By Robert Cohen Executive Director Text Only


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is doing
all that it can to keep you from learning one very big
California's secret.

Tuberculosis in dairy cows. Are you next?

USDA's mission is to protect the dairy industry, not your

This is not a pleasant little family farm story, folks. This
is about just one factory farm, and the monstrous potential
that gigantic dairy operations hold for spreading disease.

During 2002, a herd of 3,000 dairy cows was quarantined in
Tulare county, California. Hundreds of cows had to be
destroyed after diseased animals were sent to
slaughterhouses for human consumption. One vigilant
inspector discovered traces of tuberculosis in meat destined
for somebody's refrigerator. The carcass from that once
gentle creature was covered with horrible lesions. The dairy
farmers knew. The driver of the truck knew. The
slaughterhouse workers knew. Nobody was about to reveal the
secret. It took one brave individual to buck the system.

USDA officials initially refused to release the name of the
farm, citing biosecurity concerns.

Can humans catch tuberculosis after drinking milk or eating
flesh from diseased cows? Do you eat cheese? Many cheeses
are made from unpasteurized milk. Do you enjoy your steak

In 1988, The Journal of Dairy Science (volume 71) revealed:

  "Many diseases such as tuberculosis are
   transmissible by milk products."

Sixty-five years ago, the Journal of Dairy Science (19:435,
1936) reported:

  "Infected raw milk is the chief means by which
   milk-borne tuberculosis is transmitted to man."

Not much progress was made during the next two decades. In
1959, the United States had nearly one-half of today's
population. The average salary was $2,992. Many things were
different then. On March 10, 1959, Hoard's Dairyman

  "Researchers and regulatory authorities were
   meeting to halt the rise and spread of
   tuberculosis from cows to humans, and to
   bring incidence to eradication levels."

So long ago. Sadly, things remain the same.

In 1970, the National Mastitis Council announced:

  "Some strains of mycobacteria, similar to
   those that are associated with tuberculosis,
   have been found to survive pasteurization."

One of the most well-respected dairy reference books is
Lincoln Lampert's Modern Dairy Products. Here is an excerpt
from the third edition:

  "A cow with pulmonary tuberculoses may swallow
   her own saliva and this, with the infected
   material coughed up from the lungs, then passes
   through the whole digestive tract, and remains
   as an active form of infection. Particles of
   infected dust or manure may contaminate the milk,
   or it may be infected directly from the tubercular

Today, California citizens may drink milk from cows infected
with tuberculosis. Tomorrow, people in Chicago and Detroit
and New York and Miami may eat the aged cheeses from milk
taken from those same cows.

Roll the dice. Cut the deck, low card wins. Spin the
roulette wheel. Russian roulette. Name your game. It's a
gamble, and the odds will eat you up.

Robert Cohen author of:   MILK A-Z
Executive Director (
Dairy Education Board

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