not only what occurs naturally in cow's milk that is a health concern for
humans. Antibiotics and other drugs are routinely given to dairy cows and
residues are in their milk
Food and Drug Administration is worried about what it calls an "important
potential public health issue." It could be in your latte or your child's
bowl of breakfast cereal. It could be in your refrigerator or freezer. At
the very least, the FDA wants to make certain that it's not in any of the
8 million milk-producing cattle in the United States or the 500,000 dairy
cows in Idaho.
test results released last year by the United States Department of Agriculture's
Food Safety and Inspection Service showed extremely high levels of drugs
and antibiotics in cattle from dairies across the nation, including in Idaho,
the federal agency announced it would launch a series of tests to address
a potential problem. The Idaho dairy industry decided to preclude the FDA
action with some unofficial testing of its own. Yet records of the testing
are inaccessible and records of their strategy meeting don't exist.
4, dairymen from across the Gem State met to address the issue at the Boise
headquarters of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. Officials at
the ISDA told BW there are no minutes, no recordings and no notes of the
decided that Idaho dairies would send milk samples for drug and antibiotic
analysis to the ISDA Animal Health Lab. But the ISDA kept no record of the
analysis, and the findings were sent to the Idaho Dairymen's Association,
which has exclusive ownership of the findings.
were unofficial samples. We don't have to keep a record," said Brian
Oakey, deputy director of the ISDA.
asked if the ISDA would be interested in what the results might be, Oakey
responded with a flat "No."
to BW's investigation into the findings of drug residues, federal plans
for sampling and the Jan. 4 meeting ranged from not surprised to outraged.
would argue that that's exactly what [ISDA] should have been doing,"
said Republican Sen. Tim Corder, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
troublesome because these are the people charged with oversight," said
Democratic Sen. Les Bock, member of the Agricultural Committee
at least one attendee of the Jan. 4 meeting was upset.
was a regulator in bed with the industry, saying, 'It's OK, we'll help cover
your butt,'" said one dairy industry veteran, who asked to remain anonymous.
"Honestly, I don't know if you'll find anyone inside the dairy industry
who will talk to you on the record. They're all employed and they like their
the course of our reporting, BW was continuously advised to contact either
the ISDA or the Idaho Dairymen's Association for their comment. Yet, the
ISDA was reluctant to participate in an interview, and the Dairymen's Association
did not return repeated calls.
law is as clear as a cowbell. The presence of drug or antibiotic residues
exceeding a safe or tolerable level, set by the FDA, is illegal. One of
the highest priorities of the agency is to "ensure the safety of animal-derived
foods for human consumption." As a result, the FDA is responsible for
making certain that drugs used to treat or prevent diseases are not abused
or misused in food-producing animals.
you think of beef, a dairy cow doesn't readily spring to mind. But when
illegal substances are found in meat, inspectors say it's a good bet that
the root of the problem can be traced to a dairy. According to the FDA,
while 7.7 percent of cattle slaughtered in the United States are dairy cattle,
a disproportional 67 percent of drug residue violations are tied directly
to dairy cattle (another 27 percent was traced to veal calves from dairy
farms). According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, violations
of drug residues occur three times as often in tissues from dairy cows than
in beef cows.
drugs are as common as cow patties in the nation's dairies. An average dairy
cow lives six or seven years, is regularly pregnant and is constantly being
milked. Antibiotics are administered to dairy cows for treatment of mastitis,
a potentially fatal infection of the mammary gland. Treatment is possible
with long-acting antibiotics, but milk from such cows is not marketable
until drug residues have cleared the animal's system. Cows being treated
for mastitis are supposed to be segregated from the milk-producing herd
to alert dairy workers.
dairies go as far as having so-called 'hospital barns,' which would house
any cow undergoing treatment," said Corder. "Some processors are
very sensitive about this."
in American history is necessary to understand food safety and meat inspection
in the United States. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln founded the USDA,
appointing a chemist to oversee what would become the FDA. As stockyards
and large meat packing plants multiplied, President Chester Arthur established
the Bureau of Animal Industry, the forerunner of the Food Safety and Inspection
Service. Inspections of meat and cattle sent to slaughter began as early
as 1891. What followed was historic. Author Upton Sinclair took aim at the
brutal, exploitive meat packing industry in 1905's The Jungle, prompting
President Theodore Roosevelt's order to post federal inspectors in meat
packing houses. The FDA was formalized in 1927 and regular inspection of
the nation's meat, poultry and dairy became commonplace.
the FSIS reported blatant violations in the U.S. food chain. A survey of
dairy cows sent to slaughter for beef discovered illegal amounts of drug
residue in the livers and kidneys of cows that otherwise would have been
turned into hamburger or T-bones. In other words, hundreds of positive samples
of drug residues were found in tissues of animals destined for the nation's
drugs ranged from the familiar (penicillin) to the obscure (tilmicosin,
an anti-microbial used for respiratory disease). FSIS even detected gentamicin.
