The FDA had rolled out a program to conduct additional testing on dairy farms that had previously sent cull cows to slaughter with illegal antibiotic residues. The agency was concerned that management practices on these farms may also be leading to antibiotics in the milk supply.
According to the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, milk is tested for a specific class of antibiotics known as beta-lactams, but the FDA said other classes of drugs potentially used on farms are not routinely tested for in milk. It planned to test milk samples for more than 25 different drugs.
That prompted agriculture regulators from 10 northeastern states to send a letter to the agency expressing “grave concerns” with the program.
“In particular, we are concerned that this proposed testing program is designed without adequate consideration for the mechanics and economics of the dairy industry,” the letter stated.
While current milk tests yield results within minutes, the FDA’s expanded testing could take a week or more. The delay would allow dairy products to make their way to consumers before tests results are known.
And while contaminated milk is highly unlikely, dairy processors are looking to avoid even the slightest risk of a food recall. This means farms selected for testing would be required to dump their milk until it could be confirmed safe. Critics of the plan had concerns about burdens placed on innocent farms as well as how to dispose of thousands of gallons of dumped milk.
The FDA is now working with the dairy industry as it evaluates the scope and methodology of its testing plan.
The FDA said it was looking to target a “few members of an otherwise compliant industry” and continues to believe the nation’s milk supply is safe. The New York Times reported that just The National Milk Producers Federation says only .028 percent of tests conducted on milk in 2009 came back positive for antibiotic residues, and the milk wasn’t sold to the public.