In this month's issue of Dairy Herd Management, you will notice a 12-page insert on antibiotic use in food animal production. Hopefully, it will provide you with some good "food for thought."

Antibiotics serve a valuable role on many livestock farms, and efforts should be made to preserve their use - especially now that some activist groups are trying to get them removed from agricultural use.

Last March, we pointed out in this column that dairy producers have done a good job of reducing the number of milk samples positive for drug residues. According to the Food and Drug Administration's National Milk Drug Residue Data Base, just 0.08 percent of all milk samples tested last year were positive for an animal drug residue. And when it comes to bulk tank samples taken from tanker trucks, the number drops to 0.067 percent.

That is the sixth year in a row that positive bulk tank samples has declined on a percentage basis.

Of course, the industry should not rest until the percentage of positive milk samples reaches absolute zero.

Illegal drug residues are no longer the issue, although reducing the number of illegal residues to nearly zero does help tremendously, because it removes a potential argument from the activist groups who want farm antibiotics banned or scaled back.

What the activist groups are now targeting is the subtherapeutic feeding of antibiotics to farm animals. In the dairy industry, the use of subtherapeutic antibiotics is not common; certainly, it is not used as a growth promotant like it is in the pork industry. However, many producers still routinely use antibiotics to treat mastitis. Some types of mastitis respond well to antibiotic treatment, others do not.

If the government were to ban subtherapeutic use of antibiotics, just how stringent would the requirement be? Would dairy producers still be allowed to use antibiotics for a wide range of conditions, such as mastitis, lameness, reproductive and metabolic conditions, or would the application be more narrow than that? Would antibiotics be reserved for only certain types of mastitis, such as Strep ag., that respond well to treatment? Would antibiotics be reserved for only the most serious types of bacterial disease?

And, if the government does approve a ban on subtherapeutic antibiotics, one has to ask if activists would stop there or push for a total ban of antibiotic use in the livestock industry. Dairy producers, like their brethren in the pork and beef industries, have a huge stake in this debate. Please take the time to read this month's insert and arm yourself with information.