Dioxin Discovery Leads National Residue Plan Results

The discovery of dioxin in samples of pig fat is the major feature in the Irish Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) results of testing carried out under the National Residue Control Plan for 2008, writes TheCattleSite senior editor Chris Harris.
calendar icon 21 July 2009
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During 2008, more than 31,000 samples of Irish food of animal origin were tested, covering all 11 food-producing species.

The report says that the discovery of the presence of dioxins in a routine sample of porcine fat tested in November 2008 demonstrates the ongoing effectiveness of DAFF's residue surveillance as a public health protection measure.

The discovery led to an immediate tracing and follow-up investigation, involving restriction of affected farms and withdrawal of pig meat from the market place.

The broader issues relating to the incident were laid out in the "Report on the contamination of Irish pork products" by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and are also subject to examination by an inter-agency review group, chaired by Dr Patrick Wall of UCD, which will report to the Ministers for Health and Children and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The outcome of the major sampling operation, which formed part of the dioxin follow-up investigation, is the significant factor contributing to an increase in the overall level of positives under the Residue Plan in 2008 (i.e. from 0.08 per cent in 2007 - itself an all time low in recent years - to 0.5 per cent in 2008).

Some 90 or 55 per cent of the 165 positive results overall (out of a total of 31,512 samples tested), resulted from the dioxin incident and associated follow-up sampling of animals (the follow-up operation also included testing of other material, such as animal feed and effluent).

Antibiotic Furazolidone Found

The 2008 results include a single case relating to the detection of a banned medicinal substance, that is furazolidone (an antibiotic substance from the nitrofuran group, which has been banned in the EU on public health grounds since 1995).

In this case, a routine sample taken at farm level from a beef animal was positive for a metabolite of furazolidone.

The Department instigated an immediate investigation, involving restricting movement from the herd and further representative sampling.

Nine further animals from the same farm confirmed positive for this substance and were removed from the food chain, along with the initial non-compliant animal.

The outcome of this investigation suggests that this was an isolated incident, the report says.

"It is the Department's general policy to initiate prosecutions in respect of all illegal use of banned substances, as well as increased monitoring of the herd in question," says DAFF.

Banned Substances as BAckground Levels

In 2008, DAFF also fully investigated two other cases where laboratory findings indicated a potential use of banned substances.

These investigations concluded that no illegal administration had taken place and that these, in effect, were background levels.

One case related to two animals, which showed a presence at a very low level of 'SEM' (Semicarbazide), which can be an indicator of the potential presence of the banned antibiotic substance; nitrofurazone.

In the other case, 12 animals showed a presence at a very low level of Thiouricil, which can be an indicator of the potential presence of thyrostatic substances covered by the EU Hormone Ban.

These findings, which reflect the growing sensitivity and sophistication of testing methodologies, are consistent with similar findings elsewhere in the EU and the current scientific evidence indicates that at low levels, they can be naturally occurring levels or they can be caused by factors such as the animals' diet.

The scientific evidence is also to the effect that, in any event, presence of the substances at these low levels does not pose a risk to public health.

Poultry Sector

In the poultry sector, 13 liver and five egg 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 on the basis of risk assessment that a specific risk to consumers of poultry meat and eggs resulting from these positives does not arise.

The European Food Safety Authority has also concluded that residues of Nicarbizan and other related substances at the levels detected do not pose a risk to public health and the European Commission, which recognises the practical problems associated with avoiding carryover into food, is continuing to examine solutions.

Of the remaining non-compliant results, 32 samples were found to contain residues of substances authorised for use in veterinary medicines.

Testing for Antibiotic Medicines

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 2008 was 0.12 per cent (i.e. 24 non-compliant results out of 19,577 samples).

The bovine sector accounted for 13 of these, while two were identified in the ovine sector.

In all cases, the animals involved had been detained on suspicion by the Department's veterinary inspectors in slaughter plants and were excluded from the food chain.

In the pig sector, eight of the 11,926 tests carried out for antibiotics were positive and in the milk sector,one sample out of 269 tested was positive for penicillins. In addition, eight samples contained residues of anthelmintics, which are medicines approved for the control and treatment of parasites. Full on-farm investigations are undertaken in all cases and appropriate follow-up action is taken, which can include a penalty applied to the farmer's Single Farm Payment.

In the wild game sector, a sample confirmed positive for an environmental contaminant, lead. Investigations indicated that this was due to contamination with lead shot, rather than environmental contamination.

Welcome Trend in Aquaculture

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 for the national residue-monitoring plan.

In 2008, in excess of 650 tests for 2,073 determinants were carried out on 162 samples of farmed finfish for a range of residues.

As in the previous three years, no non-compliant results were reported in the national monitoring programme for farmed finfish in 2008.

"This welcome outcome continues the downward trend of very low levels of residues in farmed finfish in recent years (0.23 per cent in 2004, 0.09 per cent in 2005 and zero per cent in 2006, 2007 and 2008)," says the report.

The Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) of the European Commission, as part of its ongoing programme of inspections in EU member states and in Third Countries, carried out an audit of Ireland's National Residue Plan during April 2008 as part of a broader examination of food safety controls being conducted over the year.

The report of this audit has not yet been received.

Sampling and analysis for residues is also carried out on produce of animal origin imported from Third Countries to complement the approval and control arrangements implemented at EU level by the European Commission. Of the 92 samples taken from consignments imported directly into Ireland from Third Countries, no non-compliant sample was identified in 2008.

A comprehensive Residue Monitoring Programme, which takes account of the 2008 results, is continuing in 2009.

The Plan, which is implemented under a service contract with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), was approved by the European Commission.

Details of Non-compliant Results

*Numbers relate to samples taken on a routine targeted basis and also on suspicion, including follow-up investigations.

July 2009
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