Milk Quality, Front and Center

January 10, 2012 01:42 PM

Jim Dickrell2012 is quickly shaping up to be the year of milk quality and antibiotic residue compliance.

USDA’s announcement of its 400,000 somatic cell count requirement for European Union (EU) export certification for individual farms is obviously the headline that is getting folks’ attention. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) residue testing push should also make people sit up and take notice. Dean Foods’ internal residue testing program turns up the heat even higher.

USDA’s EU export certification program is detailed in our story "Countdown to May 1." As I was reporting the story in late December, co-ops still had more questions than answers surrounding the requirements.

Most had to do with the nitty-gritty of calculating somatic cell and bacteria count averages, and how producers will be able to qualify for exemptions. You can bet the processors’ milk-quality field men will be tied up for much of the year as they try to bring members into compliance or apply for exemptions.

Bonus Content: EU Certification Program

This month, FDA will begin its "nonregulatory milk double-blinded sampling survey" of dairy herds that have a history of antibiotic residues in meat. An equal number of samples will be pulled from random dairy farms. The sampling is being done to see if dairy farms are using drugs other than beta lactams to avoid detection.

For now, FDA says, the testing is anonymous and non-regulatory, and is simply being done to see if there are widespread problems. If there are, you can bet further testing and regulatory action will follow.

Dean Foods has informed some of its fluid milk suppliers that it will conduct its own tests for non–beta lactam drugs. This could set off a cascade of problems if loads are rejected on the basis of levels below federal standards.

The bottom-line message in all of this is a re-emphasis on milk quality. Keep somatic cells counts low. Follow drug label directions to the letter. Obey milk and meat withholding periods as though the survival of your business depends on it. Because, in fact, it does.

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