The National Residue Program needs changes to be sure all drugs that may be in meat are detected, the Center for Food Safety says in a rulemaking petition submitted to USDA’s Food Safty Inspection Service.

The National Residue Program, or NRP, exists to identify, rank, and analyze chemical contaminants in meat, poultry, and egg products.

“While the NRP tests for some veterinary drug residues, it does not test for all the veterinary drugs that may be used in food animals,” the Washington D.C.-based Center for Food Safety (CFS) stated in the Monday petition. “This is insufficient for FSIS to ‘protect the health and welfare of consumers’ as required by federal law.”

In an attempt to change the current policy, the center has submitted a 24-page petition, seeking review from theFood Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The CFS contends the FSIS is using “outdated” tolerance level standards set by the Food and Drug Administration. “If drug residues are found on animal tissue at levels below these outdated thresholds, NRP’s testing protocol will falsely classify that tissue as ‘negative’ and without drug residue present.”

“This negative/positive binary testing system based on FDA’s tolerance levels is insufficient to protect the health and welfare of consumers because it ignores the fact that FSIS is capable of detecting drug residues at much lower levels,” according to the CFS.

Ryan Talbott, a CFS staff attorney in Portland, OR, submitted the rulemaking petition. The agency needs to update its testing techniques to provide for the lowest limits of detection, and it needs to make information about all detected drug residues in meat available to the public, Talbott says.

In a statement released with the petition, the CFS says that thanks to “the efficacy of antibiotics,” they can be used sparingly, which helps slow antibiotic resistance or superbugs.

“Considering 80 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. are marketed to animal producers, our food system has a long way to go before it administers antibiotics sustainably,” CFS said.

The organization says, “the industrial meat system.” is weakening the effectiveness of antibiotics by their use in healthy animals.

“The meat industry’s over-reliance on these drugs is a symptom of our fundamentally broken industrial food system that strives to produce the most meat, the fastest — at the expense of food safety and antibiotic resources that are critical to our survival,” Talbott said.

“If meat companies are derailed by FSIS using the latest technology to show us what pharmaceutical drugs are really lurking in our food, we’d be better off if those companies started raising livestock and poultry without any.”

Ractopamine: A case in point
CFS offers ractopamine as an example of how FSIS could do a better job of measuring drug residue levels.  A once popular feed additive for promoting lean pork, producers have lately been dropping it because of bans in foreign markets.

FDA tolerance levels for ractopamine are 150 parts per billion (ppb) for liver and 50 ppb for muscle meat.  The current FSIS minimum level of applicability for detecting ractopamine is 75 ppb (liver) and 25 ppb (muscle)

But CFS points to the use of liquid chromatography as a measurement technology with a detection capability of 30 parts per trillion.  The organization favors reporting “all detected residue levels.

CFS points to recent research by the University of Michigan, showing meat and poultry sold at retail in the United States test positive for multiple drug residues in a single package.  The UM study found that for every sample that tested positive for three or more of 12 veterinary drugs tested for, with six samples testing positive for nine or more residues.

CFS claims 950,000 “consumer and farmer supporters” across the country with interests in organic food and farming.

FSIS, FDA, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly administer the NRP.

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