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Vet on call: Here’s how to keep drugs off your milk

Saturday May 4 2019

Dairy cattle milked using a milking machine at the Hakikisha Farm in Limuru.

Dairy cattle milked using a milking machine at the Hakikisha Farm in Limuru. Antibiotic residues in milk have terrible consequences to humans and animals. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG 

DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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I took off some days to attend the Kenya Veterinary Association Annual Scientific Conference in Kisumu, which began on April 24.

On April 27, a large number of vets converged on Alendu to celebrate the day. We treated and vaccinated animals as part of our social responsibility.

Locals were advised on good livestock health and production practices and how to take care of their dogs and cats.

One farmer wanted to know why local sheep, goats and cattle are small. I told her the community has continuously kept unimproved traditional breeds. The animals have also been inbred over time, leading to even smaller sizes.

I pointed out that the Kisumu devolved government has started a livestock improvement scheme in Muhoroni.

The summit is rotational. Next year’s event will be in the Coast. It is a gathering of animal resources scientists who share knowledge and findings.

The forum helps cement and publicise the role of the profession in safeguarding food security, safety and health.

My paper was on how the trade and slaughter of donkeys in Kenya has badly impacted on the welfare of the animal and livelihoods.

There were four presentations that I would like to share with you in the next three weeks.

The first was by a researcher from Maasai Mara University and two others from the Kiambu Department of Agriculture.

It was motivated by a cooperative reporting that the hundreds of thousands of milk it was collecting could not make fermentation products like cheese and yoghurt. The phenomenon was frustrating business.

Antibiotic residues in milk prevent the growth of fermentation bacteria during yoghurt and cheese production.

The researchers embarked on a project to find out the knowledge, attitude and practices of the milk suppliers.

Antibiotic residues in milk have terrible consequences to humans and animals. When taken in small quantities in the milk, they cause the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in animals and humans.

Once AMR is established, drugs to which bacteria have become resistant become ineffective. People and animals end up dying of treatable diseases.

DIFFERENT WIRHDRAWAL PERIODS

It was found that farmers and some vets were responsible for the presence of residues in milk.

The best way of ensuring milk is free of the residues is to use drugs for the purposes they are made for and diligently observe the milk withdrawal period. Withdrawn milk should be discarded without being fed to calves, pigs or people.

The researchers found worrying trends among farmers and veterinary service providers. The actions were mainly based on inadequate knowledge, greed and erroneous advice.

Many farmers thought the four quarters of an udder are independent of one another. Therefore they only needed to withdraw the milk from the treated quarters.

The understanding is inaccurate but the farmers’ knowledge of the udder anatomy is correct. The quarters do not communicate directly.

However, antibiotics deposited in one can be absorbed into the body through the blood returning to the heart. These antibiotics are then distributed to the whole body.

Milk from a cow treated in the udder should be withdrawn for the recommended period and discarded.

Some farmers felt their milk was too little and the residues would be diluted by other farmers’ milk. Now, if every farmer were to make the same assumption, it would lead to AMR development.

Then there was the unscrupulous group who said they would lose revenue by withdrawing the milk from human consumption. If you happen to be in this group, you are a criminal.

A small number of farmers said they had not been advised on milk withdrawal. Animal health service providers not advising farmers appropriately must know they are committing professional negligence, which is punishable by law.

They are also committing injurious disservice to Kenyans who have entrusted the food safety mandate to them.

Some farmers had been misadvised that processing firms treat milk in ways that eliminate the residues. This misinformation comes from farmers’ peers.

Finally, some believed that all drugs have a uniform withdrawal period. The truth is that drugs have different withdrawal periods depending on how they are broken down and eliminated through milk, sweat, breath, faeces and urine.

Based on the findings, farmers started getting educated on milk withdrawal periods.

The processor started checking milk for antibiotic residues at the collection points rather than at the factory.