News released this week from the US Food and Drug Administration on its 2012 farm milk sampling survey was statistically heartening: less than 1 percent of milk samples taken at farms were found to contain antibiotic drug residues.
FDA collected milk samples from two groups of farms throughout 2012. One group included farms with previous tissue residue violations – culled cows found to have antibiotic residues in tissue samples – and the other group was a “control” group of randomly selected dairy farms.
Overall, 1,912 “blinded” samples were tested for the purpose of the survey. Samples were tested for 31 different drug residues. FDA found 11 positive samples among the 953 samples collected from farms with previous tissue residue violations and four positive samples among the 959 samples taken at control-group farms.
“These findings provide evidence that the nation’s milk safety system is effective in helping to prevent drug residues of concern in milk,” FDA stated in its news release this week, “even in those limited instances when medications are needed to maintain the health of dairy cattle.”
It’s a positive conclusion from federal regulators and a fair conclusion. Also fair is their next thought: “FDA intends to take steps to maintain the strongest possible system to ensure milk safety….The agency is working with its milk regulatory partners to update the existing milk safety program, as necessary, to include testing for a greater diversity of drugs and to educate dairy producers on best practices to avoid drug residues in both tissues and milk.”
The dairy industry is doing well with prevention of antibiotic residues, and the industry’s goal should be perfection. National Milk Producers Federation CEO Jim Mulhern affirmed this goal in an Associated Press article March 5.
“These results are great, but we still are aiming for zero positives in the future,” Mulhern stated.
For more than 20 years the dairy industry has tested every single tanker load of fresh farm milk for antibiotics residues (beta lactam medicines such as penicillin). FDA reports on this testing annually and in a report issued in February just 0.014 percent of samples taken from 3,147,302 bulk milk tankers were found to have antibiotic residues. Dairy processors dispose of these rare milk loads with a positive residue result.
Wisconsin has been proactive on farmer training to reduce antibiotic residues in milk. In 2010, Wisconsin dairy farmers began work on a cooperative effort with the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association to track and monitor medicines use on farms.
The result is a comprehensive six-step plan that is now being rolled out and includes:
• Formalizing a close working relationship between dairy farmers and their veterinarians for ongoing oversight.
• Protocols and standard operating procedures for medication use, including following label directions and keeping detailed records.
• Employee training and oversight for all medication use.
At the same time, the National Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program (known as FARM), now in use at over 80 percent of US dairy farms, includes excellent best management practices for farmers and their veterinarians. FARM’s “Milk and Dairy Beef Drug Residue Prevention” manual is a complete training program for proper use and handling of medications.
Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association has initiated an action plan with National Milk Producers Federation to bring even more dairy farms (and dairy processors) into the FARM program, and in May 2015 four WCMA-sponsored training sessions for dairy plant field staff and vets will certify new trainers and auditors for the FARM program.
FDA’s news about very low positive milk samples reaffirms the fact that a massive infrastructure – from federal and state regulations to multiple testing technologies to competing training programs to constant verification and transparent reporting – exists to keep medicines used on dairy cows out of our milk and meat supply.
The system should strive for improvement and perfection, but the system works. JU
John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at
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