Two federal veterinarians confirmed that gentamicin can remain for up to
three years in a cow's organs. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices
labels gentamicin as a "high alert medication," cautioning the
drug has a "heightened risk of causing significant harm." Its
manufacturer, Lexi-Comp, lists possible adverse reactions to the central
nervous system, skeletal instability and renal failure.
to the FSIS, approximately 20,000 samples of tissue from cattle, swine,
sheep and goats are tested each year. In 2010, more than 1,100 violations
were traced to dairy cows that had been sent to slaughter and 40 of the
violations were tracked to Idaho.
are scientifically chosen samples, based on several algorithms," explained
an FSIS spokesperson. Federal inspectors do initial sampling at meat processing
plants. If there is reason for suspicion, a larger sample is forwarded to
one of three FSIS laboratories for confirmation.
instance the FSIS residue violation report traced the source to cattle,
the majority being dairy cows, which had been sent to beef auction. The
40 incidents in Idaho included eight separate drugs, including 11 violations
of illegal limits of penicillin in the kidney. Eight were traced to flunixin,
an anti-inflammatory analgesic, and six violations were traced to sulfadimethoxine,
an antibiotic. There were four separate violations of the use of gentamicin
(any trace of the drug is a violation). There were four more violations
of tilmicosin (though it's not officially banned, its tolerance level is
of the violations were off the charts. In July 2010, the FSIS discovered
residue of flunixin in a cow traced to the Double A Dairy in Jerome. FSIS
said the cow had flunixin 2,000 percent more than the allowed level. In
another violation, a dairy cow traced back to a beef auction at the Producers
Livestock Marketing Association in Jerome had sulfamethazine in its liver
at 27,000 percent higher than the legal level.
we care a great deal about our industry," said Jordan Lake, spokesman
for Double A Dairy. "But that's all I can tell you. We've been told
to refer all your calls to the Idaho Dairymen's Association."
we told Lake that the association had not returned any of our calls, he
said that's all he could say.
residue violations in dairy cattle tissues often result from poor practices
on the farm," said Stephanie Yao, spokesman for the FDA. Yao said that
the practices may include failing to maintain treatment records, failing
to identify treated animals, abusing dosages, increasing the length of treatment
and/or giving a drug by an unapproved route of administration.
FDA is concerned that the same poor management practices which led to the
meat residues may also result in drug residues in milk," wrote the
FDA in a January statement.
intent is to conduct the sampling assignment with the cooperation of the
states and the milk industry to specifically target those dairies with a
history of drug residue violations," said Yao. "The data obtained
from this assignment will provide evidence as to whether the practices on
these dairies that have resulted in tissue residue violations are also creating
potential milk safety concerns."
test Idaho milk on a regular basis, checking for common antibiotics such
as penicillin and ampicillin. But the 2010 FSIS list of violations confirmed
what many feared: Dairy farmers may be using drugs that are not regularly
to the Idaho Department of Agriculture:
More than 12.7 billion pounds of milk was pumped from half a million Idaho
dairy cows in 2010.
Idaho is the second-largest milk producing state in the western United States
and ranks third in the nation.
Idaho's dairy industry grew from $73 million in 1970 to $1.88 billion in
Idaho's dairy industry employs more than 22,730 individuals. Allied industries
employ an additional 13,470 workers.
Magic Valley is the heart of Idaho's dairy industry with 318 producers and
nearly 400,000 cows producing more than 9 billion pounds of milk. Consequently,
the majority of the state's drug residue violators come from the same region.
Valley Dairy in Burley reported $5 million in gross revenues last year.
According to the FSIS survey, the dairy was also the home of two cows that
had traces of gentamicin and tilmicosin, two drugs with zero tolerance levels.
The Double A Dairy in Jerome is home to approximately 13,000 cows. The FSIS
reported samples from four Double A animals were over the acceptable limits
for ampicillin (600 percent), flunixin (500 percent) and sulfadimethoxine
Treasure Valley, one Marsing dairy was targeted by the FSIS as a repeat
violator. The Van Es Dairy reportedly had tissues from three of its cows
register over the tolerated limit for flunixin and sulfadimethoxine.
2010, FSIS and the FDA sent word to Double A, Oak Valley, Van Es and more
than 30 other Idaho dairies that federal regulators needed to determine
if farms previously identified with drug residues have inadequate farm management
practices. But the testing plan met with fierce pushback from the dairy
industry, which said consequences could force farmers to needlessly dump
millions of gallons of milk.
has been served up, up to this point, by Food and Drug has been potentially
very damaging to innocent dairy farmers," said John Wilson, senior
vice president for Dairy Farmers of America, the nation's largest dairy
cooperative told The New York Times in January. Wilson said that the nation's
milk was safe, and that there was little reason to think that the slaughterhouse
findings would be replicated in tests of the milk supply.
