Surveillance Information

What surveillance is carried out in the UK for residues of veterinary medicines?

The Veterinary Residues Committee oversees the Veterinary Medicines Directorate's two complementary surveillance schemes (fuller explanations of these two schemes appear on the links to the right):

The National Surveillance Scheme (NSS):

  • It is an EU requirement that all EU Member States must carry out surveillance to check that any residues in their home-produced foods of animal origin are within statutory limits and that unauthorised substances are not being used.
  • In the UK, the National Surveillance Scheme (NSS) covers: red meat, poultry, wild and farmed game, farmed fish, milk, honey and eggs. The scheme is funded by charges on the livestock industry, currently some £4 million per year.
  • Annexes to the European legislation set down the number of samples that Member States must take, based on forecast production. The legislation also lays down broad parameters on the groups of substances to be surveyed.
  • Types of substances screened for in the National Surveillance Scheme.

The Non-Statutory Surveillance Scheme:

  • The Non-Statutory Surveillance Scheme concentrates on imported and processed foods. Imported produce was identified by the Committee as the primary target for investigation. This is because the Committee considers that imported food represents a significant part of the food consumed in the UK and we would like to know if there are any residues of concern.
  • The Non-Statutory Surveillance Scheme, as its name suggests, does not have a legal base. Therefore, the VRC has greater freedom to recommend the substances and foods that should be included. The scheme is funded by Defra with no contribution from the food industry. However, this means that funding is very limited.

Other surveillance carried out:

The VRC is aware that other testing is carried out:

  • sampling carried out under the Veterinary Checks Directive (Directive 97/78). A small number of samples are taken from imported foods at the Border Inspection Posts.
  • commercial companies’ own testing. Some retailers and food businesses carry out some sampling and testing of foods for residues of veterinary medicines as part of their 'due diligence' responsibilities.

The VRC would like to see the results of such testing, to have the best picture of the surveillance being undertaken and the results. To this end, each year, the VRC and its sister committee, the Pesticides Residues Committee, write out to a wide range of companies asking them to share their results. The VRC has been disappointed with the limited number of responses it has received.

Who is involved in the VMD's surveillance for veterinary residues?

The VMD operates the surveillance schemes and provides the Secretariat for the VRC, but many other organisations have a role.

Collecting samples:

  • Animal Health (AH) of Defra – collects samples from livestock farms in Great Britain for the NSS.
  • Border Inspection Posts (BIPs) – Port Health Officers at the BIPs collect samples of imported foods for the Non-Statutory Surveillance Scheme.
  • Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) of Defra – collects samples on fish farms in England and Wales for the NSS.
  • In Northern Ireland, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) collects samples for the NSS on behalf of the VMD. 
  • Egg Marketing Inspectorates (EMI) of Animal Health and the Scottish Government, Rural Payments & Inspections Directorate – collect samples of eggs from packing stations for the NSS.
  • Marine Science Scotland (MSS) collects samples from fish farms in Scotland for the NSS.
  • Food Standards Agency (FSA) – collects samples for the NSS from abattoirs; it also has powers to detain animals suspected of containing residues above the Maximum Residue Limit, or of having been treated with unauthorised substances.
  • Mintel International plc, a market research company, buys samples of foods from shops and wholesalers for the Non-Statutory Surveillance Scheme.

Analysing samples:

  • Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) – analyses samples collected under the NSS in Great Britain and under the Non-Statutory Surveillance Scheme.
  • Agri-Food and Biosciences Agency analyse samples for the NSS in Northern Ireland.

Investigating non-compliant samples:

  • AH, Cefas, DARD and MSS investigate the reasons for non-compliant samples in their respective areas (see collecting samples, above).
  • The Investigations Branch of the Rural Payments Agency carry out investigations where the circumstances mean a prosecution may result.
  • Legal Department of Defra – prepare the national legislation in Great Britain covering the NSS and assess evidence to see if prosecutions should be brought.
  • Animal Medicines Inspectorate of the VMD – inspects feed mills that produce medicated feed.

Overseeing the surveillance:

  • The Veterinary Residues Committee examines the plans and makes recommendations about the surveillance and also scrutinises the results.
  • European Commission – in conjunction with the other Member States, examines and approves the National Surveillance Plans. It also issues the Rapid Alerts, to tell all Member States when residues of potential health concern are detected in the Community.
  • Food Standards Agency – has a responsibility for food safety and protecting consumers’ interests in relation to food. The FSA co-ordinates investigations into food safety incidents and acts as UK contact for the EU’s Rapid Alert System. Its officials also attend VRC meetings as advisors.
  • Officials from AFBI, AHVLA and Fera attend VRC meetings as advisors.

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