Ottawa: Health Dept. Argues Over Pork Carcinogen : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Ottawa Citizen

Health Department argues over drug that can leave carcinogenic residue in pork


OTTAWA (CP) - The Health Department wants to ban a drug that could leave cancer-causing residue in pork, but it could still remain in use for up to a year.

Department scientists are pressing for an immediate ban on the product, called carbadox, saying it is a well-documented carcinogen for which safe alternatives exist. Carbadox is widely used in the swine industry to promote animal growth and prevent dysentery.

"It's better to lose a few pigs than cause cancer in people," one source in the department said on condition of anonymity.

Internal memos show the drug has been under intense debate since pork was recalled from Quebec supermarkets due to carbadox residues last year.

But Diane Kirkpatrick, head of the department's bureau of veterinary drugs, says the department may not have the authority to act immediately.

"We will propose a ban on this product but it has to go through the regulatory process which means first and foremost that we need to inform manufacturers of the product," Kirkpatrick said in an interview Monday.

In the background is the larger question of whether meat producers should be using drugs to enhance animal growth, considering that the drugs may leave residues in meat products.

In one memo obtained by The Canadian Press, staff scientist Arnost Vilim says the department should not tell producers about how to use carbadox safely "because there is no such way.

"Carbadox is a dangerous genotoxic carcinogenic substance the use of which is very difficult to control," Vilim says in the memo.

"Instead of spreading our resources thin and promoting a safe use of carbadox we should be working on banning this dangerous drug from its use in food-producing animals."

Kirkpatrick said the department must provide industry with a rationale for proposing withdrawal of the product, and the process could be lengthy if there are requests for more information.

"We will also ask our legal people to advise us whether we have the authority, and what does that consist of, in terms of an interim moratorium on use.

The department must also discuss alternatives with manufacturers and users and decide if a moratorium is feasible and practical.

Toxic residues of carbadox are quickly eliminated by the animal's digestive system, Kirkpatrick said, and regulations specify that use of the product must end 30 days before slaughter.

Critics say there is clear authority in the Food and Drug Act to ban a product that threatens health, but that there is virtually no attempt to monitor compliance with regulations.

In the case of the Quebec recall, pigs were accidentally given carbadox, then slaughtered without any withdrawal period. Other incidents involving incorrect use of the drug have been reported.

Critics of the food-animal industry say it has become dependent on a wide range of drugs, especially antibiotics to promote growth in animals, whose residues may affect people.

Kirkpatrick said carbadox is being banned not because it poses a risk to consumers, but over concern about contamination of workers handling it and environmental contamination from animal excrement.

She conceded the drug poses a health risk if the 30-day withdrawal period is not observed. The United States permits use of the drug but specifies a 45-day withdrawal period. Carbadox has been banned in the European Union.

-- Rachel Gibson (, April 10, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