In 2000, the first pair of milking robots, known to bureaucrats as Automated Milking Systems (AMS), began milking cows on a commercial dairy farm in the U.S. But don’t tell the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that. Even though the government agency approved the technology over a decade ago, FDA still lacks a clear and timely rules process for new installation options and related technology. FDA’s latest solution? Convene a task force on all matters related to robot installations and recommend future policy.
FDA’s task force solution likely stems from a Congressional inquiry asking the federal agency to streamline its AMS approval and rules process. However, we doubt political leaders were asking FDA to form a think tank to resolve these matters. With nearly two decades of on-farm working knowledge, there are boatloads of practical evidence that robots can successfully milk cows in the U.S. as well as around the world.
One of FDA’s most recent concerns involved butterfly valves. But apparently with the creation of its task force, FDA regulators want to dig deeper. It’s time for a reality check.
The newly created task force includes FDA specialists from the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the Milk and Milk Products Branch, and Regional Milk Specialists. To keep this group grounded, we urge FDA to include state officials and dairy farmers on this task force, too. It’s these two latter groups that can bring grassroots’ input to this perceived problem by FDA.
Not only should FDA widen its scope of input, it should set a hard deadline of six months or less for this analysis. With continued immigration limbo and on-farm labor shortages, more and more dairy farmers are turning to robots to milk their cows. The current task force looks to us like another roadblock for those trying to solve labor issues in the countryside.
In the meantime, the lack of clarity leaves state regulators reluctant to give any advice on robot installations because FDA can swoop in and overrule any state’s decision. That, in turn, limits dairy farmer investment in this important technology. With 17 years of working knowledge on robots, FDA should wrap up this task force in short order and create a predictable and timely approval process for all new robot milking technology. For some of us, our future depends on it.