Why Do You Need to Test for Antibiotics in Milk?

Antibiotic use is limited in UK dairy farming, it is intensely regulated to make sure minimal amounts are left in final consumer products. Their use is incredibly important for managing cattle. As a core part of managing cattle is managing the health of herds.

The Food Standards Agency has published guidance about dairy hygiene in line with the European Union food hygiene legislation. Covering the entire food chain, the FSA highlights that milk can be contaminated at any point in its production process. Along with contamination from bacteria, abnormal milk and foreign bodies, another key source is from chemicals, including antibiotics. It also advises on milking techniques and maintaining hygiene before, during and after these processes and therefore it is integral to screen for antibiotics during different stages of milk production.

The Use of Antibiotics in the UK Dairy Herd

At present, there is a lot of comprehensive data relating to the use of antibiotics in the dairy sector. The VMD (veterinary medicine directorate) published a guideline (summarised here) on veterinary residues within food and how to avoid trace amounts using withdrawal periods.

There are voluntary targets for reducing it by 2020, but a study by the University of Nottingham has shown that the 25% of users of antibiotics in dairy represent over 50% of the total use of antimicrobials.

Therefore, if the evidence suggests there are high users, an important question is why?

The health of dairy herds is a critical part of their management, but the risk in the use of antibiotics is that they find their way into the milk, which ultimately undermines the product, if not the sector as a whole.

One measure is to try and improve herd health management, which then can reduce the incidence of disease and the use of antibiotics. This can involve selective cow therapy, rather than blanket antimicrobial treatments. Identifying specific infections using targeted testing can assist with this.

Monitoring and testing are key elements in reducing overall antibiotic use in dairy herds. Such as more advanced mastitis detection on-farm

At the other end of the food chain, what is the potential impact of antibiotic use in cattle on consumers?

The Global Public Health Crisis

The increase in resistance to antibiotics poses a global health threat. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attributes 25,000 deaths in the EU, and 23,000 deaths in the US, per year, to antibiotic resistance in humans.

One factor contributing to human drug resistance may be the overuse of antibiotics in farming and agriculture. Dairy consultants are now focused on better farm management to reduce the risk of transmission of drug-resistant bacteria to humans.

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in humans has been attributed to overuse of antibiotics but it is important for farms to show their produce has been managed effectively and safe to consume. There are also people who are allergic to antibiotics, which means there are other serious health implications should they find their way into milk.

The Demographic Shift

Farming processes are coming under far more public scrutiny, and negative perceptions of farming and its consequences are driving changes in people’s diets and what they choose to consume.

For dairy farmers, therefore, there is a sound economic argument for testing for antibiotics in milk too.

They need to be able to shore up consumer confidence in the milk they produce. The chairman of Dairy UK has warned of a “demographic time bomb” as more young people choose not to drink milk.

According to The Guardian The estimate is that there will be fewer than 5,000 dairy farms left in England, and currently there are fewer than 9,500 compared with 13,000 10 years ago.

Benefits for Farmers

It is also beneficial for the farmer to test regularly for infections and monitor what infection is present, if any; reducing the general use of antibiotics if it’s not always needed. By knowing exactly what infection it is, for example streptomycin, the farmer can then administer a specific antibiotic to target the infection rather than a broad-spectrum antibiotic. The health of the herd can ensure the milking process runs more efficiently and cost effectively.

Testing for Antibiotics in Milk

With the ongoing scrutiny and downturn of dairy consumption, it’s imperative that current dairy farmers and producers make sure that their product is 100% up to grade. Using sure-fire tests and ways of determining a quality product.

Calibre provides a range of solutions for testing antibiotics in milk, including the Charm CowSide milk screening kits. Alongside our antibiotic test kit range, we also provide equipment for detection of mastitis causing pathogens using the Accumast plates, which should lead to reduced antibiotic use on farm.

It is important for the dairy industry to demonstrate its commitment to reducing the use of antibiotics and ensuring the ongoing quality of its products and health of the herd.

Rachael Smith