Drug residue found in veal calves after slaughter should be further investigated on the farms where they were raised, said the Center for Science in the Public Interest Wednesday in response to a request to exempt dairy farms from this type of follow-up testing.

This week, the National Conference on Interstate Milk Shipments (NCIMS), a policymaking group comprised of state regulators and members of the dairy industry, recommended that the presence of illegal or excessive drugs in veal calves not be used by the Food And Drug Administration (FDA) as grounds for further testing for drug misuse on dairy farms.

The proposed rule applies to bob veal calves — calves killed at three weeks or younger — that spend the majority of their lives on dairy farms, according to CSPI, meaning that drug residue found in these animals serves as a strong indicator of illegal drug use at the farm.

“The industry wants the FDA to turn a blind eye to evidence of misuse of drugs on dairy farms,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of CSPI. “It’s like banning the police from using forensic evidence to narrow down a list of suspects. The dairy industry should be ashamed of this effort to bar FDA from considering useful scientific evidence of drug misuse on specific farms to identify those that may have problems controlling drug residues in the milk supply.” DeWaal said.

CSPI is demanding that FDA refuse the milk industry’s recommendation. The organization says that passing Proposal 209 would pose an added health risk to humans.

“If adopted, this proposal would make it harder for FDA to detect misuse of animal drugs in dairy cattle and, as a result, consumers may be more likely to be exposed to hazardous drugs in milk and milk products and/or resistant strains of human pathogens in the food supply,” wrote DeWaal and CSPI Director Michael Jacobson in a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.

Between 2010 and 2011, the USDA’s residue testing program found genticimin, which is not approved for use in cows and can cause toxic effects in humans, in 6 percent of dairy cattle tested, according to DeWaal and Jacobson. Sixteen percent of dairy cattle tested positive for sulfadimethoxine, which is not approved for humans, and has been known to cause blood and liver damage in cows. 

In veal calves specifically, the authors point out, genticimin was the second most commonly detected drug, followed by tulathromycin. There are no tolerance levels for either of these drugs in meat.

Not following leads such as this back to dairy farms would be a grave mistake, say DeWaal and Jacobson.

The letter urged FDA to use all available resources when seeking drug residue in milk, including results of veal drug testing.