Residues in foodstuffs of animal origin: the rules, NVWA control and enforcement

Many food businesses have to deal with the control of residues of biocides and other chemicals by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). The NVWA checks for the presence of residues not only in red meat, but also in products derived from poultry, rabbit, farmed game, wild game, farmed fish, milk, eggs, honey, sheep, goats and horses.

The presence of residues in foodstuffs may pose a threat to public health. The European Union (EU) therefore strictly regulates the presence of residues of chemicals in products of animal origin. The NVWA takes the enforcement of these rules very seriously. In late 2023, for instance, it suspended the activities of 46 livestock farmers as a precautionary measure after traces of Racumin Foam, a mouse pesticide, had been found in the liver of one calf of one of these livestock farmers.

In this blog, we address (1) the main rules that apply when residues are found in products of animal origin; (2) the manner in which the NVWA checks for such residues; and (3) some practical points of attention for food businesses in monitoring and detecting residues of chemical substances in products of animal origin.

(1) Which substances and regulations are involved?

Residues of substances whose presence in foodstuffs of animal origin are regulated can be divided into four categories: (a) veterinary medicinal products, (b) contaminants, (c) pesticides and (d) hormones.

(a) veterinary medicinal products

Animals in livestock farming may be given medicines, such as painkillers, anthelmintics and antibiotics. If animals are given too many medicines, or are slaughtered shortly after those medicines are administered, medicine residues may be present in the meat.

The veterinary medicinal products authorised for food-producing animals are listed in Regulation 37/2010. Maximum residue limits (MRLs) are set in Regulation 37/2010 and Regulation 470/2009 for certain active substances in veterinary medicines. This means that the presence of those medicinal products in any part of an animal above a certain level is not permitted. A number of active substances in medicinal products, such as Aristolochia, Chloramphenicol, Nitrofurans and Ronidazole, are banned in their entirety for food-producing animals under Regulation 37/2010 due to the threat they may pose to public health. There are also active substances in veterinary medicines for which no MRL has been set because they do not present such a public health risk.

(b) contaminants

Contaminants are substances that enter foodstuffs or animal feed unintentionally, for instance from the environment, such as dioxins, PFAS and heavy metals. These substances may be present in the soil from which animals graze or in the water they drink. The Good Fish environmental organisation, for instance, recently warned about excessive levels of PFAS in Dutch eel. Natural toxins produced by plants or fungi may also end up in foodstuffs via animal feed.

Regulation 315/93 provides that food containing contaminants more than a certain maximum level may not be placed on the market. The maximum levels of contaminants in foodstuffs are set out in Regulation 2023/915 and in the Warenwetregeling Verontreinigingen in levensmiddelen (Contaminants in Food (Commodities Act) Regulation).

(c) pesticides

Pesticides are insect repellents, such as plant protection products and biocides, that are used, for example, on plants or in stables. The Racumin Foam biocide referred to above is one such pesticide. Ethylene oxide is another example of a pesticide. These substances may unintentionally end up on or in animals. The main points of attention regarding the enforcement by the NVWA if ethylene oxide is found in foodstuffs are addressed in this blog. Regulation 396/2005 sets maximum levels of pesticide residues in or on foodstuffs and animal feed of plant and animal origin. These can also be found in the EU Pesticides Database. Specific MRLs furthermore apply to certain biocides in the Netherlands under the Warenwetregeling Residuen van bestrijdingsmiddelen (Pesticide Residues (Commodities Act) Regulation).

(d) hormones

Hormones may be administered in livestock farming to increase meat and milk production. Examples include substances containing thyrostatic, oestrogenic, androgenic or gestagenic action and beta-agonists. Hormone use in livestock farming is generally prohibited in the EU. Only in specific cases, in which hormones are administered for therapeutic or zootechnical purposes, is the administration of hormones permitted under certain conditions. This is regulated in Directive 96/22/EC, which has been implemented in the Regeling diergeneesmiddelen 2022 (Veterinary Medicines Regulation 2022). Some countries outside monsternthe EU, such as the USA, do allow hormone use in livestock farming.

