Agriculture and Food

As Ireland is a major food exporter, monitoring and controlling the production of food and animal feed is a high priority. The State Laboratory assists D/AFM in ensuring the quality and safety of Irish food and food products by monitoring compliance with European and national legislation governing the production, distribution and sale of animal feedingstuffs and by testing a wide range of foods for veterinary residues and other contaminants.

Animal Feedingstuffs

Animal feed is one of the most important components of the production chain of food of animal origin and has an impact on animal health and productivity as well as on food safety and quality. The aim of animal feed controls is to ensure that feedingstuffs are of good quality and do not constitute a hazard to human or animal health. The controls are implemented through risk based inspections and sampling of feedingstuffs at all stages of the feed chain.

The State Laboratory is the principal laboratory responsible for feedingstuffs analysis in Ireland. Samples of feed materials, feed additives, mineral mixtures and compound feeds are routinely tested to ensure that they contain the declared nutrients (protein, fat, starch and minerals), micro-nutrients (trace elements, vitamins), fibre and moisture contents and do not contain elevated levels of toxic components (dioxins, mycotoxins, heavy metals).

Feed samples are also tested for authorised antibiotics and coccidiostats (feed additives used to prevent coccidiosis, a major disease in poultry and other farm animals) to ensure that the correct therapeutic levels are present. Unavoidable carry-over of medicinal additives can occur following the production of medicated feed and the Laboratory tests rations destined for non-target species for carryover levels of authorised antibiotics and coccidiostats. In addition, targeted rations are tested for banned antibiotics and feed additives which are no longer allowed in livestock production in Europe.

Veterinary Drug Residues

The presence of unauthorised substances, residues of veterinary medicinal products or chemical contaminants in food may pose a risk to public health. Under EU legislation (Council Directive 96/23/EC), D/AFM administers a National Residues Monitoring Plan which is designed to safeguard consumers from harmful residues in food of animal origin. Animal categories and food products covered include bovines, pigs, sheep and goats, horses, poultry, milk, eggs and honey.

The classes of veterinary drugs tested for in the State Laboratory include steroids, corticosteroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), sedatives, nitroimidazoles and chloramphenicol. All methods used are multi-analyte liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS) methods and the matrices tested include urine, serum, kidney, liver, milk, eggs and honey.

There has been a greater than 3-fold increase in the number of food samples tested for veterinary residues since 2007. This has been as a result of the State Laboratory taking on additional responsibilities as a National Reference Laboratory and developing new methods in-house to carry out testing that was previously outsourced by D/AFM.

Chemical Contaminants - Dioxins

State Chemist The State Laboratory is the National Reference Laboratory for dioxin analysis in Ireland. Dioxins are highly toxic environmental contaminants which must be excluded from the human and animal food chain as approximately 90% of human exposure to dioxins results from the consumption of contaminated food such as dairy produce, meat and fish.

Dioxins are normally found as complex mixtures of varying composition and their identification and quantification requires a high resolution gas chromatography mass spectrometry procedure to separate and detect the 35 individual dioxin, furan and poly chlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners that contribute to the sum of toxic dioxins in a sample.

As animal feedingstuffs are the most likely route of dioxins entering the food chain, the Laboratory tests a wide range of feed materials (including recycled foods) and compound feeds for dioxins. In addition, food products such as milk and vegetable oils used in the dairy industry and in the manufacture of infant formula are tested and animal fats from most food producing species are sampled and tested under the National Residue Monitoring Plan.

A testing service is also provided to the Environmental Protection Agency for its annual survey of levels of dioxins in milk.

Chemical Contaminants - Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are substances naturally produced by moulds and fungi that are harmful to humans and domestic animals. These chemicals may contaminate staple foods and feeds worldwide and pose a significant food safety risk as they can be fatal or cause severe illness at very low concentrations.

The most important mycotoxins from a food safety aspect are the aflatoxins, ochratoxins, trichothecenes and fumonisins. These compounds can enter the food chain via contaminated animal feedingstuffs and for this reason animal feed samples are routinely tested for mycotoxins as part of Ireland's Annual Feedingstuffs Inspection Programme.

The multi-analyte LCMS method in routine use in the State Laboratory is capable of detecting 16 mycotoxins in feed (12 quantitatively, 4 qualitatively) at the detection levels required by EU legislation.

Aflatoxin B1 in dairy rations can be transferred to milk as aflatoxin M1 and ochratoxin A can be transferred from feed to food of animal origin. For these reasons, samples of milk and liver are tested for aflatoxin M1 and ochratoxin A respectively under the National Residue Monitoring Plan.

National Reference Laboratory Responsibilities

The State Laboratory is a National Reference Laboratory in the following areas:

• residues of veterinary medicinal products (steroids, corticosteroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), nitroimidazoles and sedatives) in food of animal origin
• additives for use in animal nutrition
• dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in food and animal feed
• mycotoxins in animal feed and food of animal origin
• heavy metals in animal feed.

State Laboratory staff collaborate with the relevant EU Reference Laboratories (EURLs) on analytical test methods, oversee the performance of screening methods in official laboratories in their areas of competence, and where necessary provide technical assistance and advice to the official laboratories and to D/AFM as the Competent Authority.

Fertilisers and Liming Materials

State Chemist The State Laboratory is Ireland's approved laboratory for checking that fertilisers placed on the market comply with EU legislation. Fertilisers and liming material play an essential role in supporting plant growth and animal production. Fertilisers supply the nutrients required to produce forage and crops, and liming materials ensure that soil pH is optimised to support plant growth.

Fertilisers are routinely monitored for the following nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and sulphur and the minerals calcium, magnesium and sodium. Liming materials are monitored for particle size, total neutralising value and moisture content. This testing is particularly important when new limestone quarries are opened.