Drugs Found In Dairy Cattle Meat Spurs Questions About What's In Milk


UPDATED: Friday July 22, 2011 7:41 PM

A Consumer 10 investigation showed how dozens of common drugs are never tested for in milk production.
 
10TV News searched through the testing reports of the more than 3,000 dairy farms in Ohio. 
 
Farms were caught sending milk that contained excessive levels of antibiotics to processing plants 180 times, violating state and federal laws, records showed.

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The milk was dumped, the farmers were fined and the milk never made it to consumers, Landers reported.
 
At Shipley Farms, a 300-head dairy farm near Newark, Stacy Atheron said that milk safety is her greatest concern.
 
Sick cows are separated from healthy cows.   Even though they continue to get milked, it is never used until the drugs leave their system, Landers reported.
 
"It does not go into the food supply," Atheron said.
 
Most Ohio dairy farms carefully follow the rules.
 
"Every single load that we test - that we ship - is tested for antibiotics," Atheron said.  "If it shows up positive for antibiotics, then it's dumped.  It does not go into the food supply."
 
Once a month, the Ohio Department of Agriculture tests the finished milk product from every dairy producer in the state before it appears on store shelves.
 
"There has not been an antibiotic found in a finished milk product in at least 15 years," said Dr. Beverly Byrum of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
 
That is good news for consumers because penicillin can trigger serious reactions in those who are allergic to it, Landers reported.
 
"For those who have penicillin sensitivity, it could be a life-threatening event," said Dr. Jeff Lakrtiz of the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center.
 
Inspectors and dairy farmers said that the system to catch antibiotics in milk is working.  The state currently tests for six of the most common drugs used on the farm.  That means that milk is not being tested for dozens of other drugs being used on some farms, Landers reported.
 
"Those antibiotics would not be ones that the veterinarians would be recommended to their producers," Byrum said.
 
10TV News obtained the USDA drug residue violator list, detailing hundreds of dairy farms across the U.S. that sent old dairy cows to slaughter and found higher than legal levels of drugs in their meat.
 
Fourteen Ohio dairy farms made the list.  Four of the farms had higher than legal levels of the anti-inflammatory drug flunixin in the cow's meat.   The state does not test for flunixin in milk, Landers reported.
 
Four farms made the USDA's violator list for using drugs that are not even supposed to be given to dairy cows.
 
One of the farms was caught using the powerful drug Tilmicosin used to treat pneumonia.
 
The farm's owner told 10TV News that it was a human error.
 
"Tilimicosin, for one, would be a really bad choice because it will accumulate in the milk," Lakrtiz said.
 
Two other farms made the list when the antibiotic gentamicin was detected, Landers reported.
 
"It's not an approved drug for dairy cows," said Dr. Steve Debruin, who has nearly 30 years of experience as a dairy veterinarian.  "The bad part of gentimicin (is) it stays in the kidney for a long time."
 
If antibiotics are in the meat of slaughtered dairy cows, could they also be in the milk they produced?   In response to our story, the FDA sent 10TV a statement.
 
"While only 7.7 percent of cattle slaughtered in the United States are adult dairy cattle, they represent an average of 67 percent of the tissue residue violations reported by the USDA during the past five years," the statement read.  "FDA has not previously held the view, nor does it hold a view, that the nation's milk supply is unsafe due to animal drug residues."
 
The FDA also stated its concern "that the same poor management practices which led to the meat residues may also result in drug residues in milk."
 
To address the issue, the FDA wants to expand the list of drugs tested at the state level.
 
"If the FDA thinks we need to do more testing, we are all for it on this farm," Atheron said.
 
The more transparent the process, some farmers said the more educated consumers will be about the milk they buy.
 
"We do everything we can to make sure our milk is safe," Atheron said.
 
As the FDA pushed to expand drug testing to include 26 drugs instead of six, the program recently stopped after some in the dairy industry protested.
 
Consumers should look closely at the label on the milk carton.  "No hormones" does not mean that there are no antibiotics.  Consumers can also look for the phrase "Without Antibiotics."
 
That may mean buying organic, which can cost more, Landers reported.
 
Stay with 10TV News and 10TV.com for additional information.