Drug Residues in Meat?

Myth: Ranchers aren’t doing anything about drug residues in beef.

Fact: Farmers and ranchers are committed to raising safe, wholesome beef.  In addition, the United States has a complex residue control system, with rigorous processes for approval, sampling, testing, and enforcement activities. The National Residue Program is designed to prevent the occurrence of violative levels of chemical residues in meat and poultry products. Three principal agencies are involved in the control of residues in meat and poultry products:

    1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
    2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
    3. U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA)

Hamburger patties in a beef processing plant. Source: Grist

What is a residue?

A residue refers to the presence of veterinary drugs or pesticides in meat. These residues are usually measured in parts per million or parts per billion.  The overwhelming majority of meat products contain no residues or residues within the government prescribed tolerance levels. Veterinary drug tolerances are established by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.  EPA establishes tolerances for registered pesticides under the Food Quality Protection Act.

How are veterinary drug (including antibiotics) residues controlled?

  • The FDA approves veterinary drugs and the specific dosage rates to treat specific diseases or conditions, and farmers, ranchers and veterinarians are required by law to follow the FDA-approved label to administer the drug appropriately and correctly.
  • Even after they are approved, veterinary drugs are continuously monitored and must be re-evaluated annually. They only remain on the market if they continue to be proven safe for the animal, human consumption and the environment.
  • The FDA also sets withdrawal times for all veterinary drugs, including antibiotics. Withdrawal time is the amount of time required for the drug to be fully processed by the animal’s body; the withdrawal time depends on the drug but typically ranges from zero to 60 days.
  • Beef farmers and ranchers, along with veterinarians, are committed to following guidelines to ensure no meat with antibiotic residue above the FDA tolerance level enters our food supply.
  • The FSIS routinely tests meat to ensure its safety according to standards set by the FDA. At the plant, USDA inspectors take samples to confirm no residue violations are present.

What is the Repeat Residue Violators list?

  • The Repeat Residue Violators list is a publicly available list of producers who have had more than one drug or pesticide residue violation. This list is used by USDA inspectors to put further scrutiny on cattle from those producers and by cattle buyers to know their supplier has previously had a residue violation.

How does the Residue Violators list work?

  • If a cattle producer violates the prescribed residue levels more than once they are put on the Repeat Residue Violators list.
  • This list is updated weekly by FSIS – the entity that has inspectors at every federally-inspected beef processing plant throughout the country. A total of 27 states have state-inspected beef processing plants, meat from these plants can only be sold within the state. All meat products that cross state borders must by inspected by FSIS. State meat and poultry inspection programs participate in the National Residue Program.
  • A producer stays on the Residue Violators List for one year. The list you can find online is every producer who has had a residue violation over the past 365 days, not just the past week.

To learn more about antibiotic residues, watch this video of experts developed by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

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