call 320-214-6700 Ext. 3804

 

NCBA answers beef checkoff questions

“We put a total of 14 options on the table to make it (the Beef Checkoff) a more fair and balanced program, and every one was rejected because it took NCBA out of the drivers seat.”

That’s the reaction of Chandler Goule, the Vice President of Programs for the National Farmers Union, to the recent negotiations that led to several Ag groups signing a Memorandum of Understanding on how to go about raising the national Beef Checkoff from one to two dollars per head sold. Groups like the Farmers Union and R-CALF USA didn’t sign the document because of objections that NCBA says aren’t accurate.

NCBA controlling the checkoff

“The only body that really makes the decision on how to spend checkoff dollars is the Beef Promotion Operating Committee,” said Scott George, past president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “It reflects the wishes of the states through those 10 representatives from the Federation of State Beef Councils, and 10 from the Beef Board.”

Scott George is a Wyoming-based dairyman and beef producer who also was the 2013 President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (Photo from beef magazine.com)

Scott George is a Wyoming-based dairyman and beef producer who also was the 2013 President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (Photo from beef magazine.com)

“It takes a two-thirds majority to approve decisions,” said George. “I noticed Chandler Goule (of the National Farmers Union) said this Federation is controlled by NCBA and they only need one more vote to control the spending decisions. That’s absolutely incorrect. Nobody ever tells the Federation how they should vote.”

“I’ve served on the Operating Committee four different times and I’ve voted against other Federation members, I voted against my Chair when I was Vice Chair, I voted against my Vice Chair when I was chair, so there isn’t any block voting,” said George.

“Two-thirds of the Committee, which equals 14 votes (not 11) is what it takes to approve spending decisions,” said George. “If the Operating Committee is voting, and it’s not unanimous, there’s a roll call vote and they record it in the minutes of every meeting.”

NCBA doesn’t control the checkoff

 George said the Beef Checkoff Enhancement Working Group is taking steps to get more beef industry organizations involved in the checkoff through a proposed joint nominating committee which interviews candidates for the Operating Committee.

“Right now, the Beef Board has seven members that sit on a nominating committee, the Federation of State Beef Councils will have seven seats, and we’re proposing that seven seats are given to industry representatives,” said George. “So these organizations that sign on here send a person to sit on that committee, and it will be a joint nominating committee.”

George added, “You’ll have a 21-member nominating committee, and they’ll interview all the candidates that apply from the Beef Board and from the Federation, for the Operating Committee seats, and they’re going to have to pass by a two-thirds majority to move that candidate forward.”

This idea didn’t come without controversy either.

“We have certain groups that didn’t like this because the policy groups had been excluded from seats on the advisory committees,” said George. “But others have said having industry groups sitting in the room, looking at the quality of candidates, helping make the decision, will give them ownership, involvement, and it educates the groups about the candidates and what we’re trying to accomplish with the checkoff.”

He added, “Everything will take a two-thirds majority to move forward, so no one will control that.”

Most checkoff dollars go to NCBA

 “First of all, it takes a two-thirds majority vote of the Operating Committee to award contracts,” said George. “It’s important to remember that.”

George said the best way to answer that accusation is to go back to their last meeting.

“Someone said ‘NCBA is getting a lion’s share of the money’,” said George. “A representative from one of the other groups in the room said ‘you have to understand that NCBA is presenting most of the Authorization Requests.’ It wasn’t me that said that, it was someone else.”

“It’s important to understand that the Beef Board has a list of eligible organizations that can sign contracts,” said George. “The last list I saw was well over 50. It was probably approaching 75 organizations eligible to contract with the checkoff. Off all of those, I think maybe five apply regularly.”

So why raise a fuss about the money NCBA receives from the checkoff if you don’t apply yourself?

“Good question,” said George. “There can be a lot of reasons people don’t apply.”

“When you apply and get a contract, you have to look at what the industry identifies as a problem,” said George, “and you try and come up with a solution for one particular part of it. You have to estimate your costs. You then present that to the Operating Committee. If they award you a contract, you have to spend your money first. You do the project, and then submit bills for reimbursement.”

“Some organizations just aren’t willing to put their money up front,” said George. “It takes a long time for a contractor to do the work and submit their bills to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB). The CBB has oversight of the whole process. They will only reimburse you up to the amount you contracted for.”

“Sometimes costs go higher than a contractor estimates,” said George, “and it’s about cost recovery, and not making a profit. If I say I’m going to do a project for $100,000, and it costs me that much to hire people and buy materials to do that, I don’t get to come and say I need ten percent more to go into the coffers of the contracting organization.”

“One organizations asked why we would do this when we don’t make any money at it,” said George. “You’re right, you don’t make any money at it. It’s cost recovery only. The projects are set up to address consumers questions about beef so they’ll keep buying the product, which supports cattle producers.”