(2) NVWA control: the National Residue Control Plan

To check the safety of products of animal origin, the NVWA takes tens of thousands of samples at farms and slaughterhouses every year, at random. This is done both before and after slaughter. The NVWA also takes samples of imported foodstuffs at border checkpoints. It does so as part of the National Residue Control Plan (NRCP), an EU‑mandated monitoring programme for animals and animal products.

The NVWA passes on the results of the controls under the NRCP to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Commission. They use the data to develop policy. If necessary, the Commission tightens the legal requirements based on advice from the EFSA.

If the NVWA finds substances in samples under the NRCP that are banned or that exceed the maximum permitted level, it also shares that information with the businesses in question. It may then also take enforcement measures, including suspending production and requiring a recall. The NVWA may also impose fines in addition to such a mandatory recall.

(3) Points of attention for food businesses: self-monitoring and measures when residues are detected

Food businesses themselves may also take steps to reduce public health risks and prevent recalls. It is important to regularly test for the presence of excessive levels of residues in food of animal origin. All partners involved in the livestock sectors are obligated to do so under of Regulation 178/2002.

The NVWA has published guidelines for drawing up self-monitoring programmes in the animal sector in this light. It follows from those guidelines, among other things, that self-monitoring must be unannounced and must be carried out by an independent authority (e.g. an accredited organisation). The samples taken must furthermore be analysed by independent and accredited laboratories.

If a sample analysis reveals the presence of a prohibited or excessive level of a residue in a foodstuff of animal origin, the following rules apply:

  1. the food business concerned must withdraw the foodstuff in question from the market;
  2. if the product may have already reached the consumer, the food business must effectively and accurately inform the consumers accordingly; and
  3. the finding must be reported to the NVWA in the form of a GFL (General Food Law) notification.

In some cases, food businesses that have sold products containing a banned substance or excessive levels of a residue must also carry out a public recall. Such a public recall is required if the product may have reached consumers and there are no other means of achieving a high level of health protection. This follows from Article 5 of Regulation 2019/2090 and Article 19(1) of Regulation 178/2002. Please note that these obligations apply only if the residue is found in the actual final foodstuff, and not only in a substance used to process the foodstuff.

Businesses themselves must assess whether a recall is necessary

Businesses themselves must primarily assess whether a public recall is necessary. A risk assessment is a useful tool for this purpose. Under Article 14 of Regulation 178/2008, this involves assessing whether the foodstuff should be considered harmful to health or unfit for human consumption. This assessment must take into account, among other things, (a) the normal conditions of use of the food; (b) the information provided to the consumer; (c) the probable immediate, short-term and long-term health effects; and (d) the probable cumulative toxic effects and particular health sensitivities of a specific category of consumers. A practical overview with key points of attention in recalls and enforcement by the NVWA can be found here.

NVWA coercion and sanctions

If the NVWA believes that a public recall is required and the food business refuses to carry out that recall, the NVWA may try to force it to do so by imposing an order subject to a penalty. It may also impose a fine retrospectively for failure to carry out a (timely) recall. That fine amounts to a maximum of €900,000 or 1% of the annual turnover, whichever is higher, if the food business intentionally fails to carry out a recall. Such intent exists, for instance, if the food business deliberately ignores instructions given by the NVWA. In the event of gross negligence, the NVWA may impose a fine of up to 0.5% of the annual turnover of the business in question. This is the case, for instance, if the food business takes inadequate precautions, such as not having adequate traceability systems in place. If the food business in question fails to act, the NVWA itself may furthermore inform the customers and consumers of that business. The NVWA itself may also inform consumers if the food business fails to do so.

More information on dawn raids by the NVWA can be found in this video briefing with practical tips or at

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Diederik Schrijvershof

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Judith Jansen

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Mats Reijman

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