Food Safety is More Robust with Beefed-Up Support

Photo by Karen Mantel, Ontario Veterinary College.

Guess how many people are entrusted to answer more than 1,500 queries a year from veterinarians across Canada asking case-specific, time-sensitive questions about withdrawal times for extra-label use veterinary drugs?

  • 2
  • 22, or
  • 222?

If you guessed two, you’re correct — and perhaps astounded. Just two veterinarians — one at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan and one at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph — are entrusted with overseeing livestock and poultry that shouldn’t go into the human food system for drug residue reasons, when drugs are used extra-label in food producing animals.

They’re part of a global effort. In 2002, Canada joined a worldwide consortium of food animal residue avoidance databanks, which goes by the acronym gFARAD.

Canada’s part of the service became known as CgFARAD, the C being for Canadian. Here, it’s funded by key stakeholders that include the pharmaceuticals industry, commodity groups, veterinary associations and the feed mills and processing plants. It runs on a shoestring budget of about $190,000 a year.

Dr. Patricia Dowling, a clinical pharmacologist at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, was Canada’s first contact.

“The mission of the CgFARAD is to protect the human food supply and to keep our colleagues and producers out of trouble from residue violations,” she says. “With 14 years of service, we’ve had a great impact on prudent drug use in food animals, helped protect Canadian export markets and have helped protect the safety of food for Canadians.”

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The CgFARAD is a web-based service, where veterinarians can request withdrawal information on drugs and chemical residues in food animals. As queries to the service increased, Dowling was joined by clinical pharmacologist Dr. Ron Johnson at Guelph in 2011, with support from the Knowledge Translation and Transfer program that’s part of the research and services agreement between the University of Guelph and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

CgFARAD recently received support from the Livestock Research Innovation Council and Growing Forward II to create a more powerful and flexible CgFARAD database at the University of Saskatchewan, and renovate a University of Guelph lab for tissue culture research focused on drug interactions and metabolism in food producing animals.

This new lab will allow researchers to better understand the impact of possible drug interactions in management practices that involve extra label combinations of drugs in feeds and their effects on drug withdrawal times.

“The new database will be more robust,” says Johnson, an associate professor of biomedical sciences at the Ontario Veterinary College.

Canada needs a food animal residue avoidance databank. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency screens for chemical and drug residues in food that has an animal origin. That’s fine, but there’s more to it.

In Canada (unlike the US), extra label drug use in animal feeds is allowed. The smaller Canadian market and high costs to register drug products deter Canadian companies from seeking approvals. So, veterinarians and their producer clients need to use drugs “extra label” — that is, other than what is written on the approved veterinary drug label.

But with no withdrawal time on the label for the extra label use of the drug, how can veterinarians be sure the livestock and poultry will pass muster?

Original photo by Nathalie Lemieux, Ontario Veterinary College.

Original photo by Nathalie Lemieux, Ontario Veterinary College.

One way — the safest way — is to consult the CgFARAD service. It has amassed information from more than 22,000 queries, which arrive at a rate of 4-6 per day from across the country. About two-thirds of requests to CgFARAD involve extra label drug use in poultry.

For each specific query, the licensed Canadian veterinarian must provide CgFARAD with information about the species, the disease afflicting it, the number of animals being treated, dosage, and the route and duration of the drug administration.

CgFARAD staffer Dr. Saad Enouri at the University of Guelph reviews the request. This includes reviewing previous similar requests, as well as new information from relevant literature searches and regulatory agencies that may affect the new modified withdrawal period recommendation. CgFARAD responses are reviewed and finalized by either or both co-directors, Dowling and Johnson.

An official response to the request is sent to the veterinarian, outlining the new withdrawal period when possible. CgFARAD responses can be presented to the CFIA when requested at the time of processing, as proof of prudent drug use and prevention of violative drug residues in food animal products.

CgFARAD’s residue avoidance service will remain a major component of its value to the safety of the human food chain. In addition to the hundreds of requests answered by the service each year across Canada, it’s also increasing its role in prudent drug use education.

And that can only be a further benefit to the multi-billion-dollar food animal sector it serves.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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