- 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.
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).
- 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.
- Conduct on-farm inspections of dairy operations, including
- animal health
- drug storage and labeling practices
- safe milk handling
- Inspect processing facilities.
- Inspect slaughter and processing facilities to ensure animals are handled humanely and food is produced in a safe and hygienic manner.
- Sample both suspect and random carcasses to test for drug residue violations during slaughter inspections.
- Oversee processing activities that have meat as an ingredient.
Milk is routinely sampled and tested through cooperative industry-government oversight programs.
- Every load of milk entering milk processing facilities is tested for antibiotics.
- Milk from individual farms is sampled about once a month for quality and also tested for antibiotics and quality factors such as somatic cell count and bacteria.
- Finished dairy products are sampled and tested by the FDA for many different drugs and other potentially harmful contaminants.
Meat is routinely sampled and tested.
- Carcasses are randomly chosen for testing of a wide range of different types of antibiotics and chemicals.
- Carcasses that appear suspicious to an inspector are tested for the same wide range of antibiotics and chemicals.
When a drug residue is identified in milk, specific actions are taken to ensure the adulterated milk is not used to make dairy products for human consumption.
- Producers receive a notice of violation from the MDA and cannot sell milk until their milk is “cleared” by testing negative.
- Producers are required to pay for the cost of the milk that is disposed of.
- They also must complete training on drug residue prevention practices and meet with both the MDA dairy inspector and DRPP Outreach Veterinarian on a farm visit.
- Producers that sell an animal with a detected meat residue will receive a warning letter from the FDA, and an on-farm visit to review records and collect information on the cause of a residue.
- The names of violators with two or more violations in a 12-month period are posted on a USDA repeat violators list.
- The repeat violators list is used as a reference for meat processors and livestock markets to determine whether or not future animals from that producer are at higher risk of residue detection.
- The FDA may also prohibit producers found to have been neglectful, or who fail to adequately prevent residues, from selling animals for meat.
To satisfy the requirements of their food safety plan, meat processing facilities may avoid purchasing animals from farmers with multiple published violations. Some processors may also place a violator on probation for a time after the FIRST violation. During this time, they may require the violator to attest that each animal shipped to the facility is free of medications and include supporting documentation from the violator or their veterinarian.
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.
The Minnesota Drug Residue Prevention Program (DRPP) outreach veterinarians meet with farmers and farm veterinarians. They develop educational materials and work with youth involved in agriculture to ensure they are knowledgeable about antibiotic stewardship and drug residue prevention practices.
The DRPP conducts many outreach visits with livestock producers. Most of these are conducted in conjunction with drug residue violations. During these visits, a DRPP veterinarian will attend with the inspector and serve in the role of Outreach Veterinarian (OVET).
Producers can also sign up for an on-farm consultation to proactively prevent residues.
During the on-farm visit, the OVET provides subject matter expertise on veterinary drug use on farms, recordkeeping, withdrawal times, testing and other related topics. The OVET provides resources such as the MDA’s record-keeping booklet and factsheets and offers customized recommendations for drug residue prevention practices.
After the visit, the OVET may send a summary of the discussion held during the visit and share any additional answers to questions that might have been raised.
MDA’s Residue Prevention team also conducts outreach at events such as conferences and state and county fairs. It provides instruction and teaching resources for 4-H and FFA participants and elementary through graduate-level students.
The program develops online training and videos. Check out the MDA Events Calendar for upcoming events with the DRPP team.
Producers can reach out to any of the DRPP team members listed on the MDA website with questions. Producers should not use DRPP in place of their farm veterinarians, but they can answer questions and provide recommendations that will help strengthen the Veterinary-Client-Patient relationship.
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.
Reviewed in 2021