The System Works

Volume 139, No. 37, Friday, March 6, 2015

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


Other John Umhoefer Columns

 100 Years of Success
 Thoughts for a Dairy Forum

 A Different Dairy Scene in 2015
 The Truth About Animal Care
 A Regulatory Hat Trick
 Flawed Security Program Bilks Wisconsin Dairy
 Leading Cheese Producers
 Success by the Numbers
 It’s Time for Training
 Exports Trump Farm Bill
 Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute’s 20-20 Vision
 Addressing Wastewater Head On
 Knowledge Opportunities Abound
 Say No to an Extreme Raw Milk Bill
 A Generation's Gift
 Government-Induced Uncertainty

 Decades Ahead on Food Safety
 Wisconsin’s Hot Winter
 A Successful Campaign for Babcock
 Ireland: Gearing Up For Growth
 Mired in Wash Water
 Less Government, More Dairy
An Interview With Jim Sartorii
The Other Solids Price Crush

 The Policy Answer Is Exports
 Rolling The Dice On Dairy Reforms
 Productive Changes In Wisconsin

 The Successful Idea Of DBIC
 Cheese Cuts Both Ways:
Consolidation and Growth
 IDFA's Deep Dairy Reforms
 Wisconsin In The Spotlight
 An Overbuilt Foundation

 What the New Governor Means To Wisconsin
 No Man's Land
 Dairy & Wisconsin’s New Leadership

Wisconsin Cheese Is Investing, Expanding
 Talking Competition
 Being Big Dairy
Upper Midwest Prospects in 2010
Upper Midwest Growth: Perspectives From The Farm
Blue Skies or Bust
Pushing Back Against A Tough 2009
Support Demand, Not Price
Dairy: A Good Bet in a Bad Economy
Wisconsin's Future: Growth
Keeping Sustainability Real
Nose Dive
Dairy Dives into 2009
Consider This...
 Fulls Vats
Implement Make Allowances ASAP
Security Reforms
Spring Forward
A Week of Clarity

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