WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration has not protected consumers from exposure to dangerous drugs that are fed to animals and can turn up in meat, dairy products and eggs, a House committee charged Sunday in a new report.
The House Government Operations Committee said that the FDA has lost sight of its mission to protect the public from the residues of veterinary drugs.
"FDA has consistently disregarded its responsibility for assuring the safety of drugs used in food-producing animals," said Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), chairman of the panel's subcommittee on human resources, in releasing the report.
"FDA has repeatedly put what it perceives are interests of veterinarians and the livestock industry in the availability of additional animal drugs ahead of its legal obligation to protect consumers from the potentially hazardous residues they may leave in meat, milk and eggs," Weiss said.
The committee's report was based on two days of congressional hearings last summer, in which FDA officials conceded that only a small percentage of the estimated 20,000 animal drugs on the market have been approved by the agency.
Dr. Lester Crawford, then head of the FDA's center for veterinary medicine, told the subcommittee that the agency has approved only about 2,500 drugs.
"We're not able to monitor for all the (drug) products that might be used," Crawford testified. Although federal law requires such monitoring, Crawford said the situation "is not completely under control and never has been. We do the best we can."
Crawford also told the panel, however, that there was no evidence of people having been harmed by consuming meat, cheese or other foods contaminated with drug residues.
The House committee said in its report that testimony before the panel showed:
--That 90% or more of the new animal drugs on the market have not been approved by the FDA as safe and effective, although such findings are required by law.
--That drugs approved by the FDA often were approved years ago, using safety standards now considered inadequate. But, the committee said, the FDA in 1982 canceled a program to review these drugs under modern safety standards.
--That the FDA allows veterinarians to prescribe new animal drugs for unapproved purposes, although such a practice increases the potential public exposure to drug residues in foods, and is illegal.
--That highly toxic veterinary prescription drugs are widely sold over the counter, "in blatant disregard of any public health consequences resulting from their misuse."
--That the FDA has failed to move against drugs that have been found to be potential cancer-causing agents since they were first marketed.
In his testimony last summer, Crawford agreed that there were "questions about the continued approvability" of two drugs cited by Weiss, but he defended the agency's failure to begin action against them by citing the long administrative procedures involved.