Dairy is one of the most regulated industries. Milk is tested on the farm, at the processing plant and there are many safeguards in place to protect our nation’s milk supply.
Okay, this sounds nice, but is it true? Yes. I saw a lot of these safeguards in action when I was a field rep for a milk marketing cooperative.
Let’s start at the farm. As I mentioned, sometimes cows get sick and it’s necessary to treat her with an antibiotic to help her feel better. These antibiotics have milk and meat withdrawal times that vary depending on the antibiotic. Even if it says the milk withdrawal is 72 hours, cows metabolize things at different rates, which is why it’s smart to test the cow’s milk before putting her milk back into the bulk tank with the rest of the milk. When cows are treated, her milk is separated from the rest of the milk and dumped down the drain. What if her milk accidentally gets into the bulk tank with the rest of the milk? Well, that’s a bad day. The whole bulk tank must be dumped and the dairy farmer doesn’t get paid for it. If this isn’t caught on the farm, it will be caught when the milk truck gets to the processing plant.
The processing plant has lab technicians on hand to test EVERY milk truck that comes into the plant BEFORE they unload. The samples are tested for antibiotics and these very sensitive tests must come back negative before the truck is allowed to unload. I was at a milk plant once when a truck sample tested positive, so we had to find the bag of milk samples for that truck in the sample refrigerator at the plant and test each of the farm samples for that load of milk. All but one came back negative. Although it was only one farm that caused the problem, the whole load of milk (usually about 50,000 pounds and approximately $10,000 depending on milk prices) had to be taken back to a farm and dumped in the lagoon. The farm that caused the problem also has to pay for it. Talk about a bad day!
No one wants to be that farm that caused an antibiotic load.
If a farm is continuously shipping milk with antibiotic residue, they may lose their milk market and much more. This is something dairy farmers take very seriously.
Besides for loving dairy cows, I love that our milk supply is so safe and that so many people care so much about keeping it that way.