Since 2018, the FARAD center at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine works in tandem with centers in universities across the country to ensure drug residues don’t end up on your plate. 

The Food Animal Residue Avoidance and Depletion (FARAD) program celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2022. Funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture), FARAD provides guidance to veterinarians in regards to extra-label drug use in food animals. When veterinarians in the field need to use drugs outside of the guidelines on the label, they need to know how long the producer needs to wait before the animal or animal product is safe to consume. This period of time is known as a withdrawal interval.

"This program improves animal welfare and improves human food safety. We're working really hard to make sure that the animals get the treatment that they need, which will improve their quality of life, and also we're making sure that the human food supply that comes from those animals is safe and we don't have any issues with drug residues causing clinical disease in people,” said Jennifer Davis, associate professor of clinical pharmacology and center director. 

The consequences of eating tainted food depend on the drug, but they can include allergic reaction and organ damage. Thanks to high standards of food regulations, the United States has not experienced large-scale issues on this front. 

“FARAD helps not just veterinarians, but it helps overall animal health professionals to ensure that the U.S. food supply remains the safest, most wholesome food supply in the world,” said Nathaniel Burke (DVM,’11), a large animal veterinarian with the Rose Hill Veterinary Practice in Washington, Virginia.

When producers bring their products to market, if even a tiny amount has drug residue, the whole batch is condemned. This results in economic stress, so it’s important that veterinarians are careful with withdrawal intervals.

“We have to know how long to withhold animals from the food chain after medication with any pharmaceutical to ensure that no pharmaceuticals end up in food products rendered from those animals,” Burke said. 

The center at Virginia Tech functions as a call center, and they receive about 70-80 calls a week. Sometimes those calls are regarding individual animals, but sometimes they are for herds of thousands. 

"On a yearly basis, we're affecting millions of animals because of the herd-based treatment for some of these diseases,” Davis said. 

Each FARAD center has a different function: maintaining the website and database, using AI and models to predict withdrawal intervals, and more. The centers share data and members share their expertise and experience. In particularly novel or large-scale cases, the directors collaborate to determine the best answer based on the present science. 

Why do veterinarians need to use extra-label drugs in the first place? Davis says that FDA-approved drugs for food animal species are limited.

"We have so few drugs for, say, lactating dairy cattle or sheep and goats, which are considered food animals. So for those cases, if we need a drug, we have to use a drug that's approved in the US for some species but we're applying it to the animal where we don't have specific label directions."  

FARAD even deals with wildlife. They work with wildlife rehabilitators to determine when animals can be released into the wild to ensure that, for example, venison is safe to eat. 

The college’s FARAD center also conducts studies to determine these withdrawal intervals. Davis oversees the analytical lab that assists in experiments and testing samples. The last study the center worked on looked at antimicrobial drugs in nursing goats to figure out the drug’s persistence in the does and the kids’ exposure. Looking to the future, FARAD has begun work studying antimicrobial drug resistance to figure out how to prevent antibiotic resistant bacteria from reaching the food chain. 

FARAD combines Davis’s background in large animal medicine and clinical pharmacology, and she has been involved in FARAD since 2003, when she was a PhD student at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. 

Written by Sarah Boudreau M.F.A. '21, a writer with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine