Keeping Our Food Safe from Animal Drugs

FDA Consumer, July-August 1986 | Go to article overview
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Keeping Our Food Safe from Animal Drugs

Keeping Our Food Safe from Animal Drugs

Besides being responsible for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of human drugs, FDA has a similar, although less well-known, responsibility for veterinary drugs. To a great degree, this involves the safety of these drugs not only for animals but also for people, because of the widespread use of drugs in animals raised for food.

To get a better understanding of how FDA protects the public health from unsafe residues of veterinary drugs in meat, eggs, and milk, FDA Consumer editor Bill Rados interviewed Dr. Gerald Guest, acting director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Q. Dr. Guest, both you and FDA Commissioner Frank Young have been widely quoted in the press as saying that America's food supply "is the safest in the world.' What do you base that on?

A. Let me talk a little about the responsibilities of the Center for Veterinary Medicine and what we're all about. I think then you'll understand why I believe our country's food supply is so safe. The Food and Drug Administration, through this center, is responsible for assuring that animal drugs and medicated feeds are safe and effective and that food from treated animals is safe to eat.

Prior to approval, a new animal drug must undergo extensive testing. The drug sponsor--usually that means the manufacturer--must conduct laboratory and clinical investigations that establish the safety and effectiveness of the substance. The sponsor must also demonstrate that any drug residues remaining in a food-producing animal at slaughter pose no threat to human health.

Once the drug is approved, based on all these data, a monitoring/investigating system takes over. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service obtains samples of body tissue from slaughtered animals and analyzes those samples. Their findings are sent to FDA field offices for follow-up by our field investigators. Regulatory action is taken against those responsible for drug residues above the legal limit, and those animal carcasses found to have dangerous residues are kept from the marketplace.

Taking all of these activities into account--from extensive pre-clearance requirements through rigorous surveillance, monitoring and enforcement activities--I do indeed believe that Americans have the safest food supply in the world.

Q. How much are drugs used in livestock?

A. About four out of five food animals are given drugs during their lifetime. Some receive medication to treat specific illnesses. Often, however, drugs are given to entire herds or flocks-- usually in their feed--to prevent disease outbreaks and to help the animals grow faster on less feed. About 30 percent of the chickens, 80 percent of veal calves and pigs, and 60 percent of the beef cattle raised for food in the United States are routinely given medicated feeds.

Q. How many different drugs are used? Are they all really necessary?

A. About 750 drug products are approved for use in food animals. That's about 100 different basic drugs. Virtually all of these drugs are needed to insure the continued availability of safe, wholesome and affordable animal-derived foods to the American public.

Q. What percentage of the animals that USDA checks are found to have illegal residues?

A. Residues above the legal limits are found in approximately .2 percent of poultry samples; for livestock, the rate is 1 percent.

Q. How is this checked? Does USDA check every animal for every drug?

A. USDA collects samples for routine meat inspection. They refer any violative samples to FDA for subsequent enforcement actions.

Perhaps I should explain here that FDA establishes the allowable conditions of drug use and establishes the allowable tolerances or action levels for residues of those drugs.

Each sample cannot be tested for every drug, nor is there reason to do so.

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Keeping Our Food Safe from Animal Drugs


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