USDA orders flu testing for dairy cows to avoid spreading bird flu

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The agency believes there are minimal health risks for consumers at this time

Outbreaks of bird flu (H5N1) were first detected among dairy cattle across the country in late March. 

Now, as the virus continues to spread, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued an order to hopefully prevent the spread. Moving forward, all dairy cattle must be tested for bird flu before traveling between states. 

“USDA has identified spread between cows within the same herd, spread from cows to poultry, spread between dairies associated with cattle movements, and cows without clinical signs that have tested positive,” the USDA wrote in a statement

“The novel movement of H5N1 between wild birds and dairy cows requires further testing and time to develop a critical understanding to support any future courses of action. This Federal Order is critical to increasing the information available for the USDA. Requiring positive test reporting will help the USDA better under this disease and testing before interstate movement will limit its spread.” 

New requirements

The Federal Order by the USDA requires the following criteria before dairy cattle are able to move between states starting on Monday, April 29: 

  • Dairy cattle must receive a negative influenza A test at an approved National Animal Health Laboratory Network lab 

  • Dairy cattle moving between states must follow all Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) guidelines 

  • Labs that receive positive influenza A tests for dairy cattle must report them to the USDA and APHIS

The effect on dairy milk

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been conducting an ongoing investigation into the bird flu outbreaks, primarily with the intention of ensuring that consumers stay safe when exposed to potentially contaminated dairy products. 

“The FDA and USDA have indicated that based on the information currently available, our commercial milk supply is safe because of these two reasons: 1) the pasteurization process and 2) the diversion or destruction of milk from sick cows,” the FDA explained.  

Recent reports have shown that pasteurized milk samples found on store shelves have traces of the virus. However, the FDA explained that the pasteurization process doesn’t completely sterilize the milk; rather, it kills off the traces of the virus that would be harmful to consumers. 

The FDA encourages consumers to steer clear of raw milk, as this type of milk doesn’t go through the pasteurization process. Any remnants of the bird flu virus in raw milk products can be dangerous for consumers. 

The agency is continuing to do more research related to the bird flu, consumer dairy products, and the risks to consumers’ health. However, at this point, the FDA maintains that the commercial milk supply doesn’t pose a risk to consumers’ health. 

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