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Safety of American Meat, Eggs and Milk Products

February 15, 1986

Your editorial concern (Jan. 19), "Food: Keep the Faith," for the continued safety of American meat, eggs and milk products is shared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Action to eliminate deficiencies found in a congressional hearing last July is already well under way.

Unfortunately, the recently published hearing report, on which you editorialized, did not reflect these improvements. Nor did the House subcommittee, in saying that a good many veterinary products are sold without pre-marketing approval; note that these include horse liniments, dog wormers, vitamins and minerals and so on--old products that have posed no danger to humans. FDA has reviewed and approved all of the modern systemic drugs labeled for food-bearing animals brought into use in recent years.

Indeed, America's food supply is the safest in the world. And, to the degree our resources permit, FDA will continue to ensure this high degree of safety.

Since 1972, tests that can detect residues have been a prerequisite for the approval of any potentially hazardous drug in food animals. And, during this period, FDA has continually increased its efforts to find ways to detect illegal residues of some older, previously marketed drug products in the tissue of food animals.

The weight-building DES hormone has been banned--and that ban enforced, to the chagrin of some beef and veal producers.

And, when FDA found that the dangerous drug chloramphenicol was being used in food animals, though it was not approved for them, FDA took steps to halt that use.

For the past five years, FDA has been educating drug distributors and veterinarians of the need for proper sale of animal drugs with prescription labeling. FDA is implementing programs with states to solicit their help in developing veterinary laws and taking enforcement actions needed to bar misuse of drugs.

In early 1985, despite budget constraints, I authorized 25 new field investigators for FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. Regulatory actions subsequently increased from 81 in 1983 to 253 in 1984 and 263 in 1985.

Constitutionally, however, it is your state and other states that regulate the practice of veterinary medicine. Thus, state laws and enforcement are essential to fully assure that products intended for pets and other non-food animals are not misused in food animals. FDA is encouraging improvements in state laws and enforcement activities governing the distribution and use of animal medications.

I hope that your editorial concern for pure foods will be translated into a review of your state's laws and enforcement activities to determine if they meet today's circumstances and reinforce FDA efforts to ensure that powerful prescription veterinary medicines do not get sold without prescription and used for food animals if they are not proven safe for such use--that is, if they are meant for horses, dogs or cats and not for chickens, pigs and cattle.


Rockville, Md.

Young is commissioner of Food and Drugs.

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