Federal authorities sued Rhody Dairy LLC this week for selling improperly vaccinated cows for slaughter. Rhody Dairy operates out of NW WA, selling grade A milk and cows for slaughter. Owner Jay De Jong allegedly overdosed cows with antibiotics, including tetracycline, flunixin, penicillin, and sulfadimethoxine, according to the complaint. The milk and cows for slaughter were sold across the Western United States. The Justice Department said that despite warnings the dairy administered the drugs at unapproved dosages or without prescriptions and failed to observe proper drug withdrawal times before offering the cows for slaughter. The Department also alleges the dairy refused to keep treatment records for the animals.
The allegations go back as far as 2004. The first FDA inspection on the defendant’s farm occurred in June 2004 (pg. 6 of the compliant). The most recent inspection taking place in March and July this past year found three cows tested positive – one for excess flunixin in its liver (an anti-inflammatory) and the other two excessive antibiotics in their kidneys. The defendant could not provide records on the dosage amounts or when the drugs were administered. At the time of the inspection treatments were documented on a white board, which was erased daily.
Rhody Dairy is charged with selling into interstate commerce adulterated food. Under the Federal Food,Drug, and Cosmetic Act “adulteration” is a legal term meaning that a product fails to meet federal or state standards. It includes a wide range of containments, from “foreign matter” to “microbiological” to high levels of additives (see generally 21 U.S.C. § 402). If food is adulterated the FDA may exercise a broad array of enforcement tools. These including seizing and condemning the product, detaining imported product, enjoining persons from manufacturing or distributing the product, or requesting a recall of the product. Typically enforcement action is preceded by a Warning Letter from the FDA (read Rhody Dairy’s letter here).
Restaurant owners, home cooks, and retailers concerned about buying adulterated food need to do two things. First, do your homework if you know the source of your food. The FDA’s website can inform you about Warning Letters and inspections. Second, if you don’t know the source of your food because it’s commingled or bought by a larger processor, still do you homework. If your seller has had a history of violations you may want to consider adding quality controls to your contracts. In the end the thoughts of adulterated meat and food recalls is enough to keep any of us awake at night, but the best we can do is to be aware of who you are buying from and ensure there are quality controls from producers. The greater demand and scrutiny placed on the food production process the safer our food becomes.
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