FDA drug residue survey findings demonstrate safety of U.S. milk supply

Written by Sara Barth

The release of the long-awaited Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug residue sampling survey confirms the safety of the nation’s milk supply and demonstrates that the regulations to keep drug residues out of milk are effective in protecting the public health.

The milk survey was released in early March 2015 by the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), which sampled the raw milk from nearly 2,000 dairy farms in 2012 and conducted extensive laboratory testing on each milk sample for 31 different
pharmaceutical compounds. It found that more than 99 percent of the samples were free of residues, “underscoring the safety of the milk supply,” according to the FDA.

“The report demonstrates that America’s dairy farmers are committed to providing safe and wholesome milk,” says Jamie Jonker, vice president of sustainability and scientific affairs with the National Milk Producers Association.

Jonker says that public safety has always been a priority for milk producers and processors.

“The dairy industry continues to make incredible improvements,” Jonker says. “Now, with the FDA milk study survey, farmers may anticipate increased public and regulatory scrutiny on how to continue education among farmers, veterinarians, and pharmaceutical companies.”

“Just because farmers have the ability to use a certain drug in a certain manner today doesn’t mean this will be the same case in five years,” he says. “When using drugs on the farm, farmers must stay current with information and utilize all resources available.”

The investigation, which began in January 2012, was designed to collect samples using a third party so that dairies were not targeted or subject to penalties as a result of the findings. Raw milk samples were collected from 953 dairy farms with a previous tissue residue violation, and 959 other samples were collected randomly.

According to Jonker, the results further highlight the goal of farmers and the dairy industry in general— to keep animals from requiring medical treatment.

“From time to time, however, an animal will become sick or injured and will need treatment to bring it back to health,” Jonker says. “In this case, when producers need to use medicines like antibiotics or other drugs, they should make sure they are working closely with the veterinarian to select the proper drug to use and carefully monitor withdrawal times, or the time it takes for an antibiotic or drug to disappear from the animal’s tissue or milk.”

An antibiotic is generally administered to prevent unwanted bacteria growth by attacking it and preventing the spread of infection. Common types of antibiotics include penicillin and sulfadimethoxine, while other drugs used to care for dairy cows are flea and tick medicines, infertility treatments and those that treat specific conditions such as lameness.

In all instances, these drugs are used to care for the animal and sustain life, Jonker says, and are cautiously administered.

According to FDA and CVM, there are three specific classifications of medicine for animal treatment: over-the-counter (OTC), prescription (RX) or veterinary feed directive (VFD).

“The only class of drug that may be used without a veterinarian’s prescription is an OTC product,” Jonker says.