a copy of a letter sent to the FDA from the two self-proclaimed friends
of Idaho dairymen: the International Dairy Foods Association and the National
Milk Producers Federation, representing 85 percent of milk and cultured
products, cheese and frozen desserts produced and marketed in the United
States. The mega-milk lobbyists pushed back against plans to test dairy
samples at Idaho processing facilities. Instead, the IDFA and NMPF lobbied
to have milk sampled from farmers' bulk tanks, which many considered to
be a fair and equitable method of testing.
alleged violators--with direct influence from the ISDA's dairy bureau chief--crafted
the next steps, including unofficial testing, to head off federal intervention.
repeated requests, neither Marv Patten, ISDA's dairy bureau chief nor ISDA
Director Celia Gould agreed be interviewed for this story.
agency did agree however to take some written questions, which were answered
by Pam Juker, ISDA chief of staff, and ISDA Deputy Director Brian Oakey.
said that the Jan. 4 meeting was not an official ISDA event, despite the
fact that it was held at the agency's headquarters, with Patten helming
the session. They said ISDA did not record the meeting and no minutes were
Oakey insisted that the decision was not part of a subversive effort or
a cover up.
wanted to be proactive to get information out to producers and the industry,"
Idaho's dairy industry was well represented at the meeting, with more than
50 attendees representing dairy owners, milk processors and veterinarians.
In the room were representatives from the Northwest Dairy Association and
the Idaho Milk Producers Association. A representative from Jerome Cheese
joined on the phone from its Magic Valley headquarters, where every day
they turn millions of pounds of milk into 500,000 pounds of cheese.
distributed to the attendees included diagrams and instructions of test
kits designed to detect antibiotics in animal tissues. Dairymen were also
given guidelines for milk screening tests, detailing acceptable and unacceptable
sensitivity levels of each drug that would be tested by the FDA. In addition,
attendees were given an article from the Journal of the American Veterinary
Medical Association, spelling out the consequence of the use of prohibited
drugs in food animals.
the instance of repeated or flagrant abuse of the laws, an injunction is
placed against the producer until such time as all animals on the premises
can be shown to be free of residues," stated the JAVMA. "If the
animals are not free of residues within 60 days, the injunction may become
permanent. In extreme cases, responsible persons may be fined or imprisoned."
meeting, dairy industry representatives crafted a plan to conduct unofficial
testing. And while the tests were done at the ISDA Animal Health Laboratory,
agency officials said they did not propose the testing and added that they
did not see the results, nor did the ISDA keep any copies or records of
the results. Oakey added that because the testing was not state-ordered,
the results will not affect any current dairy programs.
results of the milk tests are the property of and in the possession of the
Idaho Dairymen's Association," said Juker. "If you want to know
what the results were you're going to need to talk to them."
Dairymen's Association, founded in 1944, promotes the Gem State's $1.8 billion
industry and is funded through dairy producer assessments. Juker said the
Dairymen's Association recommended the milk sample testing protocol, but
there was no official record of what that protocol entailed.
Tim Corder, a veteran of farming and politics, said ISDA and Idaho dairymen
should be credited with not being complacent on the issue.
I was in the industry, I'd want to know about the problem so I could fix
it," said Corder. "If it was fixed, I don't know if I'd want that
to be public knowledge. If you solve the problem, that's the goal. But if
you can't solve the problem, make it public, absolutely."
was quick to add that a continual violator shouldn't be cut any slack.
repeat offender? That's a problem," said Corder. "They don't get
a pass. Not from the department. Not from the industry."
Les Bock agreed with his Ag committee colleague.
dairy industry has been trying to clean up its act, and we want to believe
that," said Bock. "But if it begins to look like they're not,
it's going to hurt their credibility with the committee."
stared at the FSIS violation report.
don't buy anything other than organic anyway," said Bock, pointing
at the list. "This is why."
the FDA announced plans for testing of Idaho dairies, those tests have yet
been finalized," said Stephanie Yao, FDA spokesperson. "The milk
sampling has not begun. We want to seek further input on approaches that
will help us address, to the extent possible, the concerns that have been
the FDA begins showing up at hundreds of American farms, including in Idaho,
Yao said they'll be looking for well-managed dairies.
well-managed dairy farm maintains records of each animal treated, what it
was treated with, when it was treated and how it was treated," said
Yao. "Such records are used by producers so that they can ensure that
treated cows put back into the milking string or sold for slaughter have
met appropriate drug withdrawal times in order to prevent illegal drug residues
in meat and milk."
Yao confirmed that sometimes, inspectors discover problems.
the FDA is concerned that the same poor management practices which led to
the meat residues may also result in drug residues in milk," said Yao.
said his agency is waiting for the FDA's next move.
in their court. I can't speculate on what going to happen," he said.
said he was convinced that there were numerous behind-closed-door conversations
concerning the issue.
last thing any Idaho dairyman wants is for someone to read a story in your
paper that builds suspicion of people where they don't buy any more milk
or cheese. That's the very last thing a dairyman wants."
said he looked forward to more transparency on the issue in the near future.
suspect that the Dairymen's Association are trying to plot a course, not
around the issue but through the issue," said Corder.