Are Drugs Food?

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
January 28, 2014

Residues of drugs including the parent compounds and/or their metabolites are being found in food products that are consumed. The effects of food that contain drug residues can have significant adverse health effects. The main types of drugs found as residues in food include:

  • Topical antiseptics, bactericides, and fungicides
  • Ionophores
  • Steroid anabolic growth promoters and peptide production enhancers
  • Antiparasite drugs
  • Antibiotics

 The human health risks include:

  • Drug residue allergy: Anaphylactic reactions have been reported to result from consumption of beef or pork containing penicillin.
  • Cancer, reproductive, and developmental effects: Furazolidone and its metabolites have been shown to induce cancer in animals. Diethylstilbestrol: a synthetic estrogen formerly used commercially as a growth promoting agent in livestock.
  • Development of antibiotic resistant microbes: Disruption of normal human flora in the intestine. Bacteria that usually live in the intestine act as a barrier to prevent incoming pathogenic bacteria from getting established and causing disease. Antibiotic residue might reduce total numbers of these bacteria or selectively kill some important species.
  • Drug misuse: Dependent upon drug, dose, formulation, route of administration, species, target tissue and disease /management factors. Pharmacokinetics-toxicokinetics of the drug is the main factor. Hypersensitivity reactions (primarily skin rashes) to therapeutic levels of sulfonamides have been reported.

The average American consumes 200 pounds of meat and fish, 67 pounds of poultry, 30 pounds of eggs, and 600 pounds of dairy products each year. Food animal production practice requires management of animal health and this can require the use of drugs. Drugs Most Likely to be Detected in Meat include:

  • Penicillin (including ampicillin)
  • Tetracycline (including chlortetracycline and oxytetracycline)
  • Sulfonamides (including sulfadimethoxine and sulfamethazine and sulfamethoxazole)
  • Neomycin
  • Gentamicin
  • Flunixin
  • Streptomycin
  • Arsenicals

Penicillin and sulfonamide drugs were most commonly detected at violative levels in swine and cattle. Neomycin and gentamicin were also detected in a number of cattle, particularly calves. Other drugs detected in cattle and swine included tilmicosin, flunixin, and tetracyclines. Arsenicals were detected in poultry. Therapeutic doses of tetracycline is occasionally associated with discolored teeth, allergic reactions, or peripheral blood changes. Gentamicin has been reported to cause damage to the kidney and to hearing.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving to phase out non-therapeutic use of drugs or to be used under safety guidelines. Drug residues is another composition of food that requires consideration towards ensuring food safety.

Citation: http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/foodtox/lectures/lecture22/L22-Animal%20Drug%20Residues%20in%20Food.pdf

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