“The other thing that prevents organizations from contracting,” said George, “is if you’re a contracting organization, you have to have an independent third party audit your books, and then submit that audit to the Beef Board. The Beef Board also has authority to come in and look at your books and audit you. The Ag Marketing Service (AMS), which oversees the Beef Board, also has the authority to look at your books.”

“The Secretary of Agriculture ordered two Office of Inspector General audits on everybody’s books last year,” said George. “They looked at AMS, which oversees the program, they looked at the Beef Board’s books, they looked at contractor’s books, and both audits came out and said everybody is acting in accordance with the law.”

 

 

 

 

Raw milk at the center of Wisconsin bacterial outbreak

It should have been one of those nights that high school students remember foryears. For students at Durand High School in Wisconsin, September 18 of 2014 was a memorable night for all the wrong reasons.

Durand, Wisconsin was at the center of a bacterial outbreak that sickened dozens of people in late 2014 (photo from best places.net)

Durand, Wisconsin was at the center of a bacterial outbreak that sickened dozens of people in late 2014 (photo from best places.net)

It’s tradition in many small towns across America to serve their high school football teams a group meal the night before a game. Thursday, September 18, the Durand football team got together with cheerleaders, parents, team managers, and friends to enjoy a night of togetherness, with a large selection of food on the menu.

The Durand, Wisconsin high school was at the center of a serious bacterial outbreak which began in late 2014, sickening over 2 dozen people (photo from weau.com)

The Durand, Wisconsin high school was at the center of a serious bacterial outbreak which began in late 2014, sickening over 2 dozen people (photo from weau.com)

The list of food items served at the potluck-style meal was innocent enough: a chicken entrée, a broccoli salad and other side dishes, a variety of desserts including cookies, bars and brownies, and a variety of drinks, including Kool-Aid, chocolate milk and white milk — a typical pregame meal you might see in small towns across the Midwest.

The following Monday, September 22, the Durand High School nurse called the Pepin County Health Department (PCHD) about an unusual increase in absenteeism related to a gastrointestinal illness in football players and team mangers, as well as the Panthers’ coaching staff. Symptoms included diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches, fever and abdominal cramps.

The PCHD notified the staff in the Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section (CDES), Bureau of Communicable Diseases, Wisconsin Division of Public Health (WDPH), and a joint investigation was launched.

The gastrointestinal illness didn’t just hit the football team. During the joint investigation, a large increase in absenteeism showed up on the volleyball team, too.

The investigation noted that food at team meals is typically bought, prepared, and served by parents of team members. September 23, the PCHD learned that some of the milk was unpasteurized, and provided by a parent who brought it from his or her own farm. Thus, it was store-bought chocolate milk and unpasteurized white milk served at the dinner. Parents reported 3 one-half gallons of chocolate milk, and a 5-gallon cooler of white, unpasteurized milk, which was served after the chocolate milk was gone. That’s when the questions really began to intensify.

The US Food and Drug Administration website, fda.gov, defines raw milk as milk from cows, sheep or goats that has not been pasteurized to kill bacteria. This raw milk can carry dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella and Listeria, which can cause serious food borne illnesses.

However, Wisconsin State Health Officer Karen McKeown said they didn’t necessarily assume that’s where the outbreak started.

“Even once we found out there was unpasteurized raw milk, we needed to continue to look at the whole picture,” she said. “We needed to do a thorough investigation, and not jump to conclusions. We continued to ask questions about everything that people had eaten.”

On September 23, the CDES staff began conducting phone interviews with all students, parents and staff associated with the football team. While the various health workers were doing their jobs, the community was asking a lot of questions, including why school wasn’t closed for the week following the outbreak.

“We were in constant contact with the county and state health departments as soon as we first learned about it,” said Durand Superintendent Greg Doverspike. “I posed that question to the State Health Department and they said there was no need to close school. This is confined to a cohort (group), and there’s no evidence to show it’s spreading beyond that cohort. There’s also no evidence it’s airborne, either.

“They did say to encourage students to use good hygiene by hand washing. We were also doing extra cleaning and disinfecting things like door handles, water fountains, bathrooms, desks and buses, so we were going above and beyond our normal routines.”

One of the concessions the school did make to the illness outbreak was to cancel several athletic and extracurricular activities, including the football game on September 26.

As the investigation continued, McKeown said the Wisconsin Department of Health reached out to the State Department of Agriculture for help.

“We asked the Department of Agriculture to go to the farm (where the raw milk came from) and do a test of the milk in the bulk tank,” she said. “They did not find any bacteria that would match what we had found in the investigation.”

Sixty-five people were interviewed for the investigation, and testing stool samples showed that 26 of them were infected with laboratory-tested cases of campylobacter jejuni infection. But the bacteria hadn’t shown up in the milk at the farm, which McKeown said wasn’t unheard of.

“Cows do not always shed this bacteria,” she said. “It can happen intermittently, and milk can also be contaminated after the cow has been milked, too.”

After the milk had been tested, McKeown said the Department of Health asked the Ag Department to head back to the farm for more testing. This time, they collected manure samples.

“With no bacteria in the milk, we couldn’t conclude that the milk was the source, said McKeown. “We needed additional information.”

Questions began to be answered after the manure test results came back from the lab. “We found a match between the manure samples and the samples that we received from the sick individuals,” said McKeown.

“Once we did our complete analysis, looking at what people had eaten, what thestatistical analysis showed us and looking at information from the lab, we did feel that the raw milk was the common factor in the outbreak,” said McKeown.

Raw milk, which is illegal in Wisconsin, was determined to be at the center of the campylobacter outbreak in Durand, Wisconsin (photo from campylobacterblog.com)

Raw milk, which is illegal in Wisconsin, was determined to be at the center of the campylobacter outbreak in Durand, Wisconsin (photo from campylobacterblog.com)

The farm owners who supplied the raw milk came from pointed out that chicken alfredo was served at the meal, and may have been a possible source of the contamination

“We looked at that as well, but since everybody ate that, there was nobody to compare it to who did not eat the food,” said McKeown. “But there were also nowhere near the percentages of people who became ill. When we ran the numbers in the statistical analysis, that helps us to pinpoint that it was the (raw) milk rather than the Chicken Alfredo.”

McKeown credited the quick thinking of the Pepin County Health Department for helping to find answers to what was affecting students and staff at Durand High School.

“As soon as Heidi (Stewart, Pepin County Health Officer) started hearing about these sick children, she moved very quickly to begin those interviews and start the identification work, and she called us in very quickly,” said McKeown. “I do think that Heidi acted well in beginning a prompt investigation of this illness.”

The dangers of raw milk cannot be over-emphasized. Despite the investigation concluding, students are still trying to recover from a very serious illness.

One student shared the timeline for their illness, and it’s scary. The student preferred to remain anonymous because of a pending court case.

September 19, the student attended the team dinner. Sunday night, September 22, the student became seriously ill, with chills, fever and vomiting. The parents initially dosed the student with NyQuil, thinking it may be the flu.

September 23, the students fever was up to 104, and immediately was taken to the hospital. The examining doctor dispensed with the initial examination, and the student was immediately admitted to the hospital and given IV fluids.

That same morning, the State Health Department interviewed the student. Parents were not allowed in the room without hospital gowns and gloves.

As the day went on, more and more students were admitted to the hospital.

When the student went to the bathroom, everything had to be kept for the State of Wisconsin Health Department to examine.

September 25, the state confirms it’s a campylobacter outbreak after testing the fecal matter of the students and manure from the farm.

September 26, the student is released from the hospital, but would be home until September 30.

The student lost 30 pounds from the illness, and suffered for months from loss of feeling in limbs, joint pain, and trouble sleeping and concentrating.

The moral of this story is simple: don’t take any chances with raw milk.

Calling all farmers to Winter Workshops in January

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The dark days of winter can be a great time to learn new things, so the Minnesota MDA-logoDepartment of Agriculture (MDA) is again providing farmers a day of Winter Workshops in January. The MDA will offer six workshops covering a diverse array of farming topics on Thursday, January 8, 2015 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Workshop details and online registration are available at www.mda.state.mn.us/amdor by calling 651-201-6012 and requesting a “Winter Workshops” brochure. The workshops include:

All Day (9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

The Nuts and Bolts of Running a CSA, presented by Mark Boen and Bernard Crosser of Bluebird Gardens, Cost: $50

 

Transitioning to Organic: From Deciding to Doing, presented by Carmen Fernolz of A-Frame Farms. Cost: $50

 

Morning Workshops (9 a.m. to Noon)

Grazing Basics, presented by Vermont grazing and organic consultant Sarah Flack. Cost: $25

 

Reality Checking your Farm Plan, presented by John and Lisa Mesko from the Sustainable Farming Association of MN (SFA). Cost: $25 (free for SFA members)

 

Afternoon Workshops (start at 1:30 p.m)

Fine Tune Your Grazing System, presented by Vermont grazing and organic consultant Sarah Flack. Ends at 4:30 p.m. Cost: $25

 

Save Your Own Seed, presented by Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen from Seed Sages and Tiny Diner Farm. Ends at 3:30 p.m. Cost: $25

 

While they immediately precede the two-day Minnesota Organic Conference to be held January 9-10, also in St. Cloud, these workshops are designed to benefit all kinds of farmers. Minnesota Organic Conference details are posted at www.mda.state.mn.us/organic.