Veterinary medicine residues

When animals are treated with medicines, businesses need to follow procedures to make sure that any residues do not pose a risk to consumers. 

When animals are treated with veterinary medicines, businesses need to follow certain procedures to make sure that any residues do not pose a risk to consumers.

When veterinary medicines are used correctly, there is little risk of finding residues in animal products above the legally permitted maximum limits. These are known as maximum residue limits (MRLs). When used incorrectly, however, such residues may be present in foodstuffs at levels exceeding their MRLs.  

Residues of veterinary medicines and other contaminants are typically found at very low levels that do not pose a risk to consumers. However, it is important for consumers, the UK livestock industry, and international traders of foodstuffs of animal origin, that any residues found are at concentrations that pose no threat to consumer health.

Steps to take to avoid residues in foods

Veterinarians should maintain close communication with their clients about the safe and appropriate way to use veterinary medicines.

Care should be taken on farm to:

  • only use veterinary medicines as prescribed by the farm’s vet, or buy medicines from recognised sources such as vets or veterinary pharmacies or from approved animal health retailers
  • follow the instructions for use on the product label and package leaflet unless directed otherwise by the farm’s vet
  • apply the appropriate withdrawal periods as specified in a product’s instructions, unless the product has been prescribed under the ‘Cascade’ and the vet has advised otherwise
  • be aware that the withdrawal periods set out in the ‘Cascade’ are the minimum required under law. to avoid unacceptable residues, a longer withdrawal period may be needed - especially if the farm’s vet has prescribed a higher dose than normal
  • ensure that any farmed animals sold are accompanied by their medicine's treatment history and food chain information
  • consider if there is a risk of cross-contamination between treated and untreated animals and their feed
  • proactively reduce or remove sources of potential contaminants, such as heavy metals, from the vicinity of livestock
  • keep up-to-date, accurate farm medicines records. keepers of food-producing animals must keep all records relating to medicine use in their animals for at least five years, in line with Regulations 17, 18, 19 and 20 of the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 

Contacting the Veterinary Medicine Directorate (VMD)

For any further information, or to report any suspected non-compliance with veterinary medicine residues, please get in touch with VMD directly via

You can also email the VMD at for any additional assistance.

Visit the VMD website for more information on residues surveillance programmes and their results. 

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On-farm poisoning

Poisoning incidents on farms are usually because animals have been exposed to lead or copper on farmland.