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September 23, 2014
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Do dairy farms need more milk security?

Nate Wilson

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has opened a public comment period with the nation’s state agriculture departments to hear their suggestions for hardening the security of dairy farm milk houses and bulk milk tanks. Design of potential new security regulations comes in the final implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA). Under the act, FDA alone is tasked with oversight of developing anti-terrorism security measures to be implemented on dairy farms. State recommendations to FDA are due by March 31, 2014 and will be published in the Federal Register.

Looking at dairy farms, FDA zeroed-in on the potential security threat to terrorists adulterating milk. “Fluid milk storage and loading in a dairy farm operation appear to pose a significant vulnerability.”*

“Specifically, for fluid milk storage tanks, we, (FDA) seek comment on whether and what focused mitigation strategies would be appropriate and feasible given current dairy farming practices.” FDA notes several compelling problems that could arise from an intentional adulteration of one farm’s bulk milk shipment:

1. That even a small farm’s milk will be co-mingled with larger amounts collected from other farms increasing the magnitude of the event.

2. The short shelf life of fluid milk, requiring its immediate processing and distribution, increases the potential adverse public health impact of an attack on a farm bulk tank before authorities can comprehend, react and get ahead of the situation.

3. The large cross-section of the public that would be affected by a potential attack and the effect on the public perception on the safety of the nation’s overall food supply, since milk is an ingredient in a vast array of food products.

FDA questions the best direction forward with their mandate. One option considered would best be described as, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” simply allowing matters to remain as they are, albeit with further monitoring. Included in the mix of options is another one that will probably not go down well with busy dairy farmers: mandatory “food defense awareness training.” Another option: restrict access to milk houses by unauthorized personnel and visitors. Here FDA cites the obvious: milk houses tend to be the primary port of entry into the average dairy complex... They often multitask as unofficial office space, with record keeping, commercial and socializing functions. Many have multiple points of entry and are often unattended for large segments of time. While FDA acknowledges the expected significant cost of potential “mitigation strategies,” the question becomes, who will bear the cost of complying with and implementing these potential new regulations? The answer remains unclear.

Traditional dairy farm security has drawn heavily on three basic farm assets: the farmer, his dogs and his 12-gauge. The rarity of reported milk house security breaches and milk adulteration incidents down through the years suggests this homely little security detail answers the purpose rather well. But, in a post-911 world, obsessed with homeland security and the specter of terrorism, such rustic remedies seem to have lost traction in FDA’s mindset; it seems to be reaching for something more sophisticated and high-tech. In the panicky aftermath of the 911 attack, the following options, among others less practical, were considered as mandatory measures for milk house security but never implemented: security cameras, keyless door locks, motion detectors and silent alarm systems. Another recommendation was “cyclone” security fencing topped with razor-wire, commonly used around prisons, intercontinental ballistic missile silos, nuclear power plants and other sensitive or high-value targets. That’s correct; some security experts allegedly suggested that the entire perimeter of U.S. dairy farms should be surrounded by cyclone fencing.

Question is: Why is FDA seeking to tighten food security rules while the Obama Administration labors mightily to complete the Trans Pacific Partnership free-trade deal, which will leave U.S. food security regulations subservient to the food security rules laid down by the World Trade Organization?

[Nate Wilson is a retired dairy farmer in Sinclairville, NY, Chautauqua County.]