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Food Briefs

Drug Woes Resurface in Livestock Supply

August 07, 1986|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

The livestock industry's problems with improperly administered drugs resurfaced recently when federal health officials issued an urgent, nationwide recall of an antibiotic being administered illegally to cattle and swine.

The drug, chloramphenicol, had been approved only for treating infections in household pets. However, U.S. Food and Drug Administration agents found that it also was being applied to food-producing animals. The violations apparently have continued even though the agency banned any use of the drug earlier this year.

In its most recent action, the FDA warned that chloramphenicol can cause "fatal blood disorders in individuals handling the drug improperly or consuming drug residues in milk or meat from treated (livestock)."

An FDA spokesman said that there have been a number of blood disorders caused by chloramphenicol, but that none have been related to the drug's presence in food.

Complicating the recall effort is that the manufacturer, TechAmerica Group Inc., of Elwood, Kan., agreed to notify only the drug's wholesalers of the federal restriction. The company refused to further publicize the alert to such potential customers as veterinarians and farmers as is normally the practice when a firm's product is subject to such a top priority recall, according to the FDA's announcement of the action.

About 1,000 cases, or 12,000 pints, of chloramphenicol were sold in 1985, mostly in the West and Midwest. No estimate was given on how much of the antibiotic was administered to food-producing animals and whether the drug's residue ever entered the food chain.

Despite the ban, the FDA discovered that the solution was still stocked at veterinarians' offices and farms. The agency urged that all remaining amounts of chloramphenicol be returned to the manufacturer.

The latest incident presents a new twist in the debate over veterinarian practices in the livestock industry. Consumer groups and health officials have repeatedly warned against treating cattle, swine and poultry with the same antibiotics that are prescribed for humans.

There are fears that harmful bacteria resistant to the drugs may develop in farm animals. If these hard-to-kill or "super bacteria" are transferred through the food chain then they might prove to be untreatable in humans. Some epidemiologists believe that outbreaks of this nature have already occurred and a few instances have been documented in medical journals during the past several years. Most recently, Los Angeles County health officials suspected that a drug-resistant strain of salmonella originated in meat from dairy cows that were fed antibiotics.

Nevertheless, incidents such as the chloramphenicol problem pose a more direct threat to food safety because a drug residue can travel quickly through the food chain to consumers via just one animal's carcass. Theoretically, a super bacteria may develop after a herd has been fed antibiotics for several generations.

Anything but Peachy--The drought and severe heat plaguing the Southeast has begun taking a toll on local food prices. Some of the first commodities to be impacted by the weather problems are peaches and nectarines, according to the Fresh Produce Council.

Fruit crops in Georgia and the Carolinas have been dramatically reduced and, in some areas, destroyed. Consequently, supplies of this state's peaches and nectarines will be shipped to consumers in parts of the country that are normally served by the Southeast.

The greater nationwide demand on select California produce items is likely to lead to higher prices locally than is traditionally the case at this time of year.

Supermarkets' Expanding Repertoire--In the past few days, both Vons and Ralphs grocery companies have embarked on ventures that are likely to intensify the highly competitive Southern California supermarket field.

Ralphs' officials premiered Tuesday for the press the chain's Giant store at 88 E. Orangethorpe Ave. in Anaheim. This latest retailing concept presents a vastly expanded market featuring a food and household products inventory three times as large as that found in a typical supermarket. Designed as a one-stop shopping center, Giant also offers dry cleaning, video rentals and other services in about 100,000 square feet, or an area that is several times larger than most Ralphs.

The company plans to open 14 Giants in the coming months.

Meanwhile, Vons representatives previewed Tuesday the location of the company's first Tianguis market at 1201 W. Whittier Boulevard in Montebello. The store, scheduled to open in December, will feature products selected specifically to appeal to the Latino community with a large portion of shelf space devoted to items manufactured in Mexico. The company has announced that six Tianguis markets will open throughout Southern California in the next two years in hopes of attracting the increasing Latino population's food dollar.

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