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Regulators should ban poultry feed additive

The Food Standards Agency has failed to support a ban on a poultry feed additive that contains the antimicrobial drug nicarbazin (Maxiban), says the UK organic farming group Soil Association.

Nicarbazin residues have been a persistent problem in a high proportion of UK-produced chicken liver and in some chicken meat, but can also be found in more than a quarter of a million eggs eaten each day by British consumers, according to Soil Association (SA).

An EU scientific review  found that a safe level for residues could not be established because the company producing the feed additive, had failed to provide sufficient scientific evidence to prove that the chemical is not capable of causing damage to humans.

Legal loophole

Despite the findings of their scientific advisers, the European Commission and the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) have used a legal loophole to permit the continued routine use of nicarbazin in the intensive poultry industry.

The FSA and the industry are trying to reduce the risk through a voluntary approach, by reminding farmers that they need to ensure that the drug withdrawal period before chickens are killed is fully respected.

However, broiler chicken come into contact with their own droppings and thus can recycle nicarbazin during the five day withdrawal period before slaughter.

The latest figures from the VMD indicate that, in 2008, 9% of chicken liver were still contaminated with residues above official safety limits (42 out of 475 samples tested).

The Soil Association has repeatedly called for nicarbazin to be banned and accuses the FSA and veterinary medicines regulators of weak and ineffective regulation.

Soil Association Policy Adviser, Richard Young: “This is a serious and persistent food-contamination issue which puts the public’s health at risk. It is totally unacceptable that regulators are using a loophole to avoid taking action against the financial interests of the pharmaceutical and intensive-livestock industries. It is precisely this kind of cosiness with industry the FSA are meant to be regulating.”

A scientific review of nicarbazin’s safety was carried out by one of the European Food Safety Authority’s scientific advisory committees in 2003.

It found that many of the toxicological studies carried out on nicarbazin had been performed in the 1950s and did not meet current standards.

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Food Standards Agency

Natalie Berkhout

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