Dairy drinkers more likely to buy cow’s milk with low or no antibiotics

ITHACA, New York– The non-dairy industry has bulldozed its way into the food market in recent years, largely due to animal welfare and health implications of repeated antibiotic exposure through injections that cows receive. In fact, a new Cornell University study reports that consumers are more willing to purchase cow’s milk if the cows are only treated with antibiotics when medically necessary — as long as the price isn’t that much higher.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health concern. Between standing exposure from medications, water, and even inhalation, foods with added antibiotics contribute significant fuel to the fire. “Most of the antibiotics produced throughout the world are used for animal agriculture. Therefore, reducing antibiotic use in animals, including dairy cattle, is necessary to tackle antibiotic resistance at a global scale,” says Dr. Renata Ivanek, professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences and senior author on the study, in a statement.

In this research, the team conducted a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults and held a real life-based randomized, experimental auction with money and milk, which measured buyer willingness. Based on their work, presents a new label for milk that specifies responsible antibiotic use (RAU) to appropriately target consumers who prefer to reduce their exposure. They found that although consumer willingness to pay for RAU-labeled milk was similar to that of unlabeled milk, they preferred RAU-labeled milk option. This suggests that dairy farmers may have a new avenue to for boosting dairy market, as long as it’s for the right price.

If cows continue to get unnecessary antibiotic treatment, it may only increase incidences of resistant strains of bacteria. Consequently, this can make medical interventions less effective when patients are prescribed antibiotics. “Consumers should know that their choices are important, and that their understanding of antibiotic use could move the dairy industry toward more sustainable milk production practices,” says Dr. Ece Bulut, research associate in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences and co-author of the study.

In the chicken and turkey industry, a similar label indicating responsible antibiotic administration is already in use (CRAU-certified responsible antibiotic use). Granted that similar methods are already used within poultry agriculture, the researchers believe it shouldn’t be too challenging to expand the practices to dairy. This work moves things in the right direction. It presents evidence that helps farmers understand consumer attitudes toward RAU labeling and is a compelling argument in support of improving farming methods for public health and financial reason.

The findings are published in the Journal of Dairy Science.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan

Shyla Cadogan is a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition and Food Science. She is on her way to becoming a Registered Dietitian, with next steps being completion of a dietetic internship at the University of Maryland Medical Center where she currently is gaining experience with various populations and areas of medical nutrition such as Pediatrics, Oncology, GI surgery, and liver and renal transplant. Shyla also has extensive research experience in food composition analysis and food resource management.

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  1. I’m a cattle farmer and have worked with several dairy farmers and I’m confused on a few things. What is a specific example of “unnecessary antibiotic treatment” in dairy cows?

    And are you aware that EVERY load of milk going to a processor in the U.S. is tested to ensure it does not contain antibiotic residues?

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