The Progressive


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Is Your Milk on Drugs?

National Conference on Milk Policy Votes to Limit FDA’s Use of Important Test Showing Drug Residues in Veal Calves


Consumers' risk of being exposed to dangerous drugs or antibiotic-resistant bacteria in milk and milk products could increase if the dairy industry succeeds in limiting FDA's consideration of test results showing drug misuse on dairy farms, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The nonprofit watchdog group is urging the Food and Drug Administration to resist a recommendation from the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS), a little-known policy making body that includes state regulators and dairy industry representatives, which would omit veal from the testing protocol that FDA uses to detect potential problems with drug residues in milk.

The issue is whether the presence of illegal or improperly administered drugs found in tests on veal calves at slaughter can be used as a basis for further investigating drug residue problems in milk coming from the farms where they originate. Bob veal calves--calves up to three weeks old that are used for meat--spend most of their lives on dairy farms. When regulators find illegal drug residues in veal tissues, it is an important indication that drugs may be improperly administered elsewhere on the same dairy farms, according to CSPI.

"The industry wants the FDA to turn a blind eye to evidence of misuse of drugs on dairy farms," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. "It's like banning the police from using forensic evidence to narrow down a list of suspects. The dairy industry should be ashamed of this effort to bar FDA from considering useful scientific evidence of drug misuse on specific farms to identify those that may have problems controlling drug residues in the milk supply."

CSPI analyzed residue violation reports from the USDA's Residue Violator Alert List from January 2010 to December 2010, which documented 17 different drugs in 735 positive tissue samples from bob veal calves, including the antibiotic gentamicin. Gentamicin--which is banned for use is cattle--was found in ten percent of the bob veal samples. It was also found in six percent of dairy cattle tested at slaughter during 2010. This antibiotic can accumulate in the kidney and has the potential to cause toxic effects in humans. The NCIMS is made up of dairy regulators from state agencies and also has members from Land o'Lakes, Dean Foods, the National Milk Producers Federation, and the International Dairy Foods Association. It has no consumer representatives. In a Baltimore hotel on Tuesday, the NCIMS passed Proposal 209, originally proposed by the National Milk Producers Federation, which simply strikes the words "and veal" from a list of methods that FDA may use to detect potential problems with drug residues in the milk supply.

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg on Monday, DeWaal and CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson wrote: "CSPI respectfully requests that FDA exercise its rights to not concur with Proposal 209 should it pass in the NCIMS general session later this week, and ensure the agency has fully preserved its ability to use all available evidence to identify dairy farms with inadequate controls on the use of animal drugs."

Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.