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DAFF releases results of 2009 National Residue Plan

(August 2010 - Press Release updated to include 21 pesticide results in the aquaculture sector omitted in error from the July version)

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) today released the results of testing carried out under the National Residue Control Plan for 2009, which is implemented under a service contract with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).

In 2009, 0.3% of samples from Irish animals and products were positive (85 positives from a total of 25,234 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. 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%) 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 In the case of routine targeted samples, where animals are not detained, in the event of a positive result, food is withdrawn from the market should a risk assessment determine this to be necessary.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 8 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% (i.e. 14 non-compliant results out of  14,003 samples). In the case of 11 of the animals involved, each carcase 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 3 cases, a risk assessment concluded that there was no need to recall food from the market. 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, 6 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, 9 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 3 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.

In the aquaculture sector, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA), with support from the Marine Institute (MI), is responsible for residue controls on farmed finfish under the national residue-monitoring plan. In 2009, in excess of 700 tests for 1,750 substances were carried out on 146 samples of farmed finfish for a range of residues.  As in previous years, no non-compliant results were reported in the routine 'target' national monitoring programme samples for farmed finfish in 2009. However during 2009, trace levels, under the limits of certainty for the laboratory method, of an unauthorised substance (leuco malachite green) were detected on one farm. The subsequent on-farm investigation resulted in restriction on movement of fish off the farm, follow-up sampling, and precautionary culling of fish. Low levels of this substance have potential to arise from carry-over in the fish-farm environment, so ongoing enhanced monitoring will continue on this farm. Overall, the outcome for aquaculture remains one of consistently low occurrence of residues in farmed finfish in recent years, with 0.23% non-compliant results from routine targeted in 2004, 0.09% in 2005 and 0% in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

In order to complement the approval and control arrangements of third country food plants exporting to EU, sampling and analysis for residues is also carried out on produce of animal origin entering the EU from Third Countries through Ireland. Of the 95 samples taken in 2009 from consignments imported directly into Ireland from Third Countries, two positive samples were identified, both in fishery products. One was consignment of Prawns from India which was positive for a banned antibiotic (Nitrofurans) and was subsequently withdrawn from the market. In a second instance during 2009, a consignment of Catfish from Thailand was found to have the substance Malachite Green at a level which, while technically non-compliant, was sufficiently low for EU legislation to stipulate that the product remain on the market.

Ireland's National Residue Control plan was approved by the European Commission in 2009 and a comprehensive Residue Monitoring Programme, which takes account of the 2009 results, is continuing in 2010.  The 2009 results are summarised in the Appendix.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. Under relevant EU legislation (Council Directive 96/23/EC) each member state is required to implement residue surveillance plans and to submit their programmes annually to the European Commission for approval. Ireland's Residue Monitoring Programme for 2009 was fully approved by the European Commission. Third Countries wishing to export animal products to the EU are similarly required to satisfy the European Commission that their residue surveillance measures provide equivalent guarantees for EU consumers.
  2. The national legal basis for the Residue Plan is provided for in the European Communities (Control of Animal Remedies and their Residues) Regulations 2009 (which updated earlier legislation principally to give effect to changes to the EU Hormone Ban).
  3. Implementation of the Plan involves taking samples from food producing species at both farm and primary processing plant levels. Samples are generally taken in accordance with criteria designed to target animals or products, which are more likely to contain illegal residues.  However, the results also reflect the outcome of sampling conducted in specific cases where the presence of illegal residues was suspected by Department inspectors, for example, on the basis of the ante or post-mortem examinations of animals at slaughterhouses. Where a positive result is detected in the laboratory, a follow-up investigation is conducted at the farm of origin with a view to taking the necessary enforcement measures up to and including legal action, where appropriate.
  4. In addition to official testing carried out by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food, primary processors in the red and white meat sectors and also in the milk sector are required to carry out residue testing under legislation put in place in 1998.  Processors are required to submit to the Department for approval annual residue monitoring plans.  Under this regime, processors are required to apply a progressively increasing scale of testing to suppliers of residue positive animals or milk.
  5. Since 1996, a total of 262 persons/companies have been convicted under this legislation, with 72 persons receiving custodial sentences (49 suspended) and total fines in excess of €967,000 imposed.
  6. An overview of the results in tabular format is given in the appendix. A further breakdown of the results can be accessed at: http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/foodsafetyconsumerissues/veterinarymedicinesresidues/

Appendix - Details of Non-Compliant Results (doc 23Kb) 

Date Released: 20 July 2010