By Kim Robson:
I’m going to bet you’ve never heard of ractopamine. It’s a feed additive that helps keep meat animals lean. Ractopamine is used in an estimated 60-80% of American beef and pigs. Here are the facts:
- Ractopamine is a beta-agonist drug that increases protein synthesis, which makes the animal more muscular. This reduces the fat content of the meat and increases the profit per animal.
- Beta-agonist drugs, as a class, have been used in U.S. cattle and pork production since 2003. Ractopamine is administered in the days leading up to slaughter, and as much as 20 percent of it can remain in the meat you buy.
- Animal research has linked ractopamine to reduced reproductive function, birth defects, increase of mastitis in dairy herds, and increased disability and death. According to FDA records, “death” is the most-often reported side effect in animals fed ractopamine.
- The Center for Food Safety and the Animal Legal Defense Fund recently sued the FDA, maintaining that it is illegally withholding records about the safety of ractopamine.
- Ractopamine use has been banned in most countries, including the European Union, mainland China and Russia. Unfortunately, 27 other countries, including Japan, the United States, Canada and South Korea have deemed meat from ractopamine-fed livestock safe for human consumption.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has strict regulations about how a new drug is approved. It must pass rigorous clinical testing in the lab, testing on animals, and testing of dosage. Then it undergoes heavily monitored human trials in which the patients are well informed of potential dangers. Even after that, all side effects must be disclosed, and you must gain a prescription for the drug from your doctor.
When the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approves a food ingredient, however, the consumer becomes an unwitting guinea pig. A food additive or ingredient must be proven to cause harm before it can be regulated by the USDA. And without proper food labeling, you can’t make basic decisions about your food.
Certain pork producers and pig farmers have elected to start labeling their products as “Produced without the use of ractopamine” to differentiate themselves from conventional farmers. Meat labels require approval from the USDA to make sure that labels aren’t false or misleading. “No ractopamine — a beta-agonist growth promotant” has been approved for use by the USDA. The alternate label “Our pigs are never fed beta-agonists, like Ractopamine — drugs widely used as artificial growth promotants in the pork industry today” was rejected, citing potential confusion for consumers. It’s still a victory for food labeling, but the fight isn’t over yet.
Conventional food producers contend that labeling will lead to confusion and fear — and you can’t fear what you don’t know about. Leveraging trade agreements between countries, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is now demanding that the European Food Safety Authority allow pork from ractopamine-fed pigs into their market.
“When you put a label like that on there, it will immediately make the consumer think, ‘Well what is this? It must be something bad,’” says David Hardin, a conventional pork producer in Danville, Indiana.
Hardin unintentionally makes a good point because it speaks to the level of ignorance about food additives among the general public. In this brave new world of biochemistry and genetic engineering, we should know what is going into our food. Maybe you don’t care; maybe you do. But we should have the option of choice. If you do eat meat, the only type of meat we recommend is organically-raised, grass-fed or pasture-raised meat products.