VANCOUVER — Eleven dairy farmers were fined a total of $65,000 over one year after their milk tested positive for antibiotics.
The fines for the 12-month period ending July 2016 amount to an average of almost $6,000 per farmer and do not include lost income due to the contaminated milk having to be poured out.
There are close to 500 dairy farmers across B.C., representing a non-compliance rate of about two per cent.
Vicki Crites, manager of policy and communication for the Abbotsford-based B.C. Milk Marketing Board, provided details on the antibiotics fines at the Vancouver Sun’s request.
She said all processing plants test milk-tank loads for antibiotics before they are received. If a load tests positive for any antibiotics, the milk is discarded and never enters the food system, she explained. Antibiotics in the raw milk cannot be removed.
Fines are levied by the board and the Ministry of Agriculture. The producer must also pay all associated costs for the milk disposal, including transportation and trailer-washing charges.
“Shipments for that producer are suspended immediately and not resumed until subsequent milk tests are negative,” Crites said.
The ministry also performs random producer tests for anti-biotics in milk, she said.
It is common practice for dairy cows to receive antibiotics. Steroids are also used for medi-cinal purposes in dairy cattle in Canada.
Treated cows must be removed from the milk-production stream until all pharmaceutical residues are gone from their system. Farmers are supposed to conduct tests to ensure that is the case.
Pharmaceuticals used on dairy farms include antibiotics, corticosteroids, mastitis treatments, hormones, disinfectants and parasiticides, according to the reference manual of the Canadian Quality Milk On-Farm Food Safety Program. The manual is a product of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Dairy Farmers of Canada.
“Access to a range of livestock medicines, vaccines and treatments helps Canadian dairy producers maintain the health and productivity of dairy cattle,” the manual reads. “Access carries with it a responsibility to ensure the products are stored and used so that the health and safety of treated animals, the producer and consumers are assured.”
The manual adds: “The cost of discarding milk from one animal that contains residues is much lower than the cost of discarding an entire bulk tank, a transport tanker or a processor’s silo because of contamination caused by that one animal.”
Test kits do not detect all antibiotics equally well, the manual warns, because they are designed to detect lower concentrations of some antibiotics.
“Certain antibiotics are not detected at all by some of the most popular screening test kits used on farms. This can cause a problem if you are trying to detect an antibiotic using a test kit that was not designed to measure it. You must ensure that the kit can detect the specific antibiotic that was used to treat the animal.”
On-farm test kits also only give a positive or negative result and do not show how much of the antibiotic is present in a positive milk sample, the manual continues.
Farmers must also be especially careful when receiving new cows onto a farm in the event the seller “may not have known or may have neglected to pass on the treatment information.”