Antibiotic use in dairy: Could traces in milk put consumers at risk?

Antibiotics are given to livestock in varying degrees around the world, largely in order to treat and prevent disease. While in the UK and EU, antibiotic use is more stringently regulated than in the US, this does not mean antibiotics are never given to European livestock.

In the dairy sector, antibiotic use must be regulated in order to prevent the milk from being affected by antimicrobial residues. If residues make their way into the milk, this could put consumers at risk and potentially cause antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which is when bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

Antibiotics in European dairy

In order to ensure that milk does not contain antibacterial residues, farmers must implement a withdrawal period between giving a dairy cow antibiotics, and letting their milk get into the supply chain.

“Antibiotics can potentially get into milk consumed by the public if dairy animals are treated with antibiotics and withdrawal periods are not respected,” Ernesto Liebana, leader of the Biological Hazards team at European Food Standards Agency (EFSA), told FoodNavigator.

“Consuming milk with antibiotics can contribute to exposure of humans to antimicrobial residues and therefore to antimicrobial resistance. For this reason, it is important for farmers to use antibiotics according to marketing authorisations.”

Combatting antimicrobial resistance using cultivated meat

Because the process is far more controllable and pathogens easier to get rid of, it’s possible to significantly lower (or completely eliminate) antibiotic use in the production of cultivated meat​ compared with traditional meat.