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Dairy Trivia: SD Ag Dept Targets Small Dairy Run by Brookings GOP Chair

The state Department of Agriculture made a gross error last month in announcing that Brookings County dairy Jerseydale Farms was selling raw milk with dangerous bacteria in it and closing down the operation for a few days. An eager reader reads the raw milk rules and makes an interesting argument that, by testing for and sounding the alarm over a harmless strain of Listeria not listed among the pathogens for which the Department is authorized to test, the dairy could sue the department for breaking its own rules to damage the dairy's business.

If Jerseydale Farms does sue the state, it would make for some entertaining Republican-on-Republican wrestling. Jerseydale Farms owner Trevor Gilkerson has been the lead advocate for his business in the press. I don't know his politics (though they are clearly anti-Department of Ag at the moment), but Trever's dad Jim Gilkerson, whose name appears on the Jerseydale Farms annual report as president and secretary, is also the chairman of the Brookings County Republican Party.

Well, at least we know South Dakota's Republican-dominated government is an equal-opportunity oppressor.

By the way, litigator of food-poisoning cases Bill Marler suggests that the Department of Agriculture can't win: we call for heads to roll for falsely flagging the Gilkersons' dairy, but had the test results shown harmful bacteria and people had gotten sick, we'd be in a whole nother uproar. On which side of caution should the milk testers err?


  1. Chris S. 2014.02.07

    On which side of caution should the milk testers err? Easy call: You "err" by following the law, not making it up as you go along.

  2. mike from iowa 2014.02.07

    Back in the 50s and early 60s my family bought raw milk every week from a local dairy farmer. We let the milk set overnight and then skimmed the yummy,heavy cream off the top and no one ever got sick. No one ever got sued over raw milk,if I remember correctly. My guess is wingnuts hate regs and don't feel the need to follow them,as evidenced by this case. Err on the side of caution for consumers first.

  3. Cranky Old Dude 2014.02.07

    If you think raw milk is a problem, don't drink it! I would guess that nearly all, if not all, people who consume raw milk are pretty well informed about the benefits and risks of that behavior. Somehow, I don't see this group being hopeless addicts who have to be protected from themselves.

    The rise of regulations and laws governing raw milk were mostly due to the ghastly sanitary conditions that came in with the commercial mega dairies. when you have that many animals, in those close quarters, ultra pasteurization is about your only recourse. Think about that the next time you're loading the old grocery cart up with 2%. (Disclaimer: here at the Cranky Compound we produce and consume our own raw milk.)

  4. Bob Klein 2014.02.07

    The testing wasn't done by a group of freshman science students working on a science-fair project. (At least, that's my supposition) I doubt this is the first time they've found the organisms they're reporting on.

    The way you convince people that government is bad is to have an incompetent government. What better way than to hire people to prove it?

  5. Les 2014.02.07

    I believe few have any idea of how some of us survived raw milk.
    I started milking the family cow when I was 7. I remember well, getting dressed for school and running to the barn with a bucket. Graining the cow in the stanchion and "not" wiping her down top to bottom in the area of the milk business.
    Grass, hay, manure, hair and chunks of you name it would end up in the bucket. Of course all the cats came to get milk squirted in their mouth. Much of the time the milk would almost have a layer of the stuff on it and I would get it strained before mom or dad got a look, knowing in my mind that got it all out.
    It then hit the fridge with extra nutrients which if allowed to grow in a warm environment might have sickened. In their chilled state those extra bacteria(coliforms) didn't grow and never sickened us once that I can remember.
    That said, it was far from the technology used with our raw milk producers of this day with the exception of the refrigeration which keeps all of our raw foods from spoilage which can sicken.
    These are over educated idiots at best, who justify their existence and the business of corporate ag, by complicating that which mostly needs the one major item, refrigeration. There is a mystery, with the amount of BS they are spewing, I wonder what they might be ingesting that carries that quantity of toxic load.?

