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Dairy Facts 2016

New Pilot Program Tests Farm Milk for Tetracycline Drugs

Jul 12, 2017

Starting July 1, state government regulators began a new pilot program to test bulk milk tankers for the tetracycline family of drugs. The pilot was approved in 2015 by the National Conference of Interstate Milk Shipments and the Food and Drug Administration to assess ways to expand the variety of drugs, other than beta-lactams, that should be tested for in raw milk. The program aims to ensure that tetracycline residues are not entering the food supply and to identify any hurdles to implementation before NCIMS considers permanent changes to the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance.

The tetracycline class of drugs was selected for the pilot program based on their use on dairy farms, the availability of test methods and the speed with which the program could be implemented. Nearly all U.S. dairy farms will have their milk tested for tetracycline residues, and all Grade “A” dairy facilities are encouraged to participate in the program.

One of Every 15 Tankers to be Tested

Currently, every tanker of milk is tested for beta-lactam antibiotic residues before being accepted by dairy processing facilities, and that testing will not change. Under the pilot program, at least one of every 15 tankers arriving at Grade “A” facilities must be tested for tetracycline residues on a quarterly basis. Finished product testing is not required.

If a tanker tests positive for tetracycline residue, the milk will be dumped, and the farm from which it came will be responsible for the value of the milk. The farm could also temporarily lose its milk license.

Each plant or company will work with its state regulatory agency to determine how best to comply with these requirements. Testing during each quarter will help to minimize data gaps and capture usage patterns that could change with seasonal animal health issues.

The program and testing for tetracycline residues will run for a minimum of 18 months, and a status report with results will be presented at the 2019 NCIMS conference.

Members with questions may contact John Allan, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs and international standards, at or Cary Frye, IDFA vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs, at

For more infomation, read “Tetracycline Testing: Details on a new residue screening program” from the National Milk Producers Federation and “Appendix N Pilot Program Questions and Answers.”

Why Test for Antibiotics?

A variety of FDA-approved medications are available to farmers to help control, prevent and treat illnesses in farm animals. If a cow’s illness is suspected to be caused by a bacterial infection, the cow may be treated with antibiotics.

Federal law requires dairy farmers to follow a milk withdrawal time that is determined by how many days it takes the cow to process the specific antibiotic that was used. This means that a dairy cow’s milk is only collected for human use after she is healthy and the antibiotics have cleared her system. Until then, her milk is discarded in accordance with state regulations.

To prevent any trace of antibiotics from entering the milk supply, FDA requires all milk to be tested for commonly used antibiotics, such as beta-lactam drugs, when it arrives at the dairy processing plant. Any milk that tests positive is rejected by the plant. In addition, the FDA tests approximately 40,000 retail-ready milk samples annually for the presence of antibiotic residues.

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