Response from Dairy Australia on technology confirming hormones absence


In our June-July 2010 FoodLegal Bulletin we discussed new technologies in dairy farming. In response to the article, we received a letter from the Supply Chain Regulatory Affairs Manager of Dairy Australia (the body representing all sectors of the dairy industry). FoodLegal publishes this letter in full for the benefit of our readers.

Dear Joe,

We read with interest your article entitled “Minimising Hormones and Antibiotics in Dairy Products: When being ‘natural’ can mean using clever technology" in the June-July edition of FoodLegal.

In the context of Australian dairy production systems, we would like to take this opportunity to provide information on current industry practices related to issues raised in your article, and with particular focus on management systems used for successful breeding and calving, and the systems governing the use of antibiotics in the Australian dairy herd.

The Australian dairying regions range from the far north tropics of Queensland to the southern temperate regions of Tasmania, and from SW Western Australia to coastal NSW. Various types of calving patterns are practiced across the industry. Year round calving is generally practiced in the northern regions, with seasonal (once a year) calving being more common in the southern regions. Split calving - comprising calving some of the herd in spring and other cows in autumn, is increasingly being practiced. A national dairy farmers survey conducted in 2010 shows an increasing trend away from seasonal calving to split calving, such that now approx 40% of the Australian dairy herd is managed in this way, compared with 50% in 2004.

Reliably knowing when a cow is in heat is an important aspect of a successful breeding program. The use of hormones to synchronise oestrus (or heat) in cattle has been a useful tool in the past to enable farmers to know when cows will be fertile and allows them to plan insemination and hence match calving with peak pasture growth.

Australian dairy farmers use a variety of methods to help detect oestrus in their cows, including the animal behavior monitoring technology described in your article. Other methods used include tail paint or heat-mount pads secured on the tail head to identify cows in heat and direct observations of cow behavior. With the increasing use of supplements and grains in the Australian dairy industry as well as a change from seasonal to split or year round calving there is also a decreased requirement to match tight calving patterns with peak pasture growth.

For the increasingly smaller number of herds where seasonal calving is still practiced, synchronization of oestrus may be required in order for the cows to be on heat and be inseminated and hence calve within a few weeks of each other. In the interests of maintaining access into some export markets, the Australian dairy industry, with support from the veterinary profession and the Australian Government, has instigated a policy to voluntarily ban the use of the hormone oestradiol benzoate to synchronise oestrus in lactating cows. A number of alternative mechanisms are available to farmers, which may be utilized in consultation with their veterinarians.

To add to the picture of how limits apply to the use of hormones in the Australian dairy industry, the administration of growth hormones, including bovine somatotropin (BST) in dairy cattle, is banned in Australia.

With regard to antibiotics in dairy farming, the Australian dairy industry has an excellent reputation for responsible use of antibiotics and reliable systems to manage residues. With respect to antibiotic supply and use, a national regulatory framework exists to control the supply and use of all antibiotics, the majority of which are veterinary controlled, prescription medicines. Antibiotics are an essential animal health management tool for the dairy industry, and in a similar fashion to their role in human medicines, are needed for the control of infections when they occur. The industry has an excellent track record of producing residue-free dairy products. This track record is due to the paddock-to-plate food safety systems approach which incorporates on-farm quality assurance practices. These practices include: following label instructions, identifying treated animals, keeping records of antibiotic use, and separating and discarding milk from treated animals for the required withholding period. The success of these practices to produce milk that consistently meets the residue management and quality requirements of Government food safety agencies and consumers is reflected in the results of extensive testing programs that operate at both industry and government levels. Similarly systems are in place to ensure that discarded milk with residues is not fed to calves reared for meat.

Antibiotic resistance is an important issue for both human and veterinary medicine to ensure that effective treatments are available. Excessive and mis-use of antibiotics contributes to increased antibiotic resistance. However monitoring of bacteria from dairy cattle has shown that the use of antibiotics in the last 40 years has not resulted in an apparent emergence or progression of resistance among bacteria causing the disease.

We trust that this provides an informative explanation of some key practices in today’s dairy industry that support the well deserved reputation of the Australian dairy industry in producing high quality dairy products that are safe, wholesome and nutritious.

Yours sincerely

Karen Armitage

Manager - Supply Chain Regulatory Affairs

Dairy Australia

Dated: 22 July 2010


Editorial Postscript by FoodLegal Bulletin Editor :

In a separate development on 11 August 2010, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) issued a statement to deny allegations in China that hormones found in raw milk powder supplied by dairy giant Fonterra was the cause of infant breast development in girls.

Here is the full text of NZFSA’s statement on 11 August 2010:

In the context of recent media reports from China on milk powder, NZFSA wishes to clarify that

• Hormonal growth promotants are not used on New Zealand milk-producing cows

• In New Zealand there are strict legislative controls on the use of hormonal growth promotants

• NZFSA is seeking clarification about the media reports from China

• Fonterra is working with NZFSA.

Background information provided by NZFSA on hormonal growth promotants can be found (at a web link provided) here.

This is general information rather than legal advice and is current as of 30 Oct 2021. We therefore recommend you seek legal advice for your particular circumstances if you want to rely on advice or information to be a basis for any commercial decision-making by you or your business.