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Antibiotics in foods: an instrumental controversy

In fact, EU rules are always scrupulously applied

If there is one risk that European consumers do not run, it is that of absorbing antibiotics from the foods they eat. To protect them are the strict rules of the European Union which set a period of time necessary for the elimination of any traces of antibiotics or other medicines from the animal, before the products enter the food chain.

By law, food products, such as meat, milk or eggs, obtained from animals treated with veterinary medicines or exposed to biocides used in breeding, must not contain any residue that could be dangerous for the health of the consumer. EU rules also set standards for 'withdrawal periods' which indicate the minimum amount of time required between the treatment of an animal and when the animal or animal products are allowed to enter the food chain.

Waiting periods are established for each veterinary medicinal product to ensure that, if residues arise from the treatment of animals, they are below specific and scientifically established limits, called maximum residue limits (MRLs). When a drug is administered to an animal, the presence of drug residues in the animals and their food products decreases over time as it is metabolized and eliminated from the animal's body. Tests to establish how quickly these levels decrease are part of the food safety tests that animal health companies must submit when applying for a license to sell a new veterinary medicine for use in food-producing animals.

This ensures that no dangerous residues are found in the food. As a strict precaution, maximum effective residue limits are often thousands of times lower than the level at which any trace of the medicine would impact the health of the consumer. These limits are strictly monitored by national authorities to ensure, through residue surveillance schemes, that all foods from products of animal origin are safe.

All animal medicines are strictly regulated, which means that their quality, safety for animals, people and the environment, and efficacy are guaranteed. Additionally, a number of safety factors are in place to protect consumers. Where animals have been treated with medicines, regulatory bodies such as the European Medicines Agency and Codex, a standards body supported by FAO and WHO, set strict limits on the residual levels that can enter the food chain.

All veterinary medicines, including antibiotics used in farm animals, have maximum residue limits set by the Lmr regulation 470/2009 and listed in the regulation 37/2010. The EMA's committee for veterinary medicinal products (CVMP) also evaluates the safety of the residues. The determination of maximum residue limits involves several steps. At each stage, regulators build a safety factor to minimize potential risks to those consuming food from medicinally treated animals.

The latest report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the results of the monitoring of residues of veterinary medicines shows that for total residues, over 620,000 samples collected in all EU countries, plus Iceland and Norway , the presence of undesirable substances beyond the limits were found in only 0.17% of cases. Furthermore, for antibacterials, which include antibiotics, only 0.14% of the samples showed a presence beyond the limits (showing a continuous decrease in positive samples). The samples are analyzed according to specific EU standards, i.e. Council Directive 96/23/EC on measures for the monitoring of certain substances and their residues in live animals and products of animal origin.

The constant successes in ensuring food safety derive from the greater respect by farmers of waiting times for treatment, and the constant decline in the use of antibiotics, confirming the commitment of the livestock sector and veterinary medicine in the fight against resistance to antibiotics. A good reason to consider most of the controversies around sectors such as the poultry sector to be instrumental.

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EFA News - European Food Agency