Another Banned Food Sold in the U.S.: Ractopamine-Tainted Meat

Author: Lee Ann Rush

Thought we were finished at eight poisons, did you?  Unfortunately, that was only wishful thinking.  Here’s yet another nauseating example of agribusiness putting its bottom line way ahead of health and common sense:  ractopamine.  The name alone sounds vaguely sinister, as though it could be some sort of monster.  Ractopamine is a drug that was developed by an Eli Lilly subsidiary called Elanco Animal Health.  It’s used as a feed additive for cattle and swine to increase lean meat production, and goes by the brand names Optaflexx for cattle, and Paylean for pigs.  Ractopamine is banned in the European Union, as well as in Taiwan, mainland China, and even in Russia.  Interestingly, Shuanghui International, China’s largest meat company,  recently purchased Smithfield Foods, the biggest pork producer in the United States; more on that later.

Agribusiness views ractopamine along the lines of a wonder drug because it causes livestock to produce more meat containing less fat without an increased amount of feed (they call this greater “feed efficiency”).   Not only that, but the drug has no obvious effect on the appearance, quality, or taste of the meat. Ractopamine is currently used in approximately 45% of pigs raised in the United States, 30% of ration-fed cattle, and an unknown number of turkeys. Frighteningly, as much as 20% of the ractopamine administered to the livestock remains in the meat that’s sold in supermarkets, says Dr. Michael W. Fox, DVM. Consumers can’t see it, taste it, or read about it on a food label, but it’s in there. In animals, ractopamine causes reproductive problems, increased mastitis in dairy stock, and overall increases in death and disability.  It is also known to adversely affect the human cardiovascular system, and has also been linked to hyperactivity, behavioral changes and chromosomal abnormalities in humans. Yet, hard as it may be to believe, the United States does not even test meats sold for human consumption for the presence of ractopamine!

Since 1998, over 1700 people have been poisoned by pork containing ractopamine.  The drug’s use in the U.S. market caused Russia to ban all U.S. meat imports beginning in February, 2013; the ban is slated to last until the United States can certify that its exported meat is free of ractopamine.  The sale of Smithfield Foods to Chinese Shuanghui International in June, 2013 had everything to do with a steep decline in U.S. pork exports following trade disputes centering on our continued use of ractopamine.  Although Smithfield announced in June that 50% of its slaughterhouses now process only ractopamine-free animals, China and Russia are insisting on a complete absence of the drug. According to John Saunders, CEO of Where Food Comes From, a third-party auditor that assists companies in verifying marketing claims, the sale of Smithfield, “is probably a direct result of the ractopamine issue.”

The answer, my friend (short of becoming a vegan) is to limit your meat consumption and look for organically-raised meats when you shop.  Sadly, I’ll have even more foods to avoid next time.