WCMA Perspectives | Contributing Columnist

Monitoring and Messaging the Avian Flu Issue

John Umhoefer executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association

April 5, 2024


Highly Pathogenic Avian influenza (HPAI) or “bird flu” affecting dairy herds and testing as destroyed by pasteurization in milk samples is a volatile and evolving issue. At this time, dairy processors should:

1. Understand the current state of research, requirements, and recommendations from federal agencies;
2. Monitor key information outlets for updates;
3. Be ready to communicate with your supply chain.
Current Research, Requirements

Federal efforts to address the discovery of HPAI in dairy herds (in nine states as this is written) is a well-coordinated effort between the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) working alongside state agencies and universities across the nation.

FDA continues to provide updates and most recently noted that initial tests of commercial milk samples show that pasteurization is effective in inactivating HPAI.

FDA has gathered 297 samples of dairy products from 38 states, and any samples that show positive for viral fragments are going through egg inoculation tests, a gold-standard for determining if infectious virus is present, the agency states. “We are committed to sharing additional testing results as soon as possible,” FDA states on a dedicated website. “Subsequent results will help us to further review our assessment that pasteurization is effective against this virus and the commercial milk supply is safe.”

The University of Wisconsin is among universities around the nation assisting federal regulators with this issue. At the Madison campus, Dr. Yoshi Kawaoka, an expert on avian flu, is working in concert with the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, Center for Dairy Research and Food Research Institute to study the virus in milk samples. Dr. Kawaoka has performed laboratory-scale studies to show the effectiveness of pasteurization on samples of infected milk and is working with partners on campus to scale up testing to a pilot-scale pasteurization system.

USDA is leading farm-side efforts and effective April 29 the agency requires influenza testing of lactating dairy cattle moving interstate and reporting of any positive test results from all laboratories and State Animal Health Officials.

Monitor Key Information
Monitoring an issue with national scope and multiple active parties can be a challenge. Consider making a favorite of just these four websites to watch for new messages or regulatory action.

Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and International Dairy Foods Association are offering excellent information summaries and links on their member websites:

FDA and USDA are funneling information through one website each. An online search for “FDA HPAI” will yield FDA’s main page for messaging and updates. An online search for “USDA HPAI” will yield USDA’s main page for messaging and updates.

Communicate with Your Supply Chain
Suppliers, buyers and consumers are seeking a clear understanding of this evolving issue. WCMA believes that direct information from FDA, the agency charged with national food safety, remains the best third-party voice to offer to your supply chain.

This statement is taken directly from the FDA website:
“The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with state partners, continue to investigate an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus impacting dairy cows in multiple states.

“At this time, there continues to be no concern that this circumstance poses a risk to consumer health, or that it affects the safety of the interstate commercial milk supply because products are pasteurized before entering the market.

“Only milk from heathy animals is authorized for distribution into interstate commerce for human consumption. Additionally, pasteurization is required for any milk entering interstate commerce.
Pasteurization has continually proven to inactivate bacteria and viruses, like influenza, in milk. Milk from ill (symptomatic) animals is being diverted or destroyed so that it does not enter the human food supply. Milk loss resulting from symptomatic cattle to date is too limited to have a major impact on supply and there should be no impact on the price of milk or other dairy products. The FDA will continue to work with our partners and provide updates as necessary.”

Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association will continue to offer special alerts, newsletter reports and constant updates to our website noted above as this issue evolves
. . . JU

John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the WCMA since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 286-1001 or e-mail John Umhoefer at jumhoefer@wischeesemakers.org

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed by Cheese Reporter columnists are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Cheese Reporter.



John Umhoefer

John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 286-1001 or e-mail John Umhoefer at jumhoefer@wischeesemakers.org

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