USDA inspectors implementing more sensitive tests to detect antibiotics in livestock to help fortify meat safety after government report suggested consumers could be at risk from drug residues

LOS ANGELES , September 15, 2011 () – U.S. inspectors began on Sept. 12 to implement more sensitive tests to detect antibiotics in pork as part of an increased effort to fortify meat safety, The Wall Street Journal reported Sept. 13.

According to the publication, the move follows a 2010 government report suggesting that harmful drug residues could put consumers at risk.

A small but increasing amount of meat products are being touted as antibiotic free, though most meat isn’t. Livestock owners give millions of pounds of antibiotics including penicillin every year to cattle, hogs, chickens, and turkeys to help stop disease and promote fast growth. Conventional meat and pork are supposed to follow strict limits on drug levels, and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials test tens of thousands of animals annually for compliance.

The new tests will increase the number of antibiotics the USDA can detect in pork, and they can refuse to allow meat with too much residue from antibiotics into the market, officials say. More contaminated meat will end up being taken out of the food supply, according to USDA spokesman Dirk Fillpot.

The new measures in pork inspection come as the UDA has increased its scrutiny of disease-causing E. coli bacteria in beef to seven strains from only one.

The new tests follow a March 2010 report by the USDA’s inspector general that said there were “serious shortcomings” in their inspection programs. The USDA allowed meat from particular slaughterhouses into the market despite consistently finding samples with excessive drug levels, the report said.

The report said that there is a growing concern for the effects of the residues on humans who eat such meat, and penicillin residue in the meat could set of reactions in people who are allergic to the drug, though it failed to cite any particular cases.

There has been little study on the effect of a lifetime of human consumption of small quanitities of penicillin, neomycin, and other drugs left over in meat, though there isn’t any evidence of adverse affects from such consumption, according to Scott Hurd, an associate professor at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The primary source of this article is The Wall Street Journal, New York, New York, on Sept. 13, 2011.

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