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USDA Intensifies Emergency Testing of Sulfamethazine Levels in Hogs

April 21, 1988|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

Federal officials continue to discover illegal levels of the drug sulfamethazine in swine. The antibiotic, administered to hogs as a growth enhancement or to treat respiratory infections, is a suspected carcinogen in humans.

Last week, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials announced finding yet another case of excessive sulfamethazine residue. The recent discovery brings the total number of violations to 22 since the agency began intensive monitoring for the drug last month. Several of the residues detected by USDA have been well above allowable levels, currently established as 0.1 parts per million.

Tumors in Laboratory Animals

The concern about sulfamethazine was heightened, in part, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration published a report in February stating that the antibiotic caused tumors in laboratory animals. At roughly the same time, Japanese health officials found violative levels of the drug in pork shipped from this country. In response, the USDA initiated an emergency testing program to monitor for sulfamethazine's presence in meat March 7.

Initially, samples of pork were taken from each of the nation's 100 largest slaughterhouses on a weekly basis and analyzed at USDA laboratories. The agency recently expanded the sampling by launching a daily, on-site testing program that allows for more rapid results.

Those plants found to be processing animals containing illegal levels of sulfamethazine are subject to increased scrutiny and flagrant violators may be prosecuted.

"Sulfamethazine residues (in swine) are persisting at an unacceptably high rate," said Hedy Ohringer, a USDA information specialist.

Tracing Drug Residues--The problems with sulfamethazine come at the same time that the USDA has proposed coding all swine shipped in interstate commerce as a means of tracing adulterated meat, when necessary.

The measure allows both federal officials and the pork industry to identify the responsible processors in the event toxic chemicals or drugs are present in the animal carcasses.

"One of the reasons we proposed the swine identification program was the (sulfamethazine) problem," the Ohringer said. "It is an idea whose time has finally come."

The proposal has met with both consumer and trade group support.

Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, a Washington-based consumer group, recently endorsed the plan in a letter to the agency that said, in part, "Improved methods to control and monitor dangerous chemical residues in the swine supply are sorely needed, and this measure will help meet this need."

The Oakland-based Western States Meat Assn. was also supportive of the proposal in comments filed with the USDA last week. Such a policy, the group argues, would assist producers, government agencies and consumers in maintaining food safety.

Western States claims "(The federal government) will be able to trace a swine disease and stop it from spreading. The slaughterer would benefit by knowing the identity of the source of adulterated meat. (And) the eradication of disease and elimination of adulterated meat will benefit the American consumer."

Dividing the Catch--Global demand for seafood poses an increasing threat to developing countries' fishing fleets as sophisticated multinational trawlers expand spheres of operation.

As a result, Third World fishermen are finding themselves crowded out of traditional waters by commercial fleets, or left with virtually barren fishing grounds in the wake of the highly effective techniques employed by the foreign operations, according to the National Research Council's newsletter.

"Fishing means survival for some 200 million people in developing countries," the report stated. "Yet these small-scale fisherman are increasingly at risk as they compete with commercial crews who over-exploit marine life and grab most of the financial resources."

An account of the newsletter article appeared recently in World Development Forum, a Hunger Project publication.

Indigenous fishers account for about 25% of the world's total catch, a share that is likely to decline in coming years in light of the high-stakes competition.

Reversing the trend would require the modernization of existing fleets with improved boats and fishing gear. There is also a need, on the part of many Third World nations, to adopt preservation techniques for seafood species. It may even be necessary to retrain those employed in the seafood business for work in aquaculture (fish farming) ventures. Although some of these options are financially "within the reach of (low-income) fisherman," there are other obstacles, such as cultural resistance, to such sweeping change, the report stated.

Compounding the problem is that when a developing country becomes involved with seafood production, there is typically a tendency to overlook the existing fleet. Instead, scarce resources are used in establishing new high-technology commercial fleets that fail to consider traditional fishermen's life style and income.

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