Are There Illegal Drugs in Your Dairy?

Story at-a-glance 

In 2012, the FDA conducted a controversial survey to detect illegal drugs in the US milk supply

The study results have yet to be released more than two years later

The Center for Science inthe Public Interest (CSPI) has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the survey data, wondering what the FDA is hiding

In 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a survey to determine whether illegal drugs were finding their way into the US milk supply. The study was only green-lighted after a more than year-long “negotiation” into its terms with the dairy industry and state governments.

Why the FDA, which is charged with protecting the public health, would need to negotiate study terms with an industry it is supposed to police is only one murky aspect to this story…

Even more unsettling is the fact that in 2014, more than two years after the study’s completion, the FDA has yet to release its findings. Surely in two years the FDA has had ample time to analyze its findings and prepare a report. What did they find that they are hiding?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) intends to find out… it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the survey data. Said CSPI senior food safety attorney David Plunkett:1

“Consumers have a right to know what’s in their milk, and if there are dangerous drugs in it, they need to know what FDA is doing about that … Why are those dairies that either can’t or won’t follow the rules allowed to continue to market milk?”

Got Milk? You Might Have Drugs with That, Too

CSPI has reason to be suspect of drugs in milk. In 2011, they reviewed drug-testing reports at slaughter plants and found that dairy farms accounted for 67 percent of drug-residue violations. In all, 17 different drugs were found in more than 735 drug-positive tissue samples.

This included drugs that are banned for use in cattle, such as the antibiotic gentamicin.2 When illegal drug residues are found in animals coming from dairy farms, it’s an indication that drugs may be being improperly used elsewhere on the farm, and possibly accumulating in your milk as well.

Also in 2011, Spanish and Moroccan researchers used a highly sensitive test to determine what types of medications could be found in a variety of milk (cow, goat and human breast milk). They hit the chemical jackpot. Medications used to treat diseases in both humans and animals were revealed. Among the drugs and hormones detected were:3

Anti-inflammatories (niflumic acid, mefenamic acid, ketoprofen, diclofenac, phenylbutazone, naproxen, flunixin,  and diclofenac) Antibiotics (florfenicol) Natural hormones (estrone)
Sex hormones (17-beta-estradiol) Steroid hormones (17-alpha-ethinylestradiol) Anti-malaria drugs (pyrimethamine)
Anti-fungal drugs (triclosan)

While all types of milk tested contained chemicals, cow’s milk contained the highest levels. Some of these drugs and hormones were given to the cows directly, while others were likely ingested from the cattle food or contamination on the farm.

The FDA has authority to require milk be tested if evidence exists that drug residues may be in the milk supply. However, CSPI notes that although the FDA has stopped some dairy farms from selling their cattle for meat after drug residue violations, this prohibition doesn’t typically extend to the milk.4

This is quite ironic, since the FDA, and other government agencies, seems to have no problem going after raw milk farmers, even when there is no evidence of contamination whatsoever…

Raw Milk Farmers Continue to Be Bullied

Raw dairy products from organically raised pasture-fed cows rank among some of the healthiest foods you can consume. In California, where raw milk can be sold legally and is tested and state-inspected, it often far exceeds pasteurized milk product standards without any heat or processing.

In other words, raw milk producers oftentimes adhere to stricter safety standards than CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) do. Still, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) commonly warns against drinking raw milk, citing numerous “outbreaks” linked to the product. But drinking raw milk produced by grass-fed cows from clean, well-run farms is actually far LESS dangerous than drinking pasteurized milk.

In fact, not only does raw milk contain beneficial bacteria that are essential for a healthy digestive system, raw milk also offers protection against disease-causing bacteria. CDC data show there are about 412 confirmed cases of people getting ill from pasteurized milk each year, while only about 116 illnesses a year are linked to raw milk.5

Research by Dr. Ted Beals, MD, featured in Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, also showed that you are actually about 35,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from raw milk!6

Meanwhile, the CDC stays silent about the proven health benefits linked to raw milk, like the GABRIELA study, which found school-aged children who drank raw milk were 41 percent less likely to develop asthma and about 50 percent less likely to develop hay fever than children who drank store-bought (pasteurized) milk.7

Fort Worth Regulators Fine Raw Dairy Farmer Two Counties Over…

Despite the facts, aggressive regulators continue to attack small farmers producing wholesome raw food products for loyal customers. One of the latest cases is in Fort Worth, Texas, where Eldon Hooley, who runs a “very clean raw milk operation” 40 miles south, is facing thousands of dollars in fines for operating an “illegal food establishment” and distributing “unfit food.”8

And get this: Hooley is licensed to sell raw dairy products out of his farm. But because some members of a food coop bought food there and then distributed it in Fort Worth, the city regulators are coming after him.

