Differences in national tests
However because the methods used in each country differ, the reported percentages are no more than indications. For example, it makes a big difference whether meat or kidney is tested. The kidneys excrete many substances in the urine, so the levels of antibiotics in the kidney are usually higher than those in meat. The method of analysis also determines whether a residue can be detected or not. The percentage of positive samples can sometimes be much higher when an extra sensitive method is used.
Microbiological methods are used in many countries. These methods focus on measuring growth inhibiting effects. Some of these methods, such as the commonly applied four-plate method, can detect the group of substances which includes the bacterial growth inhibitors. In some countries samples that test positive with this method are then tested again with a more specific method, to ascertain the identity and concentration of the substance. In the Netherlands the new Dutch kidney test is used. The State Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products is now working on improving this test.
United States and Europe
In the United States, and in other countries such as Canada and Australia, the use of hormones is permitted in meat production. Registered medications contain the natural hormones oestradiol, testosterone or progesterone and the synthetic hormones trenbolone or zeranol. Moreover melengestrolacetate may be added to animal feeds. In the EU the use of hormones has been forbidden since 1988. Hormones may be used only in exceptional cases, to cure a disease.
The ban is partly a consequence of the critical attitude of the European consumer. The EU also refuses to permit the import of ‘hormone meat’ from the US. As a result the US has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO). The EU has been given until the autumn of 1999 to demonstrate that ‘hormone meat’ constitutes a risk for public health. This is in fact the only ground on which the meat can be banned. The concerns of the consumer are not (yet) accepted as a legitimate argument.
The use of ß-agonists is forbidden in both the US and in the EU. Every country in the EU must test for the use of ß-agonists, but it is done differently from country to country. There are differences in the methods of analysis, in the sort of samples that are studied (liver or urine), in the action limits and in the way in which the samples are taken. Moreover each animal may only be tested for one substance or substance group. This applies to all species, not just to cattle. Therefore no good comparison can be made between the percentages of animals testing positive in the various countries. This means that the percentages of slaughtered calves that test positive for clenbuterol must be treated with some caution.
In 1997 only one cow tested positive in the Netherlands, which is less than in 1996. In 1996, as in 1995, Portugal reported the highest percentages in the EU. The number of countries reporting no positive samples in cows increased slightly in comparison to 1995.
Extended testing and the new Directive 96/23/EC
In 1997, monitoring for traces in meat was performed in accordance with Directive 86/469/EEC for the last time. The new Directive, 96/23/EC, stipulates that in 1998 and subsequent years not only cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and horses must be tested for residues, but also poultry, aquaculture fish, domesticated game animals (including fallow deer, rabbits and ostriches), wild game (such as hares or wild pigs), milk, eggs and honey.
The testing of living animals on the farm has been extended to include pigs and poultry. In the plan that is to be drawn up for 1999, the level and frequency of sampling for the species and matrices that have been added to the schedule must comply with Decree 97/747/EC. Samples must now be collected in a directed (non-random) way, and known problems will have more influence on the sampling strategy and the analyses performed. Moreover each animal may be tested for only one substance or group of substances, and not as now for a broad range of substances or groups of substances.
Labelling beef and veal
To increase consumer trust in the safety of beef, the EU has finally reached agreement on showing the country of origin on the labelling of beef and veal. In the future the consumer will be able to choose round steak from Denmark, braising steak from Ireland or minced beef from the Netherlands.