Veterinarians at Iowa State University are using advanced forensic techniques and the same technology used by crime scene investigators to monitor drug residues in milk and meat.
The ISU researchers work with other veterinarians and producers to strengthen food safety and make sure animals are medicated properly.
“It’s the same instrumentation used for forensics testing in humans,” said Hans Coetzee, a professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine. “But we use it to test for drugs in animals.”
Coetzee leads the Pharmacology Analytical Support Team (PhAST) in the ISU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. He and his team employ liquid chromatography mass spectrometry, an analytical chemistry technique commonly used in human pharmacology, to test dozens of milk and animal feed samples every month.
The team’s mission is to help local veterinarians and farmers make sure the meat and milk they produce satisfy FDA regulations governing the use of antibiotics and are safe for human consumption.
Patrick Gorden, a senior clinician in veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine, said the use of antibiotics in production animals has taken on greater importance as consumer awareness of food safety has grown in recent years.
Gorden said the use of antibiotics and other medications in production animals may lead to the possibility of violative levels of the medications being present when the milk and meat are offered for sale. In most cases, that happens because of mistakes in record keeping or animal handling, he said.
“It’s important to realize that mistakes can happen and that safeguards are in place to prevent those contaminated products from reaching the consumer,” Gorden said.
Gorden works with veterinarians, producers and inspectors to keep everyone up to date on the latest regulations and federal programs, developing educational materials and holding meetings across the state.
“Meat and milk are safe to consume, and the monitoring process is being continuously improved,” Gorden said. Every load of milk is tested for the presence of medicines at or above FDA limits before it’s unloaded and processed. Of all milk tankers tested nationwide between October 2012 and September 2013, only 0.014 percent showed antibiotic levels above FDA limits.
All milk found to contain medicines above FDA limits is removed from the supply and destroyed, Gorden said.
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