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FDA Says States, Farmers Must Keep Drugs Out of Milk

February 7, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Food and Drug Administration says it cannot bear the sole responsibility for ensuring the nation’s milk supply is safe from veterinary drugs that may be harmful to humans.

″We know that traces of drug residues may sometimes be found in milk, and that such trace levels are rarely of public health concern,″ the FDA’s Gerald B. Guest told a House panel Tuesday.

″While FDA and the states must continue to play a larger role in solving this problem, the responsibility for this situation is not totally a federal and state responsibility,″ said Guest, head of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

″In fact, a share of the burden for reducing illegal residues in milk falls clearly on the dairy farmer, the veterinarian and the milk industry,″ h told the House Government Operations subcommittee on human resources and intergovernmental relations.

But subcommittee Chairman Ted Weiss, D-N.Y., said, ″The honest answer is, you just don’t know the extent to which the milk supply is safe.″

The hearing followed Monday’s release of an FDA survey which purported to strike down the findings of private studies by The Wall Street Journal and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group.

Weiss challenged the methods used in the FDA tests and questioned its reluctance to accept a relatively new screening test known as the Charm II. That test was used in the two private surveys.

The test is highly sensitive, able to show drug residues in amounts as low as five parts per billion, advocates say.

But the FDA said the test yields too many false positives and none of its positive findings could be validated in what it considered more accurate, newer tests. Charm II is also limited because it deals with only classes of drugs, not individual ones, FDA says.

The FDA said its follow tests for sulfa drugs eliminated all samples. But the agency admitted its more advanced follow-up tests, the final being mass spectrometry, were far less sensitive to small amounts.

Joseph Settepani, an FDA scientist, criticized the agency for failing to control extra-label drug use, under which veterinarians may prescribe drugs, under certain conditions for purposes other than those for which the drug was initially approved.

He said an internal memorandum in 1988 listed 30 drugs believed to be used by milk producers. Sixteen are used extensively, he said.

″Many of these medicines are quite toxic, but the BS disk assay (test) only has any likelihood of being able to detect residues in milk from 2 of the 30 drugs on the list,″ he said.

The BS test - which stands for bacillus stearothermophilus - is the only FDA standard test for state inspectors under the milk inspection program.

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