Illegal levels of drugs and antibiotics found in nation's dairy cows

Last year, test results were released that showed alarming levels of several types of drugs and antibiotics in dairy cows throughout the country. The FDA has plans to address the issue through some comprehensive testing measures, but Idaho dairy farmers, who raise more than half a million dairy cows each year, decided not to wait for the feds and supposedly began conducting their own testing. Except, it seems no records of their testing or strategy meetings actually exist.

Their first meeting of the year, held on January 4, shows no minutes, recordings or notes of the proceedings held at the Boise headquarters of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. Samples of Idaho dairy products were allegedly sent to the ISDA’s Animal Health Lab for testing of drugs and antibiotic levels, but no records of the samples exist at the ISDA either.

In an investigative article in The Boise Weekly, George Prentice reports that the deputy director of the ISDA, Brian Oakey said, “These were unofficial samples. We don’t have to keep a record.” Prentice could find no one willing to discuss the tests or the results.

Limits are set by the FDA for drug and antibiotic levels in milk. Anything exceeding that is considered illegal, a safety violation that could result in operations being shut down and loss of sales. If there are indeed high drug levels showing up in Idaho (and the rest of the country) dairy products, it wouldn’t be the first time. Just in 2010, more than 1,000 cases of illegal drug levels were traced to spent dairy cows who were to end up as hamburger, but tested positive for dangerous amounts of drugs in their livers and kidneys. Forty of those cases came from Idaho.

More than 29 million pounds of antibiotics are used on non-organically raised livestock in the U.S. each year—and the incidences of drug-resistant bacteria found in our food supply is on the rise accordingly, as several new studies show.

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Photo: JASON ANFINSEN