Animal husbandry is reliant on effective drugs. Pharmacological treatment to prevent or cure animal diseases is not only important from a financial aspect; it is also part of the responsible care for animals. But when animals are kept for human consumption, drug residues can enter the food chain and this can pose risks to consumers.

Modern farming relies heavily on veterinary drugs to prevent food-producing animals from contracting diseases and to reduce feeding times. In many of the largest meat-producing countries various types of veterinary pharmaceuticals such as antimicrobials, anti-inflammatories and hormones can be lawfully used to facilitate animal growth and health.

However, incorrect use of even legal doses of such substances, without allowing for adequate withdrawal times, as well as the administration of doses above regulated levels may lead to the introduction of drug residues into the food chain. The fact that almost half of all animal drugs used world-wide are feed additives1 reflects the importance that medicinal compounds play in what consumers eat.

Effects on Human Health

The consumption of antibiotic residues with food can have adverse effects on consumers due to the various degrees of toxicity of such substances. The ingestion of animal drug residues has been linked to increased drug-resistance of bacteria that cause human diseases. In an attempt to minimize these effects, the European Union has since 1988 banned imports of animal products from countries that allow the use of growth agents in animal rearing.

The presence of animal drug residues is under strict regulation worldwide. Regional and international organizations such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission are working towards the harmonization of national legislations on chemical residues in food, through the introduction of specific statutory limitations.2

In several countries control systems are now in place to monitor food-producing animals for the presence of illegal drug residues or residues of legal drugs but in concentrations above internationally accepted levels. These systems generally enforce a control on the use of veterinary drugs and monitor the required withdrawal periods to ensure enough time has passed between the administration of pharmaceuticals and animal slaughter. The third control method is the use of comprehensive lab analyses of animal product samples to identify the presence of drug residues.

Producers' Responsibilities

Whether you produce, process, import or export animal-based food, legislation obliges you to comply with the permitted maximum limits. Farmers and producers need to keep accurate treatment records for all animals and use drugs in accordance with their labeling and prescribed doses. Respecting the required withdrawal times is also crucial.
Ensuring that the animal-based food you produce, process or import contains no drug residues above allowed levels is worthwhile. With governments having controls systems in place at various levels along the food chain, consumer safety as well as your profits, track record and brand depend on it.

SGS has the resources to effectively help you through: Extensive competences in the area of animal drug analytics.

Knowledge database of the regulations applicable to the various types of food products in each market. SGS food safety labs are able to determine individual substance groups and are accredited to perform LC-MS/MS (liquid chromatography & mass spectrometry) analysis processes. SGS experts can reliably determine the maximum residue levels for various pharmacological substances in animal food products.

The scope of our analysis spectrum allows you to offer your customers the security that your food meets all statutory requirements. Associations or consumer protection organizations can also use our results for their monitoring strategies.

1Food Safety Concerns of Veterinary Drug Residues in Meat and Meat Products 2Codex Guidelines for Design and Implementation of Programs Associated with Use of Veterinary Drugs


Rainer Hofmann

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About SGS

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