  6. Roger Cornelius 2014.02.07

    So, what is the back story on this?

    Has the Brookings dairy/GOP leader displeased the party in some fashion? A little political pay back perhaps?

  7. mike from iowa 2014.02.07

    If any of you have the Molly Ivins/Lou Dubose book "Bushwhacked" read the chapter titled Ready to Eat to find out what happened to Listeria Regs developed in the Clinton Admin. and disposed of when dumb bass dubya and cowboys were appointed patron saints of deregulation. Not pretty and certainly dangerous to American consumers.

  8. Courtney 2014.02.07

    I will use my real name. What happened in the Jerseydale Farms case is actually pretty disappointing. As a former employee (who worked on these rules), I will say this: the rules themselves are not necessarily the problem. Had the State followed them, Jerseydale would not have been affected this time around because the strain of Listeria listed in the Administrative Rules should never have been tested for in the first place. In other words, Listeria innocua is not something the Department of Ag should have even tested for, let alone shut down a business for. The rules specifically enumerate those bacteria/pathogens that are to be tested for. Listeria monocytogenes is listed and Listeria innocua is not. Why? Not because the Department missed something, but because it is not considered harmful. Not "generally", not ever.

    An apology, at the very least, is necessary here. Sorry Trever, you're never going to get it. There is no learning curve here. Yes, the rules are a mere 50 some days old, but that doesn't mean you can chalk this up to the rules being new. Listeria innocua was never listed as something that could be tested for. period. The rules state specifically Listeria monocytogenes. That doesn't mean you can test for broad Listeria, get a positive, run a damaging press release nationally through AP, run a second test, get a negative, then finally get the actual bonafide lab results (showing it was listeria innocua), and then run a insulting press release insinuating there was still reason for caution. That is not only unethical, but illegal, and just plain bad public service.

    A lot was mentioned today about any bad press for milk, is bad press for milk...regardless of it being raw or pasteurized. I agree and it likely cuts both ways. But, how about all the bad press South Dakota is now getting nationally (Houston Chronicle, Kansas City Star......too many to mention), on this blunder? Now I know, the Ag Department claims it "was obligated to inform the public about a possible health threat, even though tests of the listeria strain hadn't been completed at the time of the announcement". Wait, what?! No, the Admin Rules obligate you to inform the public only if Listeria monocytogenes is present. How do I know that? THE RULES CLEARLY STATE THAT.

    What a headache. Facepalm. Seriously. Sad.

  9. Joan 2014.02.08

    Courtney, thanks for speaking up. The DoA has been playing fast and loose with their rules for a long time, even before this mess. It's about time it bit them. The fact that SD has so few small dairy producers like Trever is at least partially a reflection of the Dept.'s heavy-handed tactics.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.02.08

    Courtney: wow! That's one of the most forthright comments I've heard from folks in the know on this topic. Thank you.

  11. MBradshaw 2014.02.08

    That should be an interesting understory in all this.

    Courtney, thanks for that analysis, it was very well written. You have made some very good points. I saw the Listeria Hysteria column and saw the fiasco was picked up by many news outlets across the country. I listened to the hearing online and it made me chuckle to hear Lentsch spouting off his credentials in Dairy Science from SDSU and as an experienced dairyman. Only to be made to look like a fool anytime he was asked a question. He had a reheased speech and that was all he knew. It was clear he doesn't have a clue how to interpret rules and statutes, and even less about the raw milk program he leads, which is a real danger. I can see why raw milk producers are fighting this. If the Secretary of Ag has the power to enforce these rules, then he should be duty bound to fully understand them and not abuse them, or in this case not follow them.

  12. Wade Tyrrell 2014.08.23

    Years ago (1982-1983) - as a student at SDSU the Gilkerson family hired me to milk on their farm. A great family who worked hard to run a strong dairy business. I see the next generation has taken the lead - and I wish them the best. Many years later, this was the best job I have ever had - I learned a great deal, worked hard, and enjoyed it!

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