Accidents happen, and compounds can end up in feed and consequently in milk and meat that shouldn’t be there.
How you respond to those accidents is important, and can have huge effects on legal liability, says Nicole Neeser, a veterinarian with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA).
Every state is likely different on how its statutes handle liability in these accidental exposures.
If an adulterant reaches the food supply, the farmer is legally required to contact the Food and Drug Administration. Failure to do can result in huge liability.
Adulterants can include heavy metals such as lead and arsenic, insecticides, fungicides, animal feed products not intended for the species on your farm, added water, and fuel by-products.
However, under Minnesota law, if an adulterant does not reach the commercial food supply, there is no legal requirement for reporting the incident to state authorities. But it still is often in the farmer’s best interest to do so because state veterinarians and animal health and environmental experts often have experience in handling these cases.
For example, in a recent Minnesota case, some cows broke loose one evening and consumed some left over seed corn that was being stored in a machine shed. The corn was treated with fungicide. The farmer was uncertain how much of the seed corn was eaten, which cows had eaten it and whether there were fungicide residues in milk.
He contacted his vet, and stopped shipping milk. However, there wasn’t a laboratory or readily available test to detect the fungicide in milk. The farmer withheld milk from sale for an entire week until he finally contacted the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, says Neeser.
MDA officials confirmed there was no test, and it would take an additional two weeks to develop one. However, the officials contacted the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Database (FARAD) and requested a data search of the fungicide in question. FARAD responded that the fungicide has a 48-hour milk and meat withdrawal time.
MDA then responded back to the farm that it was safe to market both milk and meat from the herd. Had the farmer or veterinarian contacted MDA immediately after the incident, they could have sold milk much sooner, Neeser says.
The best practice if such an accident occurs is to immediately contact your dairy plant fieldman and veterinarian. Then, the three of you can determine your next best course of action. "Don’t go it alone and think you have to handle this yourself," says Neeser.