The city is using an updated ordinance that now states even the distribution of raw milk is prohibited… despite the fact that these Fort Worth residents obviously appreciated the ability to get farm-fresh raw food distributed to their neighborhoods without having to drive 40 miles to get it. And Fort Worth is not the only region trying to take these types of draconian control measures.

Illinois Proposes Restrictive Raw Milk Production Regulations

For over 30 years, the unlicensed on-farm sale of raw milk has been legal by government policy in Illinois. It’s a policy that has worked well and with no reports of foodborne illness attributed to Illinois raw milk producers going back at least as far back as 1998, if not further back. But the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) issued proposed regulations in September 2014 that a number of raw milk producers believe would put them out of business.

The burdensome, restrictive rules include provisions that would require a producer with even just one cow or goat to have a permit and would be subject to regular inspections and testing; the rules would also prohibit unlicensed dairy farmers from giving raw milk to guests at their home!

A workgroup consisting mostly of IDPH officials and dairy industry reps drafted the proposed rules; raw milk producers and consumers were also part of the workgroup but their input was ignored. The group wasn’t funded by the legislature but rather by a grant from FDA, the same agency that has been sitting on data about drugs in pasteurized milk for more than two years! An FDA official who was part of that workgroup stated that FDA considers all raw milk potentially adulterated.

Opposition by raw milk producers and consumers to the rules is also understandable when you consider that the proposed rules would place regulation with an agency (IDPH) that was complicit in an attempt to ban raw milk in the state legislature earlier this year. In March, a consortium of county health departments tacked on an amendment to ban raw milk sales in a bogus bill. IDPH knew of the effort but did nothing to stop the consortium when it had the chance to do so.

This happened just a few months after raw milk producers and consumers worked in good faith with IDPH to draft reasonable regulations governing raw milk sales and production in Illinois. Wes King, executive director of the agricultural advocacy group Illinois Stewardship Alliance, said:9

“We’re really left scratching our heads, wondering why the department would propose rules that are going to hurt farmers, they’re going to hurt consumers and they’re not addressing any sort of emerging or evident public health threat here in Illinois.”

Where to Find Raw Milk

There are several resources out there to help you locate raw milk and other dairy products, and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws, in case you don’t already know what your state’s rules are.

Important Raw Milk Bills That Could Usher in More Food Freedom

Raw milk is the only food banned in interstate commerce. This makes it challenging for small farmers to share their raw milk products with people living across state lines. Such nonsensical bans have resulted in an increasing number of violent crack-downs on peaceful dairy farmers who want nothing more than to provide their customers with high-quality food. Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky has plans to introduce a series of “food freedom” bills; he introduced the first two of those bills this spring, legislation that could be a big step forward for the raw milk movement. According to Massie, these bills are intended to improve consumer food choices while protecting local farmers from federal interference:

  • The Milk Freedom Act of 2014 (HR 4307): The bill would prohibit the federal government from interfering with the interstate traffic of raw milk products, offering relief for small farmers who have been harassed, fined, or prosecuted for distributing raw milk.
  • The Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014 (HR 4308): This bill would prevent the federal government from interfering with trade of unpasteurized natural milk or milk products between states where distribution or sale of such products is already legal.

Despite the FDA’s loyalty to Big Dairy, increasing numbers of Americans demand healthier, more natural food from actual farms, not factories, and they are moving proverbial mountains and prompting real legislative change, not just in the realm of raw milk but in many facets of food quality and freedom. Congressman Massie explained:10

“Today, many people are paying more attention to the foods they eat, what it contains, and how it is processed. Raw milk, which has been with us for thousands of years, is making a comeback among these discerning consumers. Personal choices as basic as ‘what we feed our families’ should not be limited by the federal government.”

To protect food freedom and freedom of choice for all Americans, I urge you to contact your government representatives, and ask them to vote YES on both HB 4307 and HB 4308. The Farm-to-Consumer Defense Fund has created an online petition to FAX your message to your U.S. Representative and both Senators. Please take a moment to sign the petition right now.


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