Should I worry about antibiotics in my meat and milk?

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Friend a Farmer Could there be antibiotics in this meat? What about this gallon of milk? These may be questions that run through your mind frequently while shopping at your grocery store. If you want to know the answer, the person to ask is your local farmer.

Let’s look at this one step at a time.

Why do farmers use antibiotics?

Just like when your children get sick, farmers want to keep their animals healthy. The first step for your children and for animals is very similar. Farmers call the Veterinarian just like you would call the Doctor. Antibiotics are quite expensive for animals, so they are only used when necessary, not as a preventive measure.  Farmers claim their animals as family, if they don’t take good care of their animals, then the animals won’t produce and the farmer will lose their profit.

Meat

The USDA requires all beef, pork, poultry or milk headed for grocery store shelves or restaurants be tested and inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service, to guarantee no antibiotic residues are in the meat. Farmers follow firm withdrawal policies for animals that were given antibiotics. This means that there is a certain amount of days after being treated with antibiotics before the animal can be slaughtered. Each antibiotic has a different time frame for the medicine to be expelled from the animal; this is listed on the label. When a farmer has been given the prescription from the Veterinarian, he follows the instructions just like you do at home. The farmer keeps records of when the animal was treated and keeps track of any symptoms the animal may still have.

Milk

Dairy cows have a different challenge than beef cows, when a dairy cow is treated with antibiotics it is expelled through her milk. Dairy farmers have to keep very good records of when a cow was treated. When a milk cow is treated, most producers put colored ankle bands on the cow to ensure that they remember that she has been treated. Once a treated cow comes into the parlor to be milked, a dump milk bucket is hooked up so that her milk will be completely separate from the milk that will be sold. Her milk all goes into the bucket and once she is finished milking, the milker unit is sanitized thoroughly. The bucket full of milk is then disposed of so that it doesn’t contaminate any other milk. The dump bucket is then sanitized so that it is clean. After the antibiotics have left the cows system, the farmer takes a milk sample and has it tested to make sure that she has no antibiotics left in her system. When the milk truck comes to a farm to pick up their milk, they also take a sample to make sure no antibiotics are present.

Treated Milk As it turns out humans and their pets use TEN times more antibiotics than the Nation’s livestock. Farmers wouldn’t want to eat meat or drink milk with antibiotics in them, so they won’t sell antibiotic treated products to you!

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Day 21: show and tell

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What if every farm was an open place, for all people to go and learn. If you could just call and set up an appointment to visit the places that your food comes from. Maybe this whole idea isn’t possible, but bits and pieces of it are. For instance, in our county every year the children in second grade have ag in the classroom. This allows them to learn about all things ag, and in the spring they all take a field trip to the county fairgrounds where farmers bring an animal for the children to see and learn about, as well as ask questions.

I have personally been able to take a cow to this “Ag Safety Day” multiple times, and I love teaching the students about my animals. The questions that the second graders come up with can range from silly, like if cows can get married, to serious, like how do they actually make the milk. I think that it is important to teach the children at an early age about agriculture and where their food comes from, because in the near future they will be making purchasing decisions.

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Another way for farmers to bring the public to their farms, is to allow schools to take tours. I know that we have had kindergarten and preschool classes come to watch us milk before. It’s great to watch how the little kids enjoy seeing the baby calves and the milking process. It’s something that they will go home to their parents and talk about for hours.

As dairy farmers, it is our job to interact with the public, and show them the processes and the reasons that we use the procedures that we do. It is our job to market our product and farms to show the consumers the time and care that we put into producing “nature’s purest drink.” One woman, that I believe is doing an excellent job of painting the picture of what dairy farmers do each and everyday, is Dairy Carrie. She not only explains how her family operates their farm, but she also talks about the important issues related to ag and dairy. We need more people like her around to help AGvocate our message to the consumers.

At times, I feel that all of the blame is put on consumers, that they don’t do enough to get informed, to know where their food really comes from. Maybe this needs to be looked at in a different light, what have the farmers done to show the consumers of their product how they produce it, where it comes from, and how much time and care they put into making it? I think the farmer should be somewhat credible for showing the consumers and public the blessing of what they do every day, and all the work they put into growing their product.