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Residue Surveillance Information Note

Each year the Department implements the National Residue Control Plan (NRCP). The NRCP is one of a range of measures implemented by the Department designed to safeguard consumers from exposure to illegal residues and to meet the requirements laid down by EU law. Under Council Directive 96/23/EC all Member States are required to implement residue surveillance plans and to submit their programmes annually to the European Commission for approval. The legal basis for the NRCP in Ireland is provided for by the European Communities (Control of Animal Remedies and their Residues) Regulations, 2009 (S.I. No. 183 of 2009). Third Countries wishing to export animal products to the EU are similarly required to satisfy the European Commission that their residue surveillance measures provide equivalent guarantees for EU consumers.

Implementation of the Plan involves taking samples from food producing species both at farm and primary processing plant levels. Samples are taken in accordance with criteria designed to target animals or products, which are more likely to contain illegal residues. However, the results also reflect the outcome of sampling conducted in specific cases where the presence of illegal residues was suspected by Department inspectors, for example, on the basis of the ante or post-mortem examinations of animals at slaughterhouses. Where a positive result is detected in the laboratory, a follow-up investigation is conducted at the farm of origin with a view to taking the necessary enforcement measures up to and including legal action, where appropriate.

During 2017, for example, just over 18,500 samples were taken nationally from eight food-producing species as well as from milk, eggs and honey. Tests were carried out at officially approved laboratories covering 18 distinct residue groupings (each residue grouping is in turn comprised of a number of sub-groups). The residue groupings fall into three broad categories: banned substances, such as growth-promoting hormones and beta-agonists; illegal residues of approved veterinary medicines (these usually arise where animals enter the food chain before expiry of the prescribed withdrawal period for the medicine concerned); and environmental contaminants.

The effectiveness of the NRCP and enforcement measures coupled with the efforts of the industry over many years has seen low levels of detected positives in recent years. Taking all groups and species into account, the incidence of positive results in 2017, was 0.3%, this is in line with the reduced levels detected in recent years (0.2% in 2016, 0.18% in 2015 and 0.22% in 2014). The Department publishes the detailed results of residue monitoring on an on-going basis annually.

Self-Monitoring by Primary Processors of Animal Products

Since 2000, the NRCP has been complemented by a legislatively-based regime under which meat and milk processors are obliged to implement their own residue monitoring measures in respect of animals or milk supplied to them. This involves each processor submitting, annually, to the Department a residue monitoring plan (for approval). Where animals test positive it makes it mandatory for the processor to apply significantly increased levels of testing (up to a level of 100%) to subsequent consignments of animals from the supplier in question. This initiative significantly increases the protection from illegal residues afforded to consumers of Irish food products. It also enables each processor and, indeed supplier, to deal effectively and in a timely manner with any problems which might from time to time emerge and equips Irish processors with another valuable and credible means of assuring consumers in an increasingly competitive marketplace of the quality and safety of their products.

Further information on residue surveillance and associated matters can be obtained from Veterinary Medicines Division, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine,  Floor 1 Block B, Administration Building, Backweston, Youngs Cross, Celbridge, Co. Kildare  (01) 5058664 /5058661.

National Residue Control Plan Reports