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2010-2011 Progesterone in Butter, Cheese and Cream


The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system. As a part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys are used to test various foods for specific hazards.

The main objective of the progesterone in butter, cheese and cream targeted survey was to generate baseline surveillance data on the levels of progesterone in domestic and imported butter, cheese and cream available on the Canadian retail market.

Health Canada's Veterinary Drug Directorate evaluates the safety of veterinary drugs administered to food-producing animals and sets standards for the amount of residues in primary edible tissues (e.g., muscle, liver, kidney and fat) and primary products of animal origin (e.g., eggs, milk and honey). Some veterinary drugs containing progesterone have been approved in Canada and the USA for use in lactating dairy cattle. They are used therapeutically primarily to synchronize reproductive cycles in order to time artificial insemination. Hormonal growth promoters approved for use in beef cattle in Canada (including progesterone) are not approved for use in dairy cattle in CanadaFootnote 1. In Canada, no maximum residue limits have been established for natural hormones in milk or milk-derived products.

Since progesterone is fat-soluble, there is a strong correlation between the levels of progesterone and the milk fat content of dairy products. Therefore, this targeted survey focussed on butter, cheese and cream, all of which have pronounced fat content. In total, 259 butter, 247 cheese and 231 cream samples were collected from Canadian retail stores and were analyzed for the steroid hormone progesterone. Samples included primarily domestic butter and cream and both imported and domestic cheese. All of the samples had detectable levels of progesterone. This is not unexpected given that progesterone is naturally produced by cattle.

In general, the average progesterone levels in the current survey were comparable to those reported in scientific literature on hormones in food. The slightly higher detected levels of progesterone in certain cheeses may, in part, be due to the different types and fat content of cheeses sampled and the more sensitive analytical methods used in the current survey.

Results of this targeted survey were shared with both the Veterinary Drugs Directorate and the Bureau of Chemical Safety of Health Canada. The levels of progesterone observed in this survey are unlikely to contribute significantly to the overall exposure of Canadians to this hormone. Based on consultation with Health Canada, no health risk to Canadians was identified based on the results of the survey. Follow-up activities were not deemed necessary given that no elevated levels of concern were found.

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