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USDA Defends Its Actions in Swiss Beef Hormone Case.

The announcement last summer by Swiss officials that they discovered the banned hormone DES in U.S. beef exports touched off a thorough investigation with puzzling results. As the investigation by USDA unfolded, the department has found no traces of DES usage in the United States and a second testing of the U.S. beef shipment found no sign of the alleged DES.

At issue is the Swiss government's notification last July that it found traces of growth promotant diethylstilbestrol (DES) in two of 100 samples of U.S. beef. DES is a known carcinogen. In a recent report to update Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, USDA Under Secretary Catherine Woteki said USDA visited the U.S. meatpacker in question. While the investigation raised concerns about the plant's record keeping and the accuracy of information relating to the originating slaughter plant listed as the source of beef exported to Switzerland, Wotecki said it did not turn up any signs of DES usage. FDA also has been involved since the beginning of the investigation and has not uncovered any misuses of DES in food animals. To put Woteki's report in perspective, no other major U.S. trading partners have reported finding DES residues in U.S. meat in the past 10 years.

Stranger still is DES has been banned in food-producing animals since 1979. No DES has been found by any regulatory authority on any U.S. farm in the last 16 years, said Wotecki. According to the report, there is no logical use for DES in U.S. beef, because other effective growth promotants are approved for use in the United States. Scientists at FDA report that currently approved hormone combinations, such as trenbolone acetate and estradiol, are more effective than DES alone as a growth promotant. FDA scientists also have noted, based on what they have found in their investigation, that DES appears to be more expensive than legal growth promotants and is not widely available.

Glickman called for an investigation into the U.S. handling of the DES incident after reports in U.S. newspapers indicated the United States had mishandled the Swiss results, potentially putting U.S. consumers at risk. But Woteki said in her report that U.S. government officials responded immediately to Swiss concerns even though USDA did not get full cooperation from Swiss officials. The Swiss still ban meat imports from the U.S. company linked to the case.

After the Swiss report, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and FDA redoubled their efforts to update their DES analytical capabilities. In February, FDA informed FSIS that it is now capable of detecting DES at levels as low as 20 to 30 parts per trillion (ppt), which is within the range allegedly detected by the Swiss. By mid-April, FSIS expects to be able to detect DES at l0 ppt.
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Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 10, 2000
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