Last winter, all five of us in our house came down with strep throat. My husband got it first, and since he hadn’t had it since he was a kid, he thought he just had a sore throat. He waited to go to the doctor – and then he waited too long. The holiday weekend came and stretched on and on as he waited for our doctor’s office to open. His throat became so tender that he could only eat ice cream. He was so thankful to get the antibiotics because they made him feel better quickly. The kids and I got strep shortly thereafter, but since we were pretty sure what it was, we went to the doctor right away.
Now think about this from the perspective of our dairy farm. Our cows are generally very healthy. If a dairy cow does get sick, we help her get better by giving her an antibiotic to fight off a bacterial infection, much like people do. There’s a very specific way to treat her. First, we follow the medicine labels, which inform us how long the antibiotic will be in her system. For that period of time, we milk her into a separate container and dump the milk. Her milk does not go into the bulk tank with the other cows’ milk.
Here’s the verification process and how we guard against human error:
Step 1: At the farm, the driver takes a sample to hang on to from each farm’s bulk tank, then adds the milk to the combined truckload. The driver drives to the milk processing plant.
Step 2: Each and every combined truckload of milk is sampled immediately upon arrival at the milk processing plant before unloading.
Step 3: If the combined truckload tests positive for antibiotics, the plant goes to the individual bulk tank samples from each farm to determine which farm had antibiotics in the milk. (Each individual sample from the bulk tank is tested every day anyway, so that the farm knows the exact components of their milk.)
Step 4: If the milk plant finds a trace of antibiotics in the milk, it dumps the entire load (yours and whatever other farms’ milk they have in the truck). The tainted milk never even gets to the milk plant’s tank.
Step 5: That farm that had antibiotics in its milk is then fined and it doesn’t get paid for its milk.
Step 6: If it happens more than once in a year, that farm is suspended.
According to the National Milk Producers Federation:
The U.S. milk industry has an exemplary record concerning management of antibiotics. Under a comprehensive program administered by the state regulatory authorities and overseen by FDA, the U.S. dairy industry conducts nearly 4 million tests each year to ensure that antibiotics are kept out of the milk supply. For example in 2009, only .028% tested positive, and in those very rare cases, the milk is not sold to the public.
Aside from all of that (and despite what you may have heard), there’s no advantage to us of overusing antibiotics. It doesn’t make our healthy cows healthier, more comfortable, or give more milk.
We’re not keeping antibiotics out of milk because we only want to avoid fines. We don’t want it either! Farmers want to, strive to, and work hard to provide you with a quality product. Keeping antibiotics out of the milk is what everyone wants – farmers and consumers. We want to give you the nutritious and wholesome product you expect.
Plus, I buy my milk at the store just like everybody else. I’m completely confident in it – and you can be, too.
Back to Kris, the boys and me: We all quickly recovered from strep throat, thanks to the antibiotics. Long after our throats stopped hurting, we continued to eat lots of ice cream to soothe our throats. You know, just in case.
Carla and her husband, Kris, are the sole owners of Evergreen Dairy in St. Johns, Michigan. She is the sixth generation to be farming on her family’s farm where they milk 400 cows, and grow crops to feed their cattle on 850 acres of corn, alfalfa and pasture.
To learn more about Carla’s farm, you can go to: