Ractopamine is a controversial drug used widely as an animal feed additive in industrial factory farms that raises significant food safety and animal welfare concerns for U.S. and international consumers. Unlike the U.S., more than 160 countries –including Russia, China, Taiwan, and the 27 members of the European Union–ban or strictly limit the use of ractopamine, a controversial drug used widely in animal feed that promotes growth in pigs, cattle, and turkeys. Ractopamine is linked with serious health and behavioral problems in animals, and while human health studies are limited, those that exist raise serious concerns.
While the U.S. has so far refused to join the international community in banning this risky drug in animal feed, the U.S. already has a certified ractopamine-free program for pork exports to the E.U., and some corporate producers are already operating production plants that are 100% ractopamine-free to meet international demand. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect the same for U.S. market as well. In fact, some U.S. food companies already avoid meat produced with the feed additive, including Chipotle restaurants, producer Niman Ranch, and Whole Foods Markets. But in order for food companies to offer meat free of ractopamine, pork producers need to provide it. They’re missing a huge opportunity by not telling their consumers about it. Searching ractoparmine yielded no results. If they’re avoiding the stuff they should definitely be educating the consumer to know the difference in quality and values.
What is Ractopamine?
Ractopamine is a controversial drug used widely as an animal feed additive in industrial factory farms that raises significant food safety and animal welfare concerns for U.S. and international consumers. The U.S. meat industry uses ractopamine to accelerate weight gain and promote feed efficiency and leanness in pigs, cattle, and turkeys. The drug mimics stress hormones and increases the rate at which the animals convert feed to muscle.
In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that ractopamine was safe and approved it for use in feed for pigs, later approving it for cattle and turkeys as well. Veterinarian oversight, however, is not required for producers to use ractopamine; it is available on an “over-the-counter” basis. Ractopamine is associated with major health problems in food-producing animals, such as “downer” syndrome and severe cardiovascular stress, and has also been linked to heart problems and even poisoning in humans. Most of the 196 countries in the world have banned or restricted ractopamine; only the U.S. and 25 other major meat-producing nations allow its use. A recent report by the research and testing publication Consumer Reports investigating 240 U.S. pork products found that one in five products tested positive for ractopamine residues.1
1 Press Release, Consumers Union, Consumer Reports Investigation of Pork Products Finds Potentially Harmful Bacteria Most of Which Show Resistance to Important Antibiotics (Nov. 27, 2012), http://pressroom.consumerreports.org/pressroom/2012/11/my-entry-4.html