Police - Someone contaminating milk with antibiotics

Tuesday, April 9, 2002

JAVA CENTER, N.Y. -- Someone has been sneaking onto dairy farms at night in western New York and putting antibiotics into milk storage tanks and injecting cows with the drugs, police say.

The tampering has ruined about 48,000 gallons of milk at a cost to farmers of thousands of dollars, state police Lt. John Hibsch said.

Authorities have no suspects in the 14 cases under investigation since the fall, Hibsch said. The most recent cases were reported late last month.

Authorities said none of the tainted milk made it to store shelves or into milk products like cheese because milk is tested for contaminants before being unloaded from the trucks that take it to processing plants.

Only someone allergic to antibiotics like penicillin would be at risk if exposed to the tainted milk, Hibsch said.

Dairy farming is a $116 million industry in Wyoming County, New York's largest dairy producer, where 11 of the cases were reported.

With no obvious motive for the apparent sabotage and no claims of responsibility, anxiety among farmers is high.

Investigators said they are looking for suspects in any number of places, from animal rights groups opposed to dairy farm practices to disgruntled farmers or employees.

"Who it is we don't know. If we knew why, we'd at least know what direction to look," said farmer Mark McCormick, whose 200-head Mar-Dan Dairy Farm in Wyoming County was among the latest targets.

Never this widespread

McCormick lost more than 4,000 gallons of milk and estimated his financial loss at $6,200 to $6,500.

"It's going to be very hard to overcome," said McCormick, who said that with milk prices set by the government, raising his rates to make up the loss is not an option. As it is, he said, he is paid only slightly more for his milk than his father was 20 years ago.

New York Farm Bureau spokesman Chris LaRoe said there have been isolated cases of angry employees tampering with milk tanks in the past, but "we've never seen it this widespread before."

The Farm Bureau is urging farmers to limit access to storage tanks, but that is difficult. Dairy farms, in general, are easily accessible because of the need to keep barns housing hundreds of animals open for ventilation.

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