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Non-Statutory Surveillance Programme

The Non-Statutory Surveillance Scheme mainly looks for the use of banned or unauthorised substances in imported meat, farmed fish and honey.

What is it?

Member States are required to carry out a residues surveillance programme in their country to ensure that authorised medicines are not present in foodstuffs above the permitted level (the Maximum Residue Limit), and that banned or unauthorised substances are not being used. (Some substances are banned from use because no safe level can be set.) In the UK this is the National Surveillance Scheme. However, third countries must provide equivalent guarantees, so imports should meet the EU requirements. The non-statutory scheme therefore complements the national programme by mainly taking samples of imports for analysis.

The Residues Branch of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate operates the scheme taking advice on the content of the annual plan from the independent Veterinary Residues Committee (VRC) and works closely with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Border Inspection Posts (BIPs) and the retail industry. The surveillance, which is funded by Defra, mainly covers imported commodities of farmed fish, meat and honey and focuses on detecting the use of banned and unauthorised substances.

Who collects the samples?

The BIPs collect approximately half the samples in the plan at ports of entry, with the balance provided by Mintel International, a market research company that provides shoppers in all parts of the country to purchase samples from retail outlets.

Who analyses the samples?

The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) in York undertakes the analyses. The FERA operates to internationally accepted standards and participates in routine proficiency testing.

What happens when unacceptable residues are identified in food products?

Details of the consignment from which a non-compliant sample was obtained are collected from the BIP or the retailer/retailer's supplier, depending on the point of sampling. Defra's Chief Veterinary Officer draws the attention of the authorities in the country of origin to the finding and asks to be advised of the outcome of any action that is taken. The FSA is also informed and decides whether to ask the local authorities to investigate. This depends on the nature and concentration of the substance found and whether it is considered to be a risk to public health.

Local authorities can use their enforcement powers under the Food Safety Act 1990 to instruct retailers/suppliers to issue a product recall and destroy any remaining stock. The FSA will also pass the information to the European Commission who will notify all Member States by issuing a document under the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).

Who decides what to look for?

In the course of the year, intelligence is received from the RASFFs and other sources from which trends can be identified. The VRC reviews the programme annually using a matrix ranking system to prioritise the foodstuffs and substances to be targeted.

What is the role of the Veterinary Residues Committee?

The VRC is a committee of independent professionals providing expertise from a wide range of industry and consumer sectors. Their remit is to advise the VMD and the FSA on the incidences and concentrations of residues of veterinary medicines and other substances in foodstuffs collected under surveillance programmes. The membership of the VRC is listed on their website.

Where can more detailed information be found?

The VMD issues a quarterly publication called Marketing Authorisations Veterinary Information Service (MAVIS). This publication reports the most recent details of any positive samples and a rolling table of surveillance results. The VRC's Annual Report also contains information regarding the Non-Statutory Surveillance Scheme. These publications give contact points should readers have any queries.

The VRC's annual report was first published in 2001. Prior to that year information can be found in the Annual Reports on Surveillance for Veterinary Residues published by the VMD.

Last Updated: 21 January 2011

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