The USDA No Longer Protects Americans

The USDA No Longer Protects Americans
Photo: law_keven, Creative Commons, Flickr
There was enough money to bail out negligent bankers and Wall Street, but another program – to protect Americans from pharmaceutical, environmental and pesticide contaminants in meat, milk, dairy and eggs – was discontinued recently due to lack of funding.

This $2.5-million program, the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, also called FARAD and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, fell by the wayside on October 1.

FARAD was provided for by intent when Congress overrode a presidential veto by George Bush and passed the $307-billion version of the Farm Bill drafted by the House in May. Unfortunately, the House version of the bill was missing a number of provisions, including FARAD, and the Senate passed the Farm Bill without them. The USDA has since refused to allocate any part of its $89-billion-dollar budget to support continued monitoring by FARAD, though it still supports (through the aforementioned Farm Bill) "pork" provisions for corn-based ethanol.

The 26-year old program was used by veterinarians, livestock producers and state and federal regulatory and agricultural extension specialists to access a scientifically-founded database that provides information on several issues.

First, FARAD reports how long drugs administered as part of a health regimen (antibiotics, antifungals, etc.) remain in the blood and tissue of animals, since meat and poultry can’t be slaughtered and sold with excessive levels of these pharmaceuticals in their bodies.

Second, it provides for the labeling (called “extra-label”) of these drugs used in animals. Obviously, people, chickens and cows will need different dosages, and some pharmaceuticals approved for use in humans are not approved for use in – or recommended for – animal applications.

It also provides both hotline and web assistance for growers, veterinarians and extension specialists on potential food product contamination. For example, if a shipment of feed from China is contaminated with melamine, the agency will issue updates. It also maintains a database of foreign drug approvals, alerting meat producers to the possibility that a new pharmaceutical may be present in feed shipments, and food industry suppliers to the fact that imported beef may contain drugs not authorized by the U.S.

Most importantly, FARAD kicks in during food contamination emergencies, like a pesticide accidentally released into water supplies near a dairy or cattle farm. Since the USDA has already suspended its pesticide reporting program, leaving the resources available to protect meat, milk, dairy and poultry severely limited, the potential for a major food contamination incident has been exponentially increased. One sometimes wonders if the USDA’s directive, to protect Americans, has been reworded to poison Americans instead.

FARAD’s database and phone/Internet support services are administered through the USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service out of three locations at state universities in North Carolina, Florida (Gainesville) and California (UC Davis). FARAD staff includes 20 clinical veterinary practitioners, as well as pharmacologists, toxicologists, programmers, and information specialists.

Because of House negligence, or perhaps as part of a greater agenda, the $2.5 million annual appropriation for FARAD is absent, leaving FARAD in limbo. Moreover, there’s no guarantee – given the present turmoil in the economy and the Senate’s scheduled “vacation” – that the money and provisions absent from the Farm Bill in error will be appropriated.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA, is planning an emergency meeting to ponder the future of FARAD in the absence of effective action by either the USDA or the government.

“It’s disheartening — even tragic — that a program that costs so little yet does so much to keep our food supply safe is not being funded,” noted Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA’s Government Relations Division. “We’re talking about a cost of less than a penny per American to help keep meat, eggs and dairy products free of drugs and pesticides.”

One penny! Yet the recent bailout (with more likely to come) taxes each and every American living today, regardless of age, with a $2,000-dollar debt, not counting interest as calculated by the Fed or the resultant depreciation of the dollar, which is likely to double and perhaps even triple the cost.

The upside is, if the financial debacle is as deep and enduring as some predict, many of us won’t be able to afford meat, and even milk and eggs will become iffy. Welcome to the third world, Americans!

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