Friday, January 28, 2011

Care for a Side of Antibiotics With That Milk?

Cute cows, aren't they?
I am going to make believe that they are sunning, side-by-side, on a cows-only cruise ship.

I so often complain about the fox guarding the hen house - the way federal agencies seem to be incestuous extensions of the industries they regulate, swapping personnel between them and all.

Refreshingly, today it seems the Food & Drug Administration [the FDA] is doing what it's paid to do - trying to protect us from bad stuff in our food.  Unfortunately, in this case, the industry involved is working very hard to make sure the FDA can't do its job. 

And this from the dairy industry.  Come on, folks.  Is there anything more American than drinking your milk?

This New York Times article chronicles the agency's attempts to test our milk supply for illegal levels of antibiotics.  The FDA wants to perform these tests because they've found such levels in older dairy cows bound for the slaughter house.  The industry is claiming there's no reason to believe that older cows currently producing milk have the same levels as cows bound for slaughter. 

No reason?  How about common sense?  Since it is expensive to maintain, house and feed older, non-producing cows, we can assume that these older dairy cows were producing all the way up until the day of their retirement party, when they are given a gold watch and a one-way ticket for that big cow cruise ship in the sky.

If you've ever been to the doctor for a virus, you've no doubt been told that we don't get antibiotics for every illness.  We only receive antibiotics when a test for bacterial infection comes up positive.  This is because putting antibiotics into your system reduces their future effectiveness - both for you personally, and because these bugs have a miraculous natural ability to morph in ways that make them resistant to the antibiotics we treat them with.  That is bad news for all of us.  As our antibiotics lose effectiveness for the bacteria in our environment, bacteria has the potential to become deadly.  We are already seeing this with the advent of two new highly resistant killer strains of bacteria, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA - pronounced mersa] and Clostridium difficile [C diff or see-diff].

The dairy industry's argument is that the testing plan is poorly designed.  The industry even suggested that farmers might be forced to dump millions of gallons of milk while they wait for test results.  In actuality, it turns out that the requirement - I mean the term "forced" summons up a regulatory mandate, doesn't it - is an edict from the industry itself.  Agri-Mark, one dairy cooperative, apparently issued an instruction to its members to dump any milk that's been tested until the results come back.  The reasoning: if the milk has been dumped, a bad report cannot result in a recall.  The industry is worried about public reaction to a recall. 

While I understand the fear, it is a dairy farmer's responsibility to ensure that milk meets legal safety standards.  If a farmer is doing his or her job, there should be no fear of the test results.  On the other hand, if the industry looks the other way while its members get away with things because the FDA hasn't been checking up on them - well, that's no better than athletes who sneak performance enhancing substances.  Except it's way more deadly, because what farmers do to our milk impacts nearly every person in America - both through the introduction of excess antibiotics to the population as a whole, and by the influence on the evolution of bacteria to more resistant strains.

Now the dairy industry is fighting the testing altogether.  If their reasons are valid, why hasn't the industry proposed its own, alternative testing methodology?  Is it because they're trying to hide something about industry practices?   What we don't know can hurt us.

May I make a suggestion here?  Buy ORGANIC milk.  Even though it's a little more expensive, it's worth every penny not to put antibiotics in your system.

Or switch to organic almond milk.  It's got no antibiotics, nearly the same nutritional value, fewer calories, and doesn't end with a retirement cruise for Elsie.   

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