Dairy Farmers Will Be Paid for Bird Flu Testing and Safety Efforts

3 min read

May 13, 2024 – The federal government will pay dairy producers millions of dollars to participate in biosecurity efforts as health and agriculture officials attempt to better understand and safeguard humans and animals from bird flu.

An initial allocation of $98 million was announced Friday and may be spent in just 4 months.

The move comes after a Texas dairy farm worker tested positive earlier this year for the virus, which is officially called avian influenza A (H5N1). Since then, inactive virus fragments have been detected in pasteurized milk, and 42 herds of cattle across nine states have tested positive for bird flu. Officials maintain that the commercial milk supply is safe, but admit there is much more they want to learn about how the virus may be affecting animals, humans, and the food supply.

Dairy farmers have reportedly been reluctant to voluntarily participate in government efforts to monitor cows and workers. The new plan includes compensation of up to $28,000 per location for farmers and those in dairy industry support roles for a long list of different biosecurity and testing actions, including:

  • Monthly payments toward personal protective equipment or laundering services for workers at locations with affected herds, as long as the workers participate in government studies
  • Payments toward biosecurity planning, such as implementing in-line sampling equipment and measures to protect people who move frequently between dairy farms like feed and milk haulers, as well as veterinarians
  • Funding toward heat treatment to dispose of milk
  • Covering the cost of testing and treatment of sick or potentially sick animals

The new measures are in addition to earlier testing requirements that apply to some situations in which cows are transported.

Federal officials said they would also compensate farmers for loss of milk production related to outbreaks and testing under an existing initiative called the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish Program.

“While dairy cows that have been infected with H5N1 generally recover well, and there is little mortality associated with the disease, it does dramatically limit milk production, causing economic losses for producers with affected premises,” according to a joint news release issued Friday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Additional new actions by the CDC and FDA will “increase testing and laboratory screening and testing capacity, genomic sequencing, and other interventions to protect the health and safety of dairy and other potentially impacted food items,” the news release stated.

The CDC is expected to launch a bird flu wastewater tracking dashboard this week, multiple news outlets reported. Some scientists have criticized the CDC for not implementing a tracking program sooner, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“CDC is monitoring wastewater data for any evidence of unusual levels of influenza and is working to develop and validate an influenza wastewater metric that will be publicly shared soon on CDC’s website,” the CDC’s avian flu information webpage stated as of its Friday update.

The FDA and CDC advise people not to consume raw milk. Also on Friday, the FDA announced it had completed testing of 297 retail dairy product samples and confirmed preliminary results that no viable form of the virus was detected. The agency said it is conducting further tests on raw milk samples intended for commercial processing to further assess the effectiveness of pasteurization at inactivating the virus in cow milk and other dairy products.

“The results from this study will help further the FDA’s understanding of pasteurization efficacy against anticipated concentrations of virus under real-world processing conditions,” the latest FDA update explained.