With grocery store labels and so many options on the market, many consumers believe that some animal products on the market have drug residue within them.
“I think that the public has been influenced by niche markets and packaged labeling that implies that conventional farming has an issue with residues, when they don’t,” said Joe Armstong, a veterinarian and extension educator at the University of Minnesota. “Farmers have been doing this for a long time and they have been doing an excellent job at doing it. They all understand the public health concern that comes along with it and they do take it very very seriously.”
However, producers should take steps to ensure their dairy and meat products do not contain drug residue.
Animals that are treated with antibiotics are the most common reason drug residue is detected in a product, but it can be other things as well.
“Most of the time drug residue is from antibiotics, but it can come from basically anything. It could be pesticides, herbicides, wormers or other things. But the main culprit is antibiotics,” said Erik Jopp, dairy and meat inspector for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Producers should keep a digital or physical log of when they give an animal a medication as well as what type of medication they administered. By keeping an accurate record of the treatment, the producer will be able to note how long the withdrawal period is and go back and look at that information for future reference.
“With withdrawal dates, each of the manufacturers have gone through extensive testing to find out what those withdrawal dates are and they are specific for what is being treated. In the dairy industry, they know specifically how long it takes for that antibiotic to no longer be present in the milk. It’s also done on tissues as well, so they know how long those antibiotics will no longer be in muscle, liver and high demand places,” Jopp said.
Another aspect important in residue prevention is knowing what antibiotics you are using. However, Armstong believes that lack of communication is the No. 1 reason some by-products are found to have drug residue.
“The biggest piece of it is it really comes down to communication on a farm. Almost every situation that I deal with is there is some kind of breakdown in communication along the road. Either that is between employees or owners of the dairy,” Armstrong said.
If a farmer is unsure of the withdrawal date or may suspect there is drug residue in their product, there are tests they can perform. However, this is much easier to do in dairy as opposed to meat and tissue products. Milk is very highly regulated and is even checked every time before it is unloaded at the creamery, according to Jopp.
Jopp also believes antibiotics play an important role in the livestock industry, but many consumers don’t see it that way.
“I think there is a little bit of a misconception out there in the general public when it comes to antibiotics. Antibiotics do have a place in production, when used appropriately. Just because an animal is given an antibiotic, doesn’t mean that it’s in their body forever. Those antibiotics are metabolized through the body and over time there should be no residues left of these antibiotics in the animal,” Jopp said.