By Richard Thompson
An encouraging report by the FDA showed little evidence of antibiotic residuals in milk, with a system of dairy regulation that continues to provide safe and healthy milk to the market. Following up on concerns of elevated levels of antibiotics in dairy products, the study was done in part with farms that had a previous violation with antibiotic residue.
The report concluded that while the small number of positive drug residuals was encouraging, the FDA will continue to collaborate closely with state regulatory partners and the dairy industry to strengthen the residue testing program for Grade “A” milk. The FDA will also continue to educate dairy producers on best practices to avoid drug residue in both tissues and milk, keeping consumers safe and distributors compliant.
These results are a continuation of an ongoing trend for the past 20 years in reducing antibiotic residue in dairy products, noted Dr. Robert Collier, Professor of the School of Animal and Comparative Sciences at the University of Arizona, “The dairy industry is continually improving. Milk is tested at least five times before it gets to the store.” Collier, who was not part of the study, continued, “The dairy industry has a tried and true method to keep quality product that is safe and good for you.”
Targeting specific dairy farms with previous drug residue violations, the FDA wanted to study whether those farms with previous violations continued to have antibiotic residuals in their product. The FDA looked for evidence of drug residuals from 31 different antibiotics, and what they found was that over 99 percent from almost 2000 samples taken were free of any antibiotic residuals – it’s that tiny percentage remaining that raises concerns.
Using antibiotics in cattle is not unusual for the animal’s health and preventative care, but those medications are supposed to be metabolized before the animal can be considered a “lactating cow” that produces milk for sale. Recent studies have linked growing bacterial resistance to antibiotics with the infiltration of antibiotics into the human food chain.
Some consumers have responded to their concerns about what’s in their food by choosing organic alternatives. Don Grace, Dairy Buyer for Bashas’ family of stores, has seen the health and safety trend gaining momentum for some time, “Organic milk in dairy seems to have an increased interest with the customer. Sales are on an increase. Unfortunately suppliers can’t meet demand, and many times the product is on allocation,” he said. While fluid milk is the biggest seller in the category, especially due to its price, changing tastes are finding solutions in the growing selection of natural products. “Today’s customers know the benefits of milk, but are constantly being shown healthy alternates of organics like nut milk and soy milk,” Grace continued, “Milk is not the standard product anymore. People are finding they are lactose intolerant and allergic to certain items contained in fresh milk.”
But as Collier explained, just switching to organic might not be enough. “Even organic foods are not immune to pathogen questions. It’s a question of how it is handled and the safety preparations that are taken,” he said.
Milk is one of the most easily tested and regulated products, with safety tests conducted at every step of the distribution process from the bulk tanks at the dairy farms all the way to where it’s bottled, with random samples being tested before shipment. If any antibiotic residuals are found, the process allows for identification for possible residues along with the farms that they came from. Said Collier, “The bottom line is there are no antibiotic residuals in milk marketed.”
Despite the small number of dairy farms that may attempt to subvert the system in place, the vast majority of dairy cooperatives and distribution centers still adhere to the Grade “A” system of regulated production, following the federal, state and individual cooperative standards that are implemented from farms where the milk begins to the store or company where it will be bought or used.
The United Dairymen of Arizona, for instance, represent 85 percent of the dairy farms in Arizona, distributing 13 million pounds of milk a day, adhering to dairy standards that may exceed regulatory standards depending on the cooperative’s safety preferences. “Arizona has very progressive dairymen with animal wellness interests, following the new standard of FARM: ‘Farmers Assuring Responsible Management,’” said Mike Billotte, Vice President of Government Relations, United Dairymen of Arizona, “We follow the basic tenet of inspections of dairy, routine testing, residue testing and sediment testing. These routine testing agencies are enforced in every state.”