The Honorable Ann M. Veneman
Secretary of Agriculture
Room 200-A
Jamie L. Whitten Building
Independence Avenue and 14th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Veneman:

     In light of a September 2000 audit by the European Commission (EC) of Canada’s meat inspection system that found evidence of the possible presence of diethylstilbestrol (DES) in Canadian meat, we write — on behalf of CSPI’s 900,000 members in the United States and Canada — to urge that the Department immediately begin testing meat imported from Canada to assess whether it contains DES.

     Beginning in 1954, DES was used in this country as a growth promoter in cattle and sheep. In 1979 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revoked its approval for the use of DES in food-producing animals because new evidence revealed its carcinogenic effects on female children of pregnant women who consumed DES. The FDA still allows the use of DES to treat ill nonfood animals.

     According to the EC’s January 30, 2001, final report on its audit (at 12-13), DES has been banned in Canada as a growth promoter, but it can be legally prescribed by a veterinarian for dogs and cats, and there is no legal ban on “its ‘extra-label’ use in food-producing animals (other than poultry).” The auditors report (at 15) observing an example of the extra-label feedlot use by a farmer of another prescription drug, enrofloxacin, that is only licensed in Canada for use in cats and dogs.

     The EC auditors visited three of the six Canadian laboratories that perform the analytical work of the Canadian residue-control programs. They report (at 21) that at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) laboratory in Saskatoon “suspicious signals indicating a possible presence of trans-DES were detected [by CFIA] in several samples of veal calf liver in addition to clearly violative concentrations of zeranol [a growth promoter that is legal in Canada but banned in the European Union]. However, no further confirmatory analyses were performed on these samples, although some of the samples would certainly have warranted re-examination for DES.”

     The auditors conclude (at 25) “There are inadequate restrictions on the ‘extra-label use’ of veterinary drugs especially as regards DES and HGPs [hormone growth promoters],” and they recommended to the Canadian government (at 27) that it “set up an immediate action plan with the aim to ensure that a comprehensive prohibition on the administration of DES to food producing animals, which are, or whose produce is to be exported to the EU, is implemented in Canada.” While disagreeing with the EC’s interpretation of the CFIA laboratory data, the Canadian government — in response to the draft audit report — told the EC on December 19, 2000, that it proposed “to implement a comprehensive prohibition of DES,” but it is unclear when this ban will actually take effect and whether it will apply only to animals whose product is to be exported to the European Union.

     The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for testing meat and poultry in this country for the presence of various compounds, including DES. The FSIS stopped testing for DES in 1991, because it had last detected DES in the early 1970s. However, in July 1999 the Swiss government informed the United States government that it had found DES in two samples of beef imported from the United States, and in the spring of 2000 the FSIS announced that it had resumed testing for DES. However, we are informed that the FSIS has not resumed testing imported meat for residues of DES as part of its general program of testing imported meat.

     Canada is America’s largest source of imported meat. In FY 1999 the United States imported 1.6 billion pounds of meat and poultry — about one-half of total imports of meat and poultry — from Canada. Consumers need immediate assurance — both from systematic USDA tests and from an immediate USDA audit of Canada’s meat inspection system — that any imported meat they consume does not contain DES.

     We respectfully urge your prompt attention to this important public health matter.


Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.
Executive Director

Benjamin Cohen
Senior Attorney

cc:  Mr. Thomas J. Billy
 Food Safety and Inspection Service