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Social media influencers promoting raw milk during H5N1 situation in U.S. dairy herds

Social media influencers promoting raw milk during H5N1 situation in U.S. dairy herds

Those messages are irresponsible, a dairy industry rep said

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer
Farms.com

As the U.S. dairy industry continues to navigate the spread of H5N1 in its herds, influencers are steering their followers towards raw, unpasteurized milk.

Dr. Paul Saladino, for example, has multiple videos on his TikTok account promoting raw milk and its advantages over pasteurized milk. A video from April of this year has been seen more than 23,000 times.

A May 7 video he posted on X about consuming raw milk received more than 90,000 views before it came down.

Advocates argue that raw milk has more vitamins, minerals and is generally safer than its pasteurized counterpart.

Actress Gwenyth Paltrow and soccer star Erling Haaland are also supporters of raw milk.

The CDC, FDA and other health agencies and professionals warn against drinking raw milk because it hasn’t been pasteurized to kill pathogens and can contain E.coli and other bacteria.

Influencers using their platforms to drive consumers towards a potentially harmful product is wrong, said Alan Bjerga, executive vice president of communications and industry relations with the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

“It’s absolute misinformation and dangerous to public health,” he told Farms.com. “People need to behave responsibly. And right now, raw milk consumption is not responsible. In normal times, the raw milk movement is an unfortunate sideshow. The H5N1 situation is a classic example about why we have public measures requiring pasteurization.”

Raw milk sales are legal in the U.S.

Raw milk can be sold within its own state. But any milk sold across state lines must be pasteurized.

The NMPF has opposed state legislatures loosening rules around raw milk and would like to see them tightened as the H5N1 situation continues, Bjerga added.

Research from NielsenIQ shows weekly sales of raw milk have increased since March 25, when the bird flu was confirmed in U.S. dairy cattle.

A 2022 report in the Journal of Food Protection indicated almost 5 percent of adults drank raw milk at least once between 2016 and 2019.

As of May 15, dairy herds in nine states are dealing with avian flu outbreaks, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service says.

The FDA has confirmed that remnants of the H5N1 virus have survived the pasteurization process, but the milk is safe for consumption.

This is a time for the U.S. dairy industry to use its voice to set the record straight about this issue, Bjerga said.

“We encourage dairy farmers to share responsible messages that protect public health,” he said. “This is a great teachable moment for farmers and people who support the industry to say (pasteurized) milk is a safe product with public safeguards. The reputation for quality shouldn’t be compromised because of people who are acting irresponsibly.”

Raw milk producers insist their products are safe.

Raw Farm, for example, says it meets and exceeds California’s state testing.

“Our protocol is a three-step process that starts at the dairy (milking) level and ends with the final product (creamery),” its website says. “Under our Test & Hold Protocol, we test every single milking batch for pathogens and assign a unique “Lot ID", which provides accurate tracking of all milk batches. This allows us to connect our milk batches to all test results efficiently.”

U.S. officials recently conducted cooking tests on beef to determine if the H5N1 virus can survive.

The USDA’s experiments show cooking burger patties to well done, or about 160F, can inactivate the virus. Cooking beef to rare, or about 120F, removes most of the virus, but some remained viable.

Social media influencers and celebrities have spoken about ag before.

In 2018, for example, Laura Prepon, who played Alex Vause on Orange is the New Black, posted a photo of herself online holding corn cobs, implying they hadn't been sprayed.

This prompted responses from members of the ag community.

“Wow Laura, that’s actually not the case at all… organic corn is treated with pesticides and herbicides, doesn’t mean it’s unsafe,” Whitney R., an agronomist from Nebraska, said on Twitter. “Please look into and research this, please don’t spread misinformation.”


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