The Australian dairy industry continues to play a key role in helping to prevent antibiotic resistance, and the evidence confirms that the industry’s approach to agricultural and veterinary chemical usage is responsible, effective and in accordance with good agricultural practice.

It has been acknowledged (The Australian Dairyfarmer, May/June 2019) that individual farmers who work to reduce antibiotic use on farm will reap rewards through reduced costs and improved herd health.

The article indicated antibiotic resistance was not just an issue for the livestock industry, but an issue for the whole community, and that overuse of antibiotics in livestock industries could create monster drug-resistant microbes that threatened human health.

The article also confirmed what we thought was the case: that Australia has a good story to tell, with less antibiotic use in its livestock industries than many other countries. Australia’s dairy industry also has a good story to tell about how it manages animal health, with a history of prudent use of antibiotics.

So what arrangements are in place within the dairy industry to verify presence/absence of antibiotics?

A new ‘Antibiotic management and monitoring policy’ was agreed to by milk companies and regulators in the Australian dairy industry towards the end of 2020.

The new policy, facilitated through Dairy Australia’s Industry Working Group, provides clarity on antibiotic residue testing requirements, including frequency of testing, and when detections must be reported to dairy regulators.

The key points to managing antibiotic use in Australia’s dairy industry include:

  • Antibiotics have been used to treat serious bacterial diseases in Australian livestock for more than 60 years.
  • They offer great benefits to industry and food production but also present risks to human health, food production and markets that must be managed.
  • Systems to manage the risk of antibiotics entering food products are comprehensive and include regulatory and commercial controls along the supply chain.
  • The prevalence of chemical residues in milk is extremely low, with testing for antibiotics being routinely undertaken by dairy companies at the farm vat, tanker, silo and product levels of the supply chain.
  • In addition, a survey of raw milk from 1,000 tankers from all regions of Australia is taken each year for analysis for a wider range of antimicrobials, animal parasite control chemicals, feed contaminants and environmental contaminants.
  • The results of both the dairy company and tanker survey testing results are reported annually in the Australian Milk Residue Analysis (AMRA) survey report.
  • The results tell an overwhelmingly positive story with close to 100% compliance over the history of the Australian Milk Residue Analysis (AMRA) survey across all chemical classes.
  • In the rare event that antibiotics are confirmed in raw milk at the factory, the milk is removed from the supply chain under regulatory supervision.
  • These results are evidence that the Australian dairy industry’s approach to agricultural and veterinary chemical usage is responsible, effective and in accordance with good agricultural practice. It also demonstrates that the food safety management systems adopted by the dairy industry are successful in managing potential residue contaminations.
  • Controls for managing the risk of antibiotics entering the food-chain include:
    • regulated supply of veterinary drugs by prescription
    • Government regulated registration of antibiotics for use in livestock species
    • Australian maximum residue limits (MRLs)
    • identification of treated livestock
    • segregation of milk from treated livestock for the duration of the withholding period
    • appropriate record keeping including usage monitoring
    • identify points in production-to-consumption where food safety measures could be implemented
    • routine antibiotic testing by processors in accordance with their food safety program
    • national Australian Milk Residue Analysis (AMRA) survey

Protocols have been established for both screening tankers for antibiotic residues and also for antibiotic notification and follow-up. These will soon be available on the Dairysafe website and provided to stakeholders.