Antibiotics aren’t as worrisome as we thought

December 13, 2017

Antibiotics aren’t as worrisome as we thought

Recently, a group of dietetic interns from Northern Illinois University were given the opportunity to tour Phil Borgic’s pig farm and Mitchell Dairy Farm to see the first step in the food production process for themselves. They learned about the science behind livestock farming and asked their own questions about how a farmer's choices affect food safety. Here is what they learned:

As dietetic interns at Northern Illinois University, we had the opportunity to tour Mitchell Farms in Winnebago, IL to learn more about dairy farming. It is a family farm that consists of approximately 1,500 acres and 380 milking cows. Their cows are housed in a free stall barn, where they can move around, eat, drink or lay in stalls at any time. We learned about a cow’s milking cycle, the nutritional content of their feed, and use of antibiotics. The cows produce nearly 11 gallons of milk per cow, per day.

As future dietitians, we found the nutritional content of the feed particularly interesting. It is a mixture of corn silage, alfalfa, corn, cottonseed, dry corn gluten, soybean meal, and vitamins and minerals. The cows even have their own nutritionist!

Many people are concerned with antibiotic residue in their milk, including us. Some of the most common concerns about antibiotics in milk include build up resistance to antibiotics in your body, cause allergic reactions in certain people, and generally harmful to health. After the tour, we realized that these concerns are only myths.

Although antibiotics are used to treat sick cows, it is not allowed to reach the food supply. When cows are sick and need antibiotics, they put a red tag on the back leg of the cow. Then, when it is time for it to be milked, the milk is extracted separately from the other cows and stored in a separate container. Milk containing antibiotic residue cannot to be sold. The farmers wait until the antibiotics are out of the cows’ system before allowing the milk to be sold.

The milk is usually tested three times before it reaches the shelves. The farmers voluntarily test it at the farm, then it is tested by the truck driver that is transporting the milk, and finally it is tested at the plant where it will be bottled. If at any point the milk is found to test positive for any residue, it must be discarded. After two violations, the dairy farm responsible for the antibiotic residue in the milk is forced to close operations. After we learned about this process, we realized that we can trust that milk is free of antibiotic residue and is not harmful to health.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY DIETETIC INTERNS 

Samantha Harmon and Julie Estrada

In September 2017, a group of Dietetic Interns from NIU toured a local dairy farm in Winnebago, IL and a pig farm in Nokomis, IL to learn more about how food is produced and what that means for food safety. After the tours, they shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experienced on these farms.

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