Illegal use of beta-adrenergic agonists: European Community

J Anim Sci. 1998 Jan;76(1):195-207. doi: 10.2527/1998.761195x.


The use of veterinary medicinal products within the European Community is governed by a series of directives and regulations that describe the requirements for safety, quality, and efficacy of these products. Veterinary therapeutic use of beta-agonists has only been approved in the case of clenbuterol for bronchodilatation in horses and calves and for tocolysis in cows. No beta-agonists have been permitted in the European Community for growth-promoting purposes in farm animals. Surveillance for the presence of residues of veterinary agents in food-producing animals and meat is regulated by the Directive 86/469/EEC containing specific guidelines for sampling procedures on farms and in slaughterhouses. The level and frequency of sampling is dependent on the category of compounds and animal species. When positive samples have been identified (above certain action levels), sampling intensity is increased. Results of monitoring programs in EU member states during 1992 and 1993 for the occurrence of residues of beta-agonists in food-producing animals vary substantially with respect to the percentages of positive samples, ranging from 0 to 7%. The variability is partly explained by differences in sampling strategies, detection methods, and action levels applied. Identification of the proper matrices for sampling and detection of beta-agonists is important. In the case of clenbuterol, hair and choroid retinal tissue are appropriate tissues because clenbuterol accumulates in these matrices. A clear decrease in the use of clenbuterol in cattle has been observed in The Netherlands, Germany, Northern Ireland, and Spanish Basque Country over the last 3 yr. This is partly due to intensified surveillance activities at farms and slaughterhouses by governmental agencies and production sector organizations. There are data on human intoxication following consumption of liver or meat from cattle treated with beta-agonists. At the concentrations of clenbuterol measured in contaminated liver and meat samples, pharmacological effects may be expected in humans after consuming 100 to 200 g of product. The use of highly active beta-agonists as growth promoters is not appropriate because of the potential hazard for human and animal health, as was recently concluded at the scientific Conference on Growth Promotion in Meat Production (Nov. 1995, Brussels).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / analysis
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic / growth & development*
  • Animals, Domestic / physiology
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Cattle
  • Drug Approval / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Drug Residues / analysis
  • European Union
  • Food Contamination
  • Goats
  • Growth Substances / analysis
  • Growth Substances / therapeutic use*
  • Horses
  • Humans
  • Meat / analysis
  • Poultry
  • Sheep
  • Swine


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Growth Substances