Farmers and state vet: Antibiotic use in livestock safe, necessary

va-farm-bureauVirginia livestock producers treat their animals with antibiotics when they are sick, but meat and milk from animals with antibiotics in their systems doesn’t end up on store shelves.

“We have a system of checks and balances in place,” said Virginia State Veterinarian Dr. Richard Wilkes. If traces of antibiotics are found in milk or beef, chicken or pork, those products are taken out of the consumer food supply.

“Milk and dairy products are tested more than any other agricultural product,” said Jeremy Moyer, a fifth-generation dairyman at Oakmulgee Dairy Farm in Amelia County. “There are no antibiotics in milk or dairy products. I drink our milk, and I don’t want to drink any antibiotics either.”

Moyer explained that when a farm animal is in distress, a farmer does what he or she can to alleviate the animal’s pain. “It’s the humane thing to do,” he said. If the distress is from an identifiable illness, the animal sometimes is treated with an antibiotic.

Producers using antibiotics follow U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements or instructions from their veterinarians to prevent antibiotic residues in livestock products, Wilkes said.

At Oakmulgee Farm, antibiotic labels specify where to give an injection and how much time to wait before commercially milking an animal or selling it for meat. If one of Moyer’s dairy cows is sick and needs antibiotics, he separates her from the herd. After the required withdrawal time, he tests her milk for antibiotics. The milk is discarded until tests show it to be antibiotic-free.

When a truck picks up Moyer’s milk, the driver samples it for quality. Then the farm’s milk is mixed with other milk in the tanker and taken to a processing plant. The milk is tested there, and if any traces of antibiotics are found, the entire tanker is rejected.

Sometimes antibiotics are used to prevent illness. When calves are being weaned, they become stressed, and their risk of illness increases. At Lazy Acres Angus Inc. in Franklin County, they are given antibiotics for a short time to strengthen their immune systems during the weaning process, said Steve Furrow, part owner of the operation.

Some consumers are concerned that antibiotics given to animals will get into the food supply, but that rarely happens, Wilkes said. America’s commercial supply of meat, poultry and egg products is subject to the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Before food animals are processed, they are tested for trace amounts of antibiotics. If any are found, the meat is discarded.

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