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UC Davis Veterinarians Keeping Milk Safe for Consumers

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Our milk and dairy products are some of the safest food products in the world.

UC Davis veterinarians play a key role in ensuring a safe and wholesome milk supply for the nation.

The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is a part of a strong system of educational institutions, regulatory agencies and farmers committed to keeping milk and other dairy products safe for consumers. The school’s centers vigorously test milk for disease-causing microbes or antibiotic residue and conduct research to improve dairy cattle health and milk production. If an animal gets sick,  the school’s faculty and clinicians teach veterinary students and farmers how to safely administer antibiotics in line with regulatory standards so dangerous drugs don’t enter the food supply.

This commitment is paying off. In fact, a new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study underscores the safety of the U.S. milk supply. It found little evidence of drug residue – less than 1 percent of total samples - in raw milk from nearly 2,000 farms, demonstrating the efforts of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and its partners are working.

This is good news for everyone, including dairy farmers, regulators and consumers, according to Dr. Terry Lehenbauer, Director of the Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center (VMTRC) at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Healthy dairy cows produce wholesome and nutritious milk and provide us with butter, ice cream and other dairy products that consumers enjoy and can be confident in,” said Dr. Lehenbauer. “Our milk and dairy products are still some of the safest food products in the world.”

Promoting livestock health and preventing disease is central to the training of veterinary students at the VMTRC. If a cow gets sick and needs to be treated, students learn how to prevent drug residues in milk by properly establishing required drug-withdrawal protocols. Farmers are required to keep milk out of the supply line until medication has cleared from the cow’s system and the milk meets strict requirements established by the FDA.

Milk is the state’s top agricultural commodity, valued at nearly $7 billion in annual retail sales.  

“Keeping livestock healthy is good for both the animal and a dairy farmer’s economic bottom line,” said Dr. Michael Payne, a veterinarian at the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP) and the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS), a center within the School of Veterinary Medicine. “The milk supply safety system has a great track record. Food doesn’t get much safer than milk.”

Some important examples of the school’s efforts in ensuring milk safety include:

•    The Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD): A USDA-supported service that consists of regional units at the school and three other universities, FARAD’s services are unique in the nation. It helps producers and veterinarians throughout the country to prevent illegal or harmful drug residues so that milk is safe for public consumption.  The scientific data it collects, analyzes and generates is used to determine appropriate drug withdrawal intervals for when drugs are used according to the Animal Medicinal Clarification Act in an extra-label manner.  

•    The California Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) Laboratory System: The San Bernardino laboratory of CAHFS - administered by the school on behalf of the California Department of Food and Agriculture - is considered the state reference lab for California to provide surveillance and diagnostic testing on milk and dairy products. Approximately 1,500 samples of milk, dairy products and water arrive to the lab each month resulting in approximately 4,200 tests. Milk samples are tested for a variety of disease-causing microbes that cause severe illness and even death, drug residue and other unwanted substances such as antibiotics, which may have been used to treat sick cows.

•    The Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center:  Located within the School of Veterinary Medicine, the VMTRC is a leading educational and research center for dairy production medicine and herd health. It serves important roles for training students and residents in dairy production medicine and conducting essential research projects to solve problems related to food safety and cattle welfare.   Its Milk Quality Laboratory performs routine milk culture monitoring and bacterial identification and serves as a mastitis reference laboratory for confirming specific mastitis pathogens, especially mycoplasma organisms.

•    The California Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP): Faculty of the school provides leadership and program management for the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP). The CDQAP partners with regulatory agencies and the dairy industry to promote the health of the consumer, the environment and dairy livestock. It provides education, resources and funding for dairy producers in many areas, including animal care, food safety and disease control.

As food safety issues gain increased public attention, the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine is preparing the next generation of veterinarians to meet future challenges in protecting and advancing the health of animals, people and the environment.