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Drug residue prevention for dairy and beef producers

Quick facts

  • The MDA Dairy and Meat Inspection Division (DMID) monitors meat and milk products for drug residues in the dairy and meat inspection programs.
  • The Drug Residue Prevention Program (DRPP) conducts education and outreach with producers.
  • Producers can schedule voluntary visits with DRPP staff to discuss prevention strategies for their farm.
  • Producers can follow the five R’s to prevent drug residues – Relationships, Responsible use, Recordkeeping, Respect withdrawal times, and Remove doubt.

What are drug residues and why are they a public health concern?

Drug residues happen when an animal is given drugs, and those drugs remain above safe tolerance levels in either the animal’s milk before processing or tissues after slaughter. Because drug residues in milk and meat have important food safety considerations, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the 1970s began setting tolerance levels for drugs based on safety data; some drugs have a zero-tolerance level. Any milk or meat with residues exceeding either the safe tolerance level or the zero-tolerance level will be discarded or condemned.

Testing for drug residues is routinely carried out by State and Federal agencies. Drug residues are rarely found in milk and meat because farmers take care to use good residue prevention practices on their farms.

Antibiotic stewardship

Antibiotics, a group of drugs used to treat bacterial infections, are of particular concern. Antibiotics are commonly tested for when looking for drug residues.

Farmers work hard to prevent antibiotic residues because:

  • Antibiotic use can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are no longer killed by antibiotics. Preserving the effectiveness of these drugs is important for both humans and animals.
  • Antibiotic residues in food can cause allergic reactions in people.
  • Antibiotic residues can kill the good bacteria that is needed to make cheese and yogurt.

We encourage farmers to think of the stewardship concept as “taking great care of.” Many farms already have great residue prevention and antibiotic stewardship measures in place. However, like any business, there is always room for improvement.

Here are some practices we encourage farmers to consider when determining if they have good antibiotic stewardship.

  • Providing proper bedding ventilation, nutrition, water and housing so that animals remain healthy and antibiotics are not needed.
  • Using antibiotics only when necessary to address a health issue in an animal.
  • Paying close attention to withholding times so that milk or meat with residues above tolerance levels do not enter the human food supply.

By using these practices farmers are taking great care of their animals, minimizing their use of antibiotics, and reducing the potential for drug residues.

    Follow the five R’s to prevent drug residues

    Relationships: Develop good relationships with people involved in the process

    • Establish a good Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR).
    • Review veterinary recommendations with employees and family members who work on the farm.
    • Provide employees and family members with regular training on the prevention of milk residues as well as farm protocols for handling animals that have been treated.

    Responsible use: Use and handle veterinary drugs responsibly

    • Minimize the use of veterinary drugs to times when they are medically necessary.
    • Store veterinary drugs for lactating and non-lactating animals separately to prevent mix-ups.
    • Store medicated feeds properly to prevent accidental use.
    • Properly label and store over the counter, prescription, and extra-label drugs, including information with appropriate milk and meat withdrawal times.
    • Develop animal treatment protocols with the help of the farm veterinarian.

    Recordkeeping: Maintain good records to document treatments

    • Use a good system to identify individual animals.
    • Maintain a recordkeeping system to document all treatments given.
    • Identify the animal before it is treated.
    • Record the treatment before it is administered.
    • Keep treatment records for at least 3 years.

    Respect withdrawal times and usage limitations

    • Use only veterinary drugs that are approved by the FDA for use in the species and animal class you are treating.
    • Use the drug only as the FDA label specifies unless your veterinarian prescribes the drug for extra-label drug usage (ELDU).
    • Follow withdrawal periods set by the drug manufacturers and your veterinarian (if using ELDU).

    Remove doubt

    • Test milk from treated, fresh and newly purchased cows for drug residues before commingling into the bulk tank.
    • Test bulk tank prior to leaving farm, every day, every time.
    • Review treatment records prior to selling an animal or her milk.

    DMID's role in residue prevention

    The MDA Dairy and Meat Inspection Division (DMID) works to improve stewardship and reduce drug residues by addressing conditions on farms that could lead to accidental residues. They monitor meat and milk products for drug residues in the dairy and meat inspection programs.

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    The Drug Residue Prevention Program

    The FDA awarded the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) funds to develop an education and outreach program to help prevent drug residues in milk and meat and to promote antibiotic stewardship in livestock. 

    Producers can visit the DRPP website for more information on DRPP, what the program does, and to access their library of resources.

    Being proactive is the best way to prevent future residues and signing up for an on-farm visit with an outreach veterinarian is a great place to start. 

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    More resources

    Livestock producers also have access to many other quality assurance and residue prevention tools.

    • The FARM animal care program reflects current science and best management practices within the dairy industry, including residue prevention practices.  
    • The BQA program provides information on topics such as nutritional management, marketing and transportation, animal handling, treatment protocols and proper record-keeping. 

    Authors: Joe Armstrong, Extension educator, cattle production systems; and Jessica Evans, Sandy Larson and Nicole Neeser, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Drug Residue Prevention Program

    Reviewed in 2021

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