The latest national survey of drug residue testing on all bulk milk tankers hauling milk off farms and to processing plants finds that 99.99 percent were free of any violative levels of animal antibiotic residues.
National Milk Producers Federation says that’s evidence that farmers are continuing to improve their record of keeping antibiotic residues out of the milk supply.
The survey is performed annually by an independent, third-party contractor to FDA using data from industry and mandatory reporting required by state regulatory agencies.
Of the more than 3 million samples analyzed in FY 2015, 371 — or 0.012 percent — tested positive for antibiotic residues, down from 0.014 percent the previous year.
The latest results are part of a long-term decline in detectable antibiotic residues, which have decreased 70 percent in the last decade, said Chris Galen, NMFP’s director of communication. According to the National Milk Drug Residue Data Base, that represents a decline in positive samples from 0.038 percent in FY 2005 to 0.012 in FY 2015.
The highest percentage of positive samples in milk tankers in the data base, which began in 1994, was 0.10 percent in FY 1996.
National Milk credits on-farm vigilance in following withdrawal times for the steady decline in antibiotic residues in milk.
“I don’t think we know necessarily that the overall use of antibiotics has declined or changed, but I think the way those antibiotics are being used continues to be in a more judicious way,” Galen said.
“We’re taking better steps every year now to reduce any violative levels of residues in the supply when it leaves the farm,” he said
The evidence is in the report, and that 99.99 percent testing free of detectable residues is “very, very good,” showing dairymen are continuing to decrease the number of violative tankers, he said.
“The real issue here is farmers are being more careful. I think there’s better education out there to farmers, he said.
A lot of that education is being done through the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program and its drug- residue-prevention component, he said.
More than 90 percent of the U.S. milk supply comes from dairy farms participating in the voluntary FARM Program, which is directed by NMPF in partnership with Dairy Management Inc., according to the FARM website.
The program sets the highest standards for animal care and safe, wholesome milk and provides educational materials to farmers. Dairy farms are evaluated at least once every three years, and the integrity of the program is ensured through third-party evaluation.
Milk samples in the latest drug residue survey were tested for seven different groups of antibiotics or individual antibiotics using 21 testing methods. The vast majority of the samples testing positive for residues involved beta-lactum antibiotics, such as penicillin.
All milk loads are tested before entering a dairy plant, and milk testing positive is rejected and never enters the market for human consumption.