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Are Ceftiofur Residues Really Increasing?

15:01PM Dec 17, 2014

A recent article by Reuters news service suggests that antibiotic residues in meat from ceftiofur are increasing at an alarming rate, and that dairy cows are primarily to blame.

Zoetis officials, makers and marketers of ceftiofur, say the report is misleading. In addition,  cattle found with residues did not enter the meat supply.

The Reuters article reports ceftiofur residues in meat rose from 98 violations in 2008 to 415 in 2013, a 323% increase. Some three-fourths of the residues last year came from dairy cows.

Roger Saltman, Zoetis group director for cattle and equine technical services, doesn’t dispute those numbers. But he says the residues reported by Reuters represent only one part of USDA’s inspection program. The numbers Reuters reports comes from the sampling of suspect animals that appear sick or ill as they come in for slaughter. 

Reuters did not report residues from USDA’s statistical sampling program, which identified only three antibiotic positive animals from healthy animals during the first six months of 2014. And none of those positives were for ceftiofur.

For context, some 32.5 million head of cattle were slaughtered in 2013, of which about 3.2 million were dairy cows. 

Nevertheless, Saltman says antibiotic residues in meat are still a concern. Meat withhold times are four days for Excenel RTU and Naxcel, and 13 days for Excede. When given in the muscle or subcutaneously, ceftiofur does not transfer into milk and thus there is no milk withhold.

Saltman urges dairy farmers to strictly follow drug treatment protocols and withhold time. “Before putting her on the truck, make sure you know what you’ve treated her with and that she has completed the full withdrawal time,” he says.

And if she still appears sick, don’t market her. It’s unknown if extremely sick animals might metabolize antibiotics differently.  “Bottom line, the dairy farmer should ask, ‘Would I put her on my own table?’” says Saltman. 

If the animal is sick, the answer is no, says Saltman. The animal should not be marketed until she’s healthy. And if she doesn’t recover, she should be humanely euthanized on the farm.

The Reuters report does suggest USDA inspectors are doing a good job of scrutinizing suspect cows. The odds of finding a residue by marketing questionable animals—resulting in a condemned, valueless carcass--go up substantially.