Ag Policy Blog

FDA Raises More Concern Over Raw Milk Amid H5N1 Outbreak in Dairy Cattle

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Food and Drug Administration keeps cautioning states, local governments and consumers about the risks of drinking raw milk with an outbreak of highly pathogenic H5NI avian influenza affecting more than 85 dairy herds in 11 states. Despite the warnings, raw milk is increasing in popularity. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The Food and Drug Administration is now asking state, local and Tribal officials to stop the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk that could contain the H5N1 virus and increasing surveillance and testing of dairy herds that might sell raw milk.

In an open letter posted Thursday, FDA officials elevated their concerns about raw milk. With sales of raw milk allowed in some form in most states, FDA called on health officials to distribute more information to the public about health risks of consuming raw milk and monitor dairy herds more closely.

FDA appears to be facing an uphill battle in trying to warn consumers about raw milk. The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times this week each had articles highlighting the increasing popularity of raw milk, driven in part by social influencers. One California farm, Raw Farm, is the largest supplier of unpasteurized milk in California and has seen demand take off. It is on track for $30 million in sales this year, the WSJ reported.


Alan Bjerga, executive vice president of communication for the National Milk Producers Federation, said the group supports FDA's efforts to alert consumers about the risks of unpasteurized milk.

"Pasteurization is essential to food safety. Raw milk consumption creates an unnecessary health risk that isn't good for consumers or for dairy farmers who depend on consumer confidence in their products," Bjerga said in a statement to DTN. "Just as we have appreciated FDA's reaffirmation of pasteurization as an effective guardian of public health during this H5N1 outbreak, we support FDA's efforts to remind consumers of the corollary -- that consuming unpasteurized milk removes a necessary safeguard and shouldn't be encouraged."

Iowa and Minnesota reported their first cases of H5N1 in dairy cattle this week. Michigan on Friday also reported its 25th dairy herd infected with the virus. There now are at least 86 dairies in 11 states with confirmed cases of infected cattle since the outbreak began in late March.

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, D, on Friday toured a dairy farm to champion National Dairy Month and tout the safety of pasteurized dairy products.

"We know we have incredible dairy farmers all across the state, and also dairy is delicious and one of my favorite things to consume, of course," Flanagan said in a post on social platform X.


Reuters also reported Thursday that infected dairy cows in at least five states have died or been slaughtered because they did not recover from the virus. That runs counter to statements by USDA that dairy cows suffer minor symptoms for about two weeks then recover from the virus. Reuters spoke to state animal health officials and extension agents in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, South Dakota and Texas.

DTN reached out to USDA spokespersons on Friday about Reuters' reporting and how USDA is tracking cattle that have been infected.

Live virus was found in meat tissue for at least one dairy cow that was sent for slaughter but condemned by USDA and tested for the virus. Testing by FDA also has found fragments of the virus in pasteurized milk, though the virus was not live, meaning the pasteurization process killed the virus.

USDA began a voluntary milk testing program this past week that encourages farmers to test their bulk milk for the virus.

At least three dairy workers -- one in Texas and two in Michigan -- also have tested positive for the virus.


Raw milk for human consumption is banned from interstate shipping and sale. Still, at least 14 states allow retail sales of raw milk and 18 other states allow on-farm sales. Other states allow the sale of raw milk for pets, while just a small number of states have outright bans on raw milk.

FDA stated raw milk has the potential to contain live H5N1 virus, so "it represents a potential route of consumer exposure to the virus." Still, FDA added, "Based on the limited research and information available, we do not know at this time if the HPAI H5N1 virus can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of raw milk and products made from raw milk from infected cows. However, exposures on affected farms are associated with three documented cases of H5N1 illness in dairy workers."

So far, officials have not identified if any dairy herd infected with the H5N1 virus also sold raw milk from their farm to consumers. FDA, in its letter, stated the agency is conducting more research on the virus in raw milk products.

The National Institutes of Health reported this week that its study showed the H5N1 virus survived in raw dairy milk kept in refrigeration for five weeks.

In monitoring dairy herds, FDA stated producers should discard milk from symptomatic cows. Any raw milk from exposed cattle that is fed to calves or other animals also should be heat-treated or pasteurized. If H5N1 is identified within a herd, there is a risk that viable virus could be present in raw milk from that herd, even when clinically ill cows are segregated, FDA noted.

See FDA website:…

Also see, "Minnesota, Iowa Dairy Farms Infected With H5N1 as Number of Cases Rises,"…

Chris Clayton can be reached at

Follow him on social platform X @ChrisClaytonDTN


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