European figures show decline in veterinary drug residues

Residues of veterinary drugs in animal and human food decreased in 2020, according to figures recently published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Data for 2020 covers 620,758 samples reported from 27 EU Member States, plus Iceland and Norway. The percentage of samples that exceeded legal maximum levels was 0.19%, down from 0.3% in 2019. This is the lowest figure in 11 years, when non-compliance ranged from 0.25 at 0.37%.

The samples included cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, equids, poultry and aquaculture, as well as milk, eggs, honey, rabbit meat and game.

Most of the tests were targeted samples, but some were suspect or import samples. In 2020, there were 888 or 0.27% non-compliant results out of 331,789 targeted samples. The number of abnormal results was 1076; meaning that some samples contained multiple illegal results.

The presence of unauthorized substances, veterinary drug residues or chemical contaminants in food may pose a risk to public health.

The number of samples tested was lower in 2020 as the UK did not report data to EFSA as it left the European Union and issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reported researchers.

In-depth analysis of the numbers
In 2020, the frequency of non-compliant results is decreasing for antithyroid drugs, steroids and resorcylic lactones. For banned substances like chloramphenicol and nitrofurans, non‐compliance in 2020 was higher than in 2019 but lower compared to 2017 and 2018.

For chemical elements, including metals, compared to 2017 and 2019, the rate of non‐compliance in 2020 was lower but higher than in 2018. Decreases were seen for anthelmintics, organochlorine compounds, organophosphates , dyes and other substances.

For anticoccidials, nonsteroidal anti‐inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), other pharmacologically active substances and mycotoxins, the frequency of non‐compliance was higher but it was lower for other substances and environmental contaminants.

Non-compliant samples have been reported for acetamiprid in honey and fipronil in pigs. These substances are used as plant protection products.

For mycotoxins, non-compliant samples came from pigs, horses and milk due to zearalenone, aflatoxin M1 and ochratoxin A.

Malachite green and leuco-malachite green were found. The use of these colors is prohibited in EU food production, but residues may arise from background concentration in fish feed.

For the chemical elements, copper, cadmium, total mercury and lead were most frequently identified.

Of the 3,301 honey samples analyzed, 47 were non-compliant, as reported by 10 countries. Out of 18,869 milk samples, 41 non-conformities were recorded by 15 countries. Of 11,251 egg samples, 31 were non-compliant, as reported by 10 countries.

Of the 1,283 farmed game samples, 24 were non-compliant, as reported by four countries. Of 2,257 samples tested for wild game, 152 were non-compliant from 12 countries.

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