Joel Ebert of the South Dakota Capital Journal got the headline “Listeria Hysteria.”

Perhaps it would have been better – although a bit longer – “Raw Milk Farmer and South Dakota Department of Agriculture Caught between a Rock and a Hard Place.”

Late last week the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) announced that raw milk from Jerseydale Farms, a Brookings, South Dakota-based raw milk producer, tested positive for Listeria.  According to a posting on the Department of Agriculture’s website:

Listera [monocytogenes] can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and individuals with weakened immune systems. Listeria [monocytogenes] infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women. A person with listeriosis may have fever, muscle aches and sometimes nausea or diarrhea. If infection spreads to the nervous system, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance or convulsions can occur.

The SDDA then announced:

Contaminated bottled raw milk was sold in the Brookings County area. If you have purchased this bottled raw milk, SDDA advises the product be discarded or returned.

Clearly, this announcement was not good for Jerseydale Farms’ business.

The announcement and warning about Jerseydale Farms’ milk also occurred prior to the completion of final Listeria test results that would determine the specie type. A spokesperson for the SDDA told Mr. Ebert when the final testing was complete a week after the announcement, the sample collected from Jerseydale Farms had tested positive for Listeria innocua, not the potentially deadly, Listeria monocytogenes.

SDDA told Mr. Ebert that SDDA was obligated to inform the public, even though the tests about the specie of Listeria had not been completed at the time of the announcement.  However, although the SDDA appears to stand behind its initial announcement, Trever Gilkerson of Jerseydale Farms said the decision negatively impacted the dairy.

Therefore, “Between and Rock and a Hard Place” seems a bit more apt – had SDDA not announced the test result and waited a week for the final result, and it had been Listeria monocytogenes and people became ill, we would be calling for heads to roll.  Of course the farmer now wants those same heads to roll for the test results coming back for Listeria innocua instead of monocytogenes.

The SDDA looks a bit foolish and the farmer is understandably upset.  I guess the good news is that no one got sick.  That is good for customers and good for the farmer.