The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s (DAFM) National Residue Control Plan (NRCP) provides for the testing for residues of certain substances in live animals and animal products. In accordance with EU legislation, testing is carried out at farm level and in the primary processing facilities (slaughterhouses) because these are the most suitable locations for testing for the presence of illegal substances. In particular, where an equine has been treated with phenylbutazone (commonly referred to as ‘bute’), the positives for residues of the medicine are more likely to be detected in a fresh meat sample rather than a processed meat sample as this substance is not a very stable compound and breaks down quite quickly. Tests are not routinely carried out at secondary processing plants or prepared products. National Residue testing is carried out on an ongoing basis throughout the year at farm and slaughterhouse level with 19,500 tests completed last year. In addition, primary processors are required to carry out self-monitoring plans for the detection of residues of substances, veterinary medicines and contaminants.
With regard to Phenylbutazone (Bute), testing is conducted every year under the NRCP as part of the testing programme for substances in category B2 (e) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Testing for Bute is carried out in samples from bovine, porcine, ovine, caprine and equine animals as well as poultry, farmed game and milk. In 2011, 12,575 horses were slaughtered and approx 280 equine samples were tested, 58 for Bute. Final equine slaughter figures are not yet available for 2012 but approximately 330 samples were tested, 104 for Bute. As in the case of residues generally, testing is not routinely conducted on processed or prepared products.
One positive sample for phenylbutazone was found under the National Residue Control Plan in 2010 at a level of 10 parts per billion (10ppb). While the result was above the minimum limit detectable, it was at an extremely low level in terms of human health risk. A follow up investigation was conducted by DAFM and resulted in an increase in testing of animals presented by the owner of the animal from which the positive sample was derived. No further positives were detected.
As agreed at the meeting which I convened last week, it has been agreed at EU level to introduce an EU wide month programme of control measures, including significant testing of samples for bute. The intention behind the programme is to publish the findings of the first month’s testing on 15th April following their presentation to the Commission, and then review the programme. The results of this control programme would provide an evidence base for the possible consideration of further risk based measures.