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Is this milk antibiotic-free? By Sherry Bunting For Columbia-Greene Media registerstar.com | 0 comments Organic. Natural. Local. Antibiotic-Free. Hormone-Free, and now the talk is about GMO-Free… Are you confused by food labeling? Do you question what milk to bring home for your family? What about whole milk and butter? Is milk fat really healthy fat? How do I know milk is safe? How is milk tested and regulated before it reaches the dairy case at my supermarket? June is national dairy month and July is national ice cream month, so let’s just say we’ll be breaking these labels down over the next few weeks to understand what they mean — or don’t mean — in terms of the safe, healthful and nutritious qualities of milk and dairy products. This week, let’s talk about antibiotic-free milk. The good news is that all milk is indeed free of antibiotics! All dairy milk — including whole milk — is among the safest, most nutritious food and/or beverage on the planet, no matter what special label it does or doesn’t carry. Not only does milk contain protein, calcium and 9 essential vitamins and minerals, all dairy milk — no matter whether it is organic, conventional, labeled “antibiotic-free” or not — is heavily tested and truly antibiotic-free! I often hear from consumers who believe organic-labeled milk is their only antibiotic-free choice. Let’s examine this myth. “So many people think there are antibiotics in our milk if we’re not an organic dairy farm. We are pleased to report that we dispelled that myth at the Just Food conference in New York City last spring,” reports Deb Windecker. She and her husband and their two children milk 100 cows near Utica in Herkimer County. She again recounted the steps that ensure all milk is antibiotic-free during an interview with staff writers for Farm Aid ahead of the concert at Saratoga Springs last September. Farm Aid’s emphasis in recent years has gravitated toward organic as the symbol of family farms producing wholesome products, but the truth is that farm families operate farms of all sizes, organic and conventional. In fact, the most recent Ag Census shows that 98 percent of all farms in the U.S. are family owned. Furthermore, as unique as farms are in their management practices, there are certain things all dairies have in common — shipping antibiotic-free milk is one of them. Windecker debunked the myth as she told about how highly tested all dairy milk is at multiple intervals from the farm to the processor, and how penalties and protocols are in place on the farm, at the processing plant and with regulators. “These steps insure the milk you drink and the dairy products you eat are totally antibiotic-free,” Windecker explained. On the farm, dairy producers sometimes use antibiotics when a cow or calf is sick — just like a mother would treat a child instead of watching that child suffer. On an organic farm, the producer may choose to treat that animal also, but then the animal must be sold to a conventional farm because even after the treatment clears the animal’s body, she cannot be milked on the organic farm after she recovers. The owner must sell her to a non-organic farm. So, what happens when cows are treated on a nonorganic, conventional farm? The treatment is recorded and the cow’s milk is kept out of the milk tank not only during treatment, but for the number of days after treatment that it takes the treatment to totally clear the blood system. Medications have “withdrawal” instructions on the label or per the veterinarian’s prescription, and farmers often do a quick-test or send samples with the milk hauler to be checked at the plant to be sure they’ve waited long enough before putting that cow’s milk in the tank. Residue avoidance is of huge importance to dairy producers because they care about the quality of the milk they produce for consumers, and because if that milk were to be shipped, the sample tested would show the residue and the whole tank — or truckload — of milk would have to be dumped. In that case, the farmer would not be paid for his milk, and he would be liable for the value of other milk on that truck, because it would also be dumped. When I worked on the dairy farm, we avoided treating cows unless absolutely necessary because withholding their milk during and after treatment is something farmers stay conscious of. This is why dairy farmers pay attention to details and take time to observe their cattle to adopt preventive mindsets that help to avoid illness in the first place. Farmers certainly can’t afford to lose a whole tank of milk, and the penalties that go with it, by accidentally milking a treated cow into the tank. Good record keeping, identification methods, and employee communication are important at the farm level. But, rest assured, if mistakes happen, they are caught when the farm sample is tested at the milk processing plant. After filling the tanker-truck, the milk hauler provides the processing plant with the test samples he has collected from each farm’s milk tank, before he loaded that milk on the truck. Those samples are tested at the plant, along with additional samples taken of the milk on the truck at the plant, before the milk is offloaded from the tanker truck to the milk silo. Packaged milk is also randomly tested in commerce to ensure further accountability. Milk testing in the dairy industry is precise and covers a range of trace substances in addition to antibiotic residue and bacteria levels. Each testing interval from farm to store ensures milk’s safety, quality and goodness. Feel free to enjoy with confidence, and without fear. *** A former newspaper editor, Sherry Bunting has been writing about dairy, livestock and crop production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows. She can be reached at email@example.com.