Pharmaceutical residues and banned substances in animals and products of animal origin
Pharmaceutical residues and certain other substances are controlled in products of animal origin in accordance with EU Directive (96/23/EC). On the basis of production figures, the Directive defines the number of samples to be taken from different animal species, or products and the groups of substances to be analysed. The latest report on results from the EU was published in March 2020, based on the results for 2018. A total of 326,779 samples were examined in the European Union. Of these, 0.27% were found to contain residues of one of the analysed pharmaceuticals or substances, contrary to the regulations. The long-term EU average varied between 0.25% and 0.37% between 2007 and 2018 (EFSA 2020).
Although the EU Commission provides instructions for Member States on the minimum number of samples or substances to be analysed, as in many other residue analyses comparability is challenging. Member States partly analyse different substances, and these may vary from year to year. The comparative report includes the number of cases contrary to regulations by country and by substance. As multi-residue methods have become more common, nowadays even one sample may cause a peak in statistics, as in practical terms, the samples from one farm or, in the worst case scenario, one animal, may be the underlying cause of exceeding several limit values. Comparisons between countries should therefore be treated with caution.
The groups of substances analysed in the EU programme for the monitoring of residues are divided into the following main categories:
A) substances banned from production animals
B1) authorised veterinary medicinal products, antibiotics
B2) other authorised veterinary medicinal products, such as analgesics
B3) contaminants, such as pesticides, heavy metals, mycotoxins, or fish dyes
The use of prohibited substances indicates a production method contrary to regulations, including hormones used to accelerate growth. Most of the samples are taken from live animals (e.g. blood/urine) on farms. In addition produce, such as milk, is tested for prohibited substances.
For example milk, eggs, and samples taken in connection with slaughter, such as meat and liver, are tested for residues of authorised veterinary medicinal products. The use of veterinary medicines is not only permitted but integral to animal welfare, because production animals must be medicated when necessary. However, if residues are found in excess of the limit values, this indicates that the withdrawal periods have not been observed.
The table shows the results for 2018 for cattle, pigs, poultry and their meat, farmed fish, milk and eggs.
Number of non-compliant findings by category of substance and country in 2018
|Total||Number of samples 2018||Non-complience|
Source: EFSA 2020. Report for 2018 on the results from the monitoring of veterinary medicinal product residues and other substances in live animals and animal products, pp. 57-67. Link to the report Note: a The figures for France are missing from the report.
The number of non-compliant samples found in the EU is very low compared to the number of samples tested. Depending on the country, only a few dozen or hundred cases are detected among tens of thousands of samples.
Non-compliance related to cattle, pigs, poultry and their meat, farmed fish and the production of milk and eggs was detected in 0.27% of samples at EU level. The corresponding figure for Finland was 0%. In 2018, Finland, Sweden and Hungary were the only member states in which no forbidden agents were found in the samples.
The amount of samples containing mycotoxins varies greatly each year, and the results can seldom be predicted. Minute quantities of some mycotoxins such as alpha-Zearalenol or beta-Zearalenol may form as metabolic products of the mould Fusarium. This may be present in the feed of production animals, for example, which is why the quality of feed should be monitored in the early spring, in particular, and if there are problems with the preservation of feed due to factors such as poor weather conditions.
 EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), 2020. Report for 2018 on the results from the monitoring of veterinary medicinal product residues and other substances in live animals and animal products, Technical report, 74 pp. Link to the report
 The PXWeb statistical database contains a breakdown of the summary table by line of production/product. The EFSA report also includes sheep and goats, rabbit meat, horses, wild game, farmed game and honey. For more details, see the EFSA Report, pages 57-67. Link to the report
Photo in upper edge: Pixabay/Michal Jarmoluk