Could cull dairy cows ever be banned from the food supply?
Radical as that sounds, it was proposed five years ago by the Wisconsin beef industry, which was fed up with the high rate of drug residues in cull dairy cows.
They might have a point. Nationally, one in 40 dairy cows—some 60,000 to 75,000 head—are condemned each year because they are not healthy enough to enter the food supply.
Also startling: “From all classes of cattle, dairy animals accounted for 75% of the inspector-generated KIS (kidney inhibition swab) test positives and 75% of laboratory-confirmed positive tests,” says Katie Mrdutt, a veterinarian and outreach specialist with the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA).
In other words, dairy cows account for just 9.5% of all cattle harvested each year, but they account for 75% of confirmed drug residues.
To head off more radical solutions, the WVMA, industry veterinarians and dairy farmers have developed a program to reduce drug residues, with the goal of long-term proper drug use. Known as the Food Armor program, it uses proven, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) methods tailored for each dairy farm.
“Drug residues are not a drug problem,” Mrdutt says. “They are a people problem.”
The Food Armor program meets regulatory requirements by having a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), and it’s non-regulatory in that it accomplishes the intent of the law by tailoring drug use and protocols to each individual dairy farm. The program involves the farm owner, the farm’s veterinarian and a third party, Food Armor-accredited veterinarian.
The whole point is to ensure only legal drugs are on the dairy, they are used appropriately and proper withdrawal times are followed. Records must be diligently maintained.
The Food Armor program involves six components:
1. A valid VCPR, where the farm’s veterinarian becomes the “veterinarian of record” responsible for drug use on the farm.
2. A drug list for the farm, ensuring all drugs are legal and those used in an extra-label manner are done so properly.
3. Farm-specific protocols, used to identify farm-specific definitions of disease conditions and farm-specific treatment plans for each of those disease conditions.
4. Standard operating procedures, stating how drugs will be used and who will administer them.
5. Detailed records of all drugs used. Records are a critical component of the verification process that demonstrates drugs were used appropriately, Mrdutt says. It also allows the farm owner and veterinarian to track whether the drugs and protocols are working as intended.
6. Verification through veterinary oversight to ensure the first five components are being done correctly. The Food Armor program is also being third-party verified by Validus to give it added credibility.
The program was officially launched in September. The hope is to establish the program nationally, with the goal of reducing residues in both meat and milk and ensuring proper drug use on dairy farms.