Have you heard of Ractopamine?

by Ira White

There is an additive to animal feed that many are unaware of. There is no required mention of it on food labels. There is controversy over its use. It is currently restricted in 160 nations in the world. So, is it safe? I will present what I have found, and you can decide for yourself.

Ractopamine is a drug added to feed for cattle, swine, and turkeys to make the body use food more efficiently. Use of it results in leaner meat and more rapid weight gain. The drug is used without veterinarian oversight and can be bought without prescription. Ractopamine was approved by the FDA in 1999 for use in swine and later extended to cattle and turkeys.

One of the problems with this drug is that it causes cardiovascular problems in some of the animals it is administered to. When they first began giving it to swine, there were complaints that too many of the animals suffered “downer syndrome,” a condition where the animal is too weak to get up and walk. The remedy for this was to reduce the amount of time animals were consuming the drug resulting in fewer downer syndrome cases.

Ractopamine is fed to animals almost up to the day of slaughter. The possibility of residue in the tissues that could affect humans who eat the meat is a drawback of this. The FDA allows only .05 ppm in the muscle tissue in swine and .03 ppm in cattle. Consumer Reports did a study on meat from the market and found that out of 260 samples, 20% had residues of ractopamine hydrochloride. The amounts were below FDA target levels and the FDA claims that it is metabolized quickly leaving little residue. But is the residue limit low enough and does it consider that a person might consume more than one serving containing residues? Part one of the question can be answered: the FDA says it’s good. Part 2: No.

From an article done by NBC news: “The drug has triggered more adverse reports in pigs than any other animal drug on the market. Pigs suffered from hyperactivity, trembling, broken limbs, inability to walk and death, according to FDA reports released under a Freedom of Information Act request.” Yet the FDA does not feel there is enough evidence to say the drug caused these effects. In fact, it has approved the use of it in cattle, swine, and turkeys. However, it must be mentioned that 160 nations have banned the import of meat testing positive for ractopamine. One must wonder why.

Screenshot of table with information about Ractopamine
from "New Animal Drugs: Ractopamine" https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2003/09/18/03-23892/new-animal-drugs-ractopamine

If you look at the section of the chart above, provided courtesy of the Federal Register, you will see under the column labeled, “Limitations,” that Ractopamine is fed up until slaughter, that it not be fed for more than 42 days, and that it should not be fed to animals raised for breeding. These limits are for cattle but the chart for swine looks much the same. There is no why given but when one reads about some of the side effects, one can see that the length of feeding is limited because the longer one feeds their livestock the drug, the more downers and injured animals they get. Also, the restriction on not feeding it to breeding animals leads to another problem. All I could find in the articles listed was that Ractopamine could cause reproductive issues which is quite general. In the article below sourced from Organic Consumers Org., it is complained that

In 2013, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) sued the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for withholding records pertaining to ractopamine’s safety.

According to the lawsuit, in response to the groups’ requests for information “documenting, analyzing or otherwise discussing the physiological, psychological and/or behavioral effects” of ractopamine, the FDA produced only 464 pages out of the existing 100,000 pages of records.

Perhaps the government and industry do not want us to know exactly what reproductive issues were encountered as well as a number of other pieces of information they have chosen to keep secret. Censorship and secrecy always mean something is being hidden. It is also an impediment to serious science as it squelches debate and exploration of new ideas.

Let’s take stock of what’s been said in this article. The UDSA, FDA, the drug company making Ractopamine and approximately 25 countries say use of the drug is safe. However, Organic Consumers Organization, Consumer Reports and approximately 160 countries are skeptical of its safety.

I urge those who wish to avoid this drug and eat safer, better-quality meat to seek out local farmers who don’t use this drug or any of a number of other questionable drugs to raise their livestock. This is a growing trend in this country and personally, I hope it continues.

Bio of Ira White

I was literally born into the food industry. I started caring for and harvesting rabbits with Mom at the age of 6. Later, Dad bought a meat shop and the family worked together to make it a success. I also worked in the fields as soon as I could get a work permit harvesting berries, grapes, peaches, onions and performing other agricultural activities. Later, I worked as a cook and in the meat prep department of Campbell’s Soup company. I worked in a vegetable processing plant and turkey slaughter plant. I finished my career as a USDA IIC (Inspector in Charge) for more than half of my 26 years with the USDA.

In addition, I earned a BA from California State University, Stanislaus as well as a teaching credential. I served as a Grange Master as well as the President of the California State Youth Grange.