Residue Testing in Ireland Revealed Very Few Positives

In 2009, just 0.3 per cent of samples from Irish animals and products were positive for residues, according to the the National Residue Control Plan for 2009. In the poultry sector, nine non-compliant samples were found to contain residues of a feed additive and one sample was positive for diclofenac.
calendar icon 23 July 2010
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Under the Irish plan, which is implemented under a service contract with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), 85 positives were found from a total of 25,213 samples.

"This is a very favourable outcome and continues the trend of low levels of residues in Irish food over the last number of years," the Irish Agriculture Ministry said.

"A particularly reassuring aspect of the 2009 results for consumers is that there continues to be no evidence of administration of illegal growth promoters, notwithstanding a continued high level of monitoring both at farm and factory levels."

Full on-farm investigations are undertaken in all non-compliant residue cases and appropriate follow-up action is taken including, where appropriate, the application of a penalty to the farmer's Single Farm Payment.

The scope of testing under the Plan is very comprehensive, covering all 11 animal/food areas and 18 distinct residue groups (each group is in turn comprised of a number of sub-groups).

These groups fall into four broad categories: banned substances, such as growth-promoting hormones; approved veterinary medicines; approved animal feed additives and environmental contaminants.

Samples are sourced both from animals directly and from animal products at farm level as well as at primary processing and packing plants; this strategic approach reflects current scientific and analytical advice designed to maximise the effectiveness of the testing regime. While the majority of samples (80 per cent) are taken on the basis of standard targeting criteria, some samples are taken as a result of suspicion of the presence of illegal residues arising, for example, from ante- or post-mortem investigations; in such cases the animals concerned are withheld from the food chain, pending the outcome of the test.

In the case of routine targeted samples, where animals are not detained, in the event of a positive result, food is withdrawn from the market should a risk assessment determine this to be necessary.

Samples are analysed at officially approved laboratories holding accreditation to the International Standard (ISO 17025) and incorporating modern analytical technology.

The laboratory network continuously engages in research and development of analytical methodologies in line with scientific developments under the guidance of the EU reference laboratories.

This ensures improvement in analytical capability with a view to meeting current and future requirements towards enhancement of consumer protection.

The fruits of this work are evidenced by the fact that laboratories are now capable of detecting residues at extremely low levels which, in many cases, are far below the levels at which the residues concerned pose a threat to human health.

Reflecting its vigilant approach, in the course of the year, the Department fully investigated laboratory findings which indicated any potential use of banned substances.

Thiouricil, which may indicate the potential use of growth promoters covered by the EU Hormone Ban, was found in 27 animals in the bovine, porcine and ovine sectors and eight animals in the bovine and ovine sectors showed a presence of 'SEM' (semicarbazide), an indicator of the potential use of the banned antibiotic substance nitrofurazone.

The Department's investigations concluded that no illegal administration had taken place and the current national and EU scientific evidence is that the low levels found, which are most likely attributable to factors such as the animals" diet, do not pose a risk to public health.

Residues of authorised veterinary medicines in excess of thresholds set under EU legislation (Maximum Residue Limits) were found in a total of 33 samples.

In the case of antibiotic medicines, where testing continues at levels well in excess of those required by EU obligations, the overall positive level across all species in 2009 was 0.1 per cent, i.e. 14 non-compliant results out of 14,003 samples).

In the case of 11 of the animals involved, each carcass had been detained on suspicion by the Department's veterinary inspectors in slaughter plants and was excluded from the food chain on foot of the analytical results; in the other three cases, a risk assessment concluded that there was no need to recall food from the market.

Farm Animal Sector

In the poultry sector, investigation of one sample which was positive for diclofenac (a non-steroidal drug) found that this was due to contamination of the sample rather than any breach by the farmer concerned.

In the ovine sector, six samples contained residues of anthelmintics (medicines authorised for the control and treatment of parasites) which indicated that specified post-treatment withdrawal periods had not been observed.

Recent advances in analytical techniques, which led to the detection of very low levels of residues of certain authorised flukicides in 12 bovine milk samples, revealed, on further investigation, that labelling of the medicines concerned needed to be updated.

Among the range of measures taken was action by the Irish Medicines Board to have the medicinal product labels amended by the licence holders. However, a risk assessment by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland concluded that the very low levels found did not require withdrawal of product.

In the poultry sector, nine non-compliant samples were found to contain residues of nicarbazin, a feed additive approved for use to maintain healthy poultry flocks.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and the Department are satisfied, in the absence of definitive EU safety thresholds and on the basis of risk assessment, that a specific risk to consumers of poultry meat resulting from these positives does not arise. The Department has fully investigated the reasons underlying the presence of these residues. FSAI and the Department await the setting at EU level of legally binding residue levels for nicarbazin which will facilitate more focussed and effective action in the future.

In the wild game sector, a routine targeted sample was positive for the environmental contaminant, lead.

The 2009 results also include a carry-over of three porcine samples, associated with the already reported dioxin incident in 2008 that were tested in early January 2009 and found positive for polychlorinated bi-phenyls (PCB's). The animals concerned had already been withheld from the food chain as part of the follow-up measures.

July 2010

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