Past President of Veterinary Ireland says Mastitis a Ticking Time Bomb

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Creative Commons License photo credit: jenny downing (r&r)

Candid Words Warn of Explosion to Come of Food Quality, Health Problems, for Man and Beast

by Guest Blogger, William Gehm

A recent article “Milking: Quality Turns Sour” by Dr. Frank O’Sullivan was printed in the Irish Independent newspaper discussing the quality of milk in Ireland. Dr. O’Sullivan boldly discusses the fact that milk quality has not improved with improved SCC (somatic cell count) standards. It is noteworthy that the maximum allowable SCC limit in Ireland is 400,000 while the US remains at 750,000 somatic cells per milliliter. O’Sullivan questions the industry interest in solving the quality problem stating “Is the Government serious about milk quality when it introduces poorly policed animal-remedy legislation, which hijacks milk-quality programmes and serves to shovel antibiotics into the food chain?”

His comments are on-target for the US dairy industry as well. The combined multi-national research efforts of universities and the U.S. National Mastitis Council (NMC) amount to little more than mutual admiration societies where members solicit funding to protect their jobs and self-interests. Several decades after the NMC embraced the now world-recognized 10 point plan, mastitis continues to represent a multi-billion dollar annual loss to dairy farmers. A search of industry peer reviewed journal studies reveals thousands of published studies all claiming to identify a successful path to reducing or eliminating bacterial caused mastitis infections. These many researchers routinely convene at local and international symposiums to discuss their findings and to speak of mastitis goals as if they are real and a daily achievement on most farms. The simple facts as pointed out in the O’Sullivan article are that no real progress has been made by this institutionalized thought as dairy farmers continue to struggle with mastitis.

O’Sullivan points out that “there are two food-safety hits: the high SCC of milk; and the increased use of antibiotics with residue and resistance pressures”. These same concerns are echoed by the USDA with the multi-state NE1009 Mastitis Resistance to Enhance Dairy Food Safety project to address dairy food safety concerns associated with mastitis. Other researchers are exploring other food-safety concerns which include recent evidence of transmission of MRSA between cows and humans. Documented reports of Staph aureus sickening thousands of consumers in Japan and the fact that even pasteurized products can contain low levels of Staph aureus. The extensive use of grain in feeds has resulted in a new acid-tolerance variant of e-coli that is particularly deadly. Dairy cows can have their udders become infected with this bacteria thereby transmitting it in the milk.

There exists an abundance of evidence that the widely accepted NMC guidelines are a failure. Similar to Irish dairy farms, over 20% of U.S. dairy farms in not capable of consistently producing milk cell counts under 400,000/ml. The general move towards technology and the NMC milking guidelines has resulted in the U.S. replacement rate rising from 24% to 47% in the past 30 years based on USDA data. This high replacement rate has driven the interest in sexed semen. Simply stated, dairy farmers are forced to treat cows as an expendable commodity in a futile effort to combat mastitis.

A few observations of cows milking combined with past experiences provides insight into both the root cause and the solution. The typical cow will develop a slow milking quarter within the first lactation caused by scar tissue formation in the canal. Teats are wetted with milk during the milking process and when the machines are removed the teats are slightly swollen indicating a stressful condition.

The true tragedy of the situation is the collective thought process of veterinarians and universities claiming that the problem is solely a bacterial one requiring proper management practices. This blame-the-farmer mentality has produced thousands of research projects culminating in a growing food quality problem described as a ticking time-bomb by O’Sullivan. The momentum behind this failed thought process is large corporations supplying chemicals, hormones and antibiotics to dairy farmers struggling to minimize the problem while universities capitalize on research dollars.

There can be no doubts about the role that conventional milking equipment plays in mastitis. The major milking equipment manufacturers have each acknowledged the fact that their conventional milking machines cause mastitis, teat wetting, liner crawl, liner slip and teat stress. They have taken a path of collusion with the NMC and universities to convince dairy farmers that the blame for mastitis, poor milk quality and damaged udders is a direct result of the farmer’s management failings.

William Gehm

William Gehm

William Gehm was raised on a 70 cow dairy farm and consumed raw milk daily until his father retired from farming. He obtained a B.S. in Applied & Engineering Physics from Cornell University and a M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Syracuse University. His early career was as a Laser Physicist followed by numerous years leading teams of engineers designing mechanical packaging for aerospace engine and flight controls. Throughout that time period his father operated a small dairy farm and battled mastitis and the associated failings of the universities in addressing this costly problem. It was his frustrations with veterinarians and universities blaming dairy farmers for unacceptable milking performance and poor milk quality delivered by conventional milking machines that drove him to research and develop an innovative milking system. The success of that product evolved into a company marketing innovative dairy equipment products worldwide. The focus remains on enabling dairy farmers to be successful in providing quality milk while milking cows in a humane manner to increase their productive life. To learn more about this breakthrough product, visit my Copulsation website. I have also put up a site about Cornell Dairy Research on my system, and a consumer site called

This post is part of the Fight Back Friday Blog Carnival, see more ways to improve your family’s food supply on Food Renegade blog.


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