Recently there has been some confusion about the FDA’s plan to sample the milk from hundreds of dairies that, in the past, have had violative residues. A Jan. 26 article in the New York Times said that the dairy industry and the FDA were sparring over the testing and perhaps this plan was being called off.

I contacted the FDA and asked them several questions about their plans and the intent of the testing. Laura Alvey, Deputy Director, Communications Staff, of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, replied to my questions.

“The primary objective of the milk sampling plan is to determine whether the practices that led to drug residues in tissues of slaughtered dairy cattle might also cause drug residues to be present in milk,” Alvey said. “However, as previously mentioned, the specific approach for conducting the sampling plan and responding to the results are still under discussion. There is currently no established date for initiating the sampling.”

The sampling was targeted to begin in January, contingent upon first obtaining input from the states and the industry. “We have sought and received input on the sample collection plan from our state regulatory partners and the milk production and dairy processing industries,” Alvey said. “We have received very valuable input to date and felt it was important to continue these discussions and ensure that all stakeholders have an opportunity to discuss this with FDA.”

Therefore, she added, prior to initiating any milk sampling plan, FDA intends to seek further input on approaches that will help address, to the extent possible, the concerns that have been raised while still meeting FDA’s key objectives. “FDA believes it is important to ensure that we have provided adequate time to consider and seek solutions to these concerns, but the agency remains committed to gathering the information necessary to address its concern with respect to this important potential public health issue.”

FDA’s concerns

Although only 7.7% of the cattle slaughtered in the United States are adult dairy cattle, they represent 67% of the tissue residue violations reported by USDA’s FSIS. “Drug residue violations in dairy cattle tissues often result from poor practices on the farm,” Alvey said. “These practices may include: failure to maintain treatment records, failure to identify treated animals, failure to follow labeled withdrawal times, increasing the labeled dosage, increasing the length of treatment, or giving the drug by an unapproved route of administration. FDA is concerned that the same poor practices may also result in drug residues in milk.

“FDA is focusing only on a very small percentage of dairy farms that are considered the highest potential risk based on a risk-ranking process that considers the farm’s prior history of tissue residue violations involving adult dairy cattle cows that were sent to slaughter,” Alvey said. “FDA is targeting the few members (tissue residue violators) of an otherwise compliant industry in order to ensure that the public can continue to have the utmost confidence in the dairy products they consume.”

There are some concerns within the livestock/veterinary industry about this type of testing. Hans Coetzee, BVSc, Cert CHP, PhD, Dipl. ACVCP, Kansas State University, says, “Information derived from this action may be used in ways that are damaging to production agriculture because they may call into question common agricultural practices, our commitment to producing a safe product and the general safety of the food supply. Consumers are being educated about residues in the popular press. Some may see ‘meat’ and ‘residue’ in the same sentence and assume that all food of animal origin is unsafe. Some may see this as further evidence that veterinarians and producers are not responsible stewards of anti-microbial use and are not committed to producing a safe product.”

Stay informed on this  issue and make sure you and your clients are vigilant about antimicrobials and other drugs that are used on their operations.