The safety of veterinary drugs is as much a question of human health as it is animal health-a fact reflected in the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulations and policies, which seek proof that a veterinary product (say, one intended for cattle) would not end up expressed in a food product as residue or cause antibiotic resistance that could ultimately harm humans.
This stance has already caused many veterinary products to either never reach the market or be removed from the market in the US. But as three prominent US-based consumer groups ask, is there more US regulators could be doing to protect US consumers?
Letter to FDA
In a 20 August 2013 letter authored by Consumers Union, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) to FDA, the US Department of Agriculture (DOA) and the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), the groups reference an upcoming meeting of the Codex Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Food (CCRVDR).
The CCRVDR is a committee of the Codex Alimentarius, an international food standards committee supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN), and is intended to "determine priorities for the consideration of residues of veterinary drugs," including acceptable levels of those substances.
That meeting, to be held 26-30 August in Minneapolis, is set to make recommendations on a number of veterinary drugs, including several controversial ones that various regulatory bodies believe may be cancer-causing or have mutagenicity concerns.
Those drugs: carbadox, two nitrofurans (nitrofural and furazolidone), chlorpromazine (thorazine), stilbenes (e.g. diethylstilbestrol, DES), olaquindox and the four nitroimidazoles (dimetridazole, ipronidazole, metronidazole and ronidazole).
"With the exception of carbadox, all these drugs have been banned for use in the US due to human health concerns (e.g. carcinogenicity and mutagenicity) or not allowed on the market," the groups explain. In the EU, all 10 are banned due to the same concerns.
The three groups said they believe in light of these concerns, the US should recommend that these drugs be banned from use in all food-producing animals.
Stronger Position Sought
However, they note that the US has currently adopted a "much weaker position, urging that countries should be allowed to use those veterinary drugs as long as they do not leave 'residues of toxicological concern."
This potentially clears the way for low-dose uses of the drug, or the ability to treat an animal well before it is ultimately processed for food.
The groups, however, maintain that "the current US position potentially puts American consumers at risk," adding that "no safe level of the drug residue" in food exists.
The groups said the US position should be that the drugs should be banned in other countries as well, "otherwise American consumers may be exposed to food containing residues of that drug in food imports from countries that still allow the drug to be used, or when they eat meat while traveling or living in other countries."
"Thus, we urge the US to support language that recommends that countries not allow the use of these veterinary drugs."
Letter to FDA