TWIN FALLS, Idaho — While the beef industry has made big strides in preventing drug residues in beef, experts say there is still room for improvement.
Food-animal production requires management of animal health, which may require the use of drugs to treat illness or gain efficiencies. Impacts to human health can occur if animals are not treated with drugs, but they can also occur from drug residues in meat if the drugs are not used properly, said Benton Glaze, extension beef specialist with the University of Idaho.
In addition to harming public perception of beef, drug residues exceeding legal tolerances are costly to producers, he said during one presentation of the University’s winter beef schools in Twin Falls Dec. 2.
The National Beef Quality Assurance program has worked to build awareness of the issue and arm producers with residue avoidance protocols. Those protocols revolve around three tenets – record, check and go.
Producers need to record pertinent information about the animals they treat; check animal shipping dates to slaughter with drug withdrawal periods and determine if animals are healthy for shipping, Glaze said.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service enforces tolerance levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, and violations can result in regulatory actions, fines, herd quarantine, and criminal prosecution.
Residues over set tolerances can lead to carcass condemnation, production-chain investigations, on-farm investigations, farm monitoring, and inclusion in a list of repeat violators.
“It can get pretty serious along the way,” Glaze said.
Causes for residue violations include not following drug-label directions, off-label use, inadequate withdrawal period, inadequate records, lack of animal identification, lack of a good relationship with a veterinarian, and lack of employee training.
Withdrawal time depends upon the drug, the dose, the formulation, the species, and how an individual animal metabolizes the drug, which can be affected by such things as dehydration or kidney failure.
Producers can minimize the risk of shipping animals above tolerance levels by keeping good records of animals, treatments and products and checking those records before an animal is shipped, Glaze said.
They should also document treatment protocols, select drugs for their level of efficacy, always follow the label, keep files on legal over-the-counter or extra-label drug use and keep those labels and directions, adhere to withdrawal periods, train employees, and demand adherence to protocols.
Consumers and the public are going to continue to scrutinize the industry and its products. Reports of drug residues in meat give the beef industry a black eye and results in financial losses to all segments of the beef industry, he said.
A study of meat residue violations by Washington State University for 12 months in 2009 and 2010 in the Pacific Northwest, California and Arizona showed 403 beef residue violations. Of those, 337 were in beef from dairy cows.
Frequency of verifying withdrawal times – 85.8%
Frequency of tracking withdrawal times with written records – 46.7%
Frequency of off-label medication use without veterinarian’s direction – 74.2%
Cattle health treatment protocols written down – 31.3%
SOURCE: 2011 National Beef Quality Audit (all segments of the pre-slaughter beef industry, including dairy)