4 {tough} Questions about Milk, Answered by an IL Dairy Farmer

Feb 15, 2016


I first met Karen when I stepped out of my pickup to take her family portraits. It didn’t take long to see the passion she has for their farm, to realize how knowledgable she is about the daily operations, current issues and the entire industry. In a world that has questions about where its food comes from, she has a lot to offer, and was gracious enough to share that knowledge: 

1. Do you give your cows antibiotics? When? Are there antibiotics in the milk?

First of all, all milk – both regular and organic – is tested for antibiotics both on the farm and at the processing plant. During 2014, nearly four million tests were conducted on milk samples to detect antibiotic or other drug residues with less than 0.02% testing positive, and, in accordance with government regulations, any milk testing positive for antibiotics cannot be sold to the public.

So to recap – milk that leaves the farm does NOT have antibiotics in it.

That does not mean our farm does not give our cows antibiotics.

We do, when needed.

In fact, on a majority of dairy farms, antibiotics are given when they are necessary to treat animal illness and to protect cows against infection (e.g. new infections of the udder in cows not milking and waiting to have their next calf). They are only given for a prescribed period of time to treat the specific illness.

The dairy farm owner, manager and herdsperson work with the farm veterinarian to develop treatment plans that include the correct use of antibiotics as they are necessary. Once a decision is made to use antibiotics, farm personnel are instructed on the best way to make sure that there is no risk of an inadvertent milk or meat residue resulting from the therapy. There are strict processes and regulations in place to ensure that the milk from cows undergoing treatment never reaches the food supply. Any milk testing positive is discarded —it never reaches the human food supply. 

All milk – both regular and organic – is tested for antibiotics both on the farm and at the processing plant. No milk can contain antibiotics. Any milk testing positive for antibiotics cannot be sold to the public.

2. Do your children drink raw milk? Why or why not?

No. Milk is an affordable purchase and we are happy to support the dairy industry by purchasing milk from the store. In fact we go through four gallons a week! I feel it is important, so does the FDA, for milk to be pasteurized before it is consumed.

3. What can you tell me about rbST? Should I be concerned?

rbST is not a concern. Since rbST was approved for use by the FDA in the early 1990s, its safety has been reaffirmed by the scientific community. Scientists tell us that rbST is species-specific, meaning that it is biologically inactive in humans. Also, pasteurization destroys 90 percent of bST and rbST in milk. Any trace amounts of bovine somatotropin that remain after pasteurization of milk are broken down in the human gut into inactive protein fragments, like any other dietary protein. Numerous scientific studies have shown there is no significant difference between milk from rbST-supplemented and non-rbST-supplemented cows. For this reason, the FDA has established that dairy products from cows treated with rbST do not need to be labeled.

4. What do you think is the dairy industry’s toughest challenge?

Farmers are constantly faced with a variety of challenges, from unpredictable weather to varied feed and fuel prices, but the capital expense to run a dairy farm is among the nearly insurmountable hurdles. Investing in equipment and/or repairs on our farm can range from $50,000 to millions of dollars.

Farmers are business people and have to look at every division of their farm with a sharp mind. Time management becomes a challenge for farmers because of a never-ending to-do list and the need to focus on what must get done first – and each day that starts and ends with caring for our cattle.

At the same time, we have a new responsibility driven by our consumers – helping them understand what we do on the farm. Too often, there is misinformation spread about farming, and our newest challenge is to tell our story.

Meet Karen’s family and see more from their shoot:

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