Is the milk glass half full or half empty?

Posted 5/14/24

If there was one underlying theme I’ve observed since 2020, it’s that it is imperative to self-investigate most of the news that is shared for accuracy. It pains me to think that in …

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Is the milk glass half full or half empty?


If there was one underlying theme I’ve observed since 2020, it’s that it is imperative to self-investigate most of the news that is shared for accuracy. It pains me to think that in today’s day and age the news is no longer just the facts displayed for us to make our own educated decisions and assumptions. Rather it’s a deluge of other’s opinions and sometimes misinformation created from reliable sources with limited information. 

The current outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) that has affected our poultry flocks across the United States (2022-present) is an example. Avian influenza virus has many different strains that are categorized as either highly pathogenic (HPAI) or low pathogenic (LPAI). 

What makes HPAI so devastating in poultry is the strain of virus and its ability to change under certain conditions. There are many subtypes of Avian Influenza type A, but the two main subgroups that are monitored most heavily are the H5 and H7 subtypes—and the highly pathogenic strains fall into these subtypes. 

The current strain affecting poultry, and now dairy cattle and some other mammals, is HPAI type A (H5N1).

The ability of this particular strain to affect mammals is not a new revelation. The CDC has reported that infection of mammal species occurred in the early 2000s during the last outbreak of the HPAI A (H5N1) virus. Transmission in these cases was to mammals that had direct contact with poultry that were infected or had died from the virus, or the mammals were in an environment that was highly contaminated with the virus (usually from contaminated feces). 

What is interesting about the current outbreak is that it’s the first time we are seeing the virus affect cattle. Clinical (those that can be easily observed) symptoms of infection in dairy cattle range from thickened milk, low production of milk, lethargy, decrease in feed intake, temperature and dry manure. The virus in cattle seems to migrate to and affect the mammary system; this is different from the way it affects poultry, in which it mainly afflicts the lungs/respiratory tract. 

In the one human case found in the U.S. during this specific outbreak, the individual—who was working on a dairy farm and was in direct contact with cattle that tested positive—contracted conjunctivitis and no other symptoms.

Currently, this virus does not have the ability to bind with receptors in the lungs to infect a human’s respiratory tract, which is where the most damage would likely occur from an influenza virus (i.e. the flu). 

In addition, this influenza virus is inactivated at regular cooking levels, so the process of pasteurization in milk, for example, would kill the virus. A USDA study tested pasteurized milk, and the report indicated that the virus was present in some of the samples taken. However, it’s important to realize that the test used for these samples checked for the presence of the genetic material of the virus and would not indicate if the virus was alive and active. 

Further testing by the USDA indicated that there was no live virus found in the pasteurized milk samples, nor was it found in samples of raw beef taken from the commercial food supply around the area where positive cases were found. 

So why then are many radio stations, T.V. broadcast stations, social media accounts and just plain gossip at the water cooler talking about staying away from milk and meat once again? For the same reason they keep pushing cow farts as the major problem with greenhouse gas emissions. There’s more to the story than what’s reported on. The facts are being overlooked or diluted to be used as fuel to cause confusion and disruption to our food supply. 

As you read the news, stop and think for a moment. Would the farmers who rely on your business, who rely on their farms for their families, who rely on their farms to support their communities, want to cause harm by putting out food products that were in any way unsafe? 

The answer should be quite obvious, because if you no longer buy their products, they can no longer support their farms. It’s this farmer’s take that one of the main causes of strife in our food system is the lack of trust and clear communication between producers, processors and consumers. 

Talk to your local producers. If there is a problem, they will let you know about it. Don’t know your local producers? Check sources that are scientifically based or ask a farmer where you can find more information to be well informed. 

Chelsea Hill is a local farmer who has experience growing vegetables, fruit, poultry, multiple species of livestock and dairy animals. Her day job as an extension educator for Penn State allows her to aid local producers to grow and thrive, while also helping the next generation of producers in the Wayne County 4-H program.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, pandemic, spread,


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