FAQ: On practices, procedures and safety

Staff Writer
The Steuben Courier Advocate

What are dairy farmers doing about animal welfare?

Dairy farmers strive to deliver high-quality animal care every day and they take tremendous pride in doing so. Healthy cows produce high-quality products, so it doesn’t make sense for a farmer to give his or her cows anything less than the best treatment. Nutritious diets, comfortable living conditions and good medical care are among the many practices routinely used by dairy farmers to ensure a healthy herd.

Why do farmers treat cows with antibiotics?

Sometimes, cows get sick, just as some humans do. Without proper medical care, the cows would become seriously ill or die. So, it is simply humane to treat them – and make them well again with medications prescribed by veterinarians. If a cow is treated with antibiotics, she is kept in a separate pen or milking group. The milk from that cow is disposed of, and does not reach the food supply.

What’s different about organic farms?

A specific set of farming practices makes milk and other foods eligible for “certified organic” status. On organic dairies, cows must receive feed that was grown without the use of pesticides, commercial fertilizers or genetically-modified ingredients. They are not treated with supplemental hormones and are not given certain medications to treat illness. If they are given medication, then they must permanently leave the milking herd. They also must have access to the pasture.

Many of the same practices are utilized by conventional dairy farmers, as all farmers make the welfare of their animals and environmental stewardship top priorities.

Have large, corporate-owned “factory farms” driven America’s family farms out of business?

No. Of the 55,000 dairy farms in America today, most are smaller farms with less than 200 cows. In fact, 98 percent of American dairy farms, including larger farms, are family-owned and operated.  Like other business owners, many dairy farmers are modernizing, expanding and improving overall efficiency in order to continue to support their families and provide consumers with high-quality, affordable milk and dairy products.

Are dairy farmers currently cloning cows?

Cloning is a niche-market technology and it remains to be seen whether dairy farmers will choose to use it. There are currently very few cloned dairy cows in this country – only about 150 cows out of the 9 million total U.S. dairy cows – and many of these are "show" animals. Dairy farmers and cattle ranchers have been using safe and proven methods to breed the best livestock for decades, and cloning simply gives farmers another option in breeding animals. Currently, FDA has a voluntary moratorium on food from cloned animals.

How and why is milk pasteurized?

All milk intended for direct consumption should be pasteurized -- it's a matter of food safety. Pasteurization is a simple, effective method to kill potentially harmful bacteria without affecting the taste or nutritional value of milk. With standard pasteurization, milk is heated to a temperature of at least 161 degrees Fahrenheit for not less than 15 seconds, followed by rapid cooling.

Are there antibiotics in milk?

No. All milk – both regular and organic – is tested for antibiotics. Any tanker that tests positive is disposed of immediately.

Are there pesticides in milk?

No. Stringent government standards ensure that all milk is safe, pure and nutritious. The most recent government testing found that all of the milk samples tested were found to be completely free from pesticide residue.

What is rbST or BGH?

Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in all cows, and its physiological function is to help direct milk production. Through biotechnology, scientists have created a synthesized copy of bST  -- which some dairy farmers choose to use as a milk production management tool on some cows.

Is rbST safe for my family?

Since rbST was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration in the early 1990s, its safety has been affirmed and reaffirmed by the scientific community. Scientists tell us that rbST is species-specific, meaning that it is biologically inactive in humans. Also, pasteurization destroys 90 percent of rbST in milk. Numerous scientific studies have shown there is no significant difference between milk from rbST-supplemented and non-rbST-supplemented cows. That's why the FDA has established that dairy products from cows treated with rbST do not need to be labeled.

Article courtesy of  www.DairyFarmingToday.org