On Dec 20, 2012, Center for Food Safety and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calling for the immediate reduction in the allowable levels of ractopamine, the controversial animal feed additive widely used in industrial factory farms that raises significant food safety and animal welfare concerns for the U.S. meat industry. The petition urges FDA to conduct comprehensive studies on the long-term effects of human consumption, immediate health impact on animals, and a thorough review of international standards.
Ractopamine use was thrust into the international spotlight earlier this month when Russia announced a proposed ban of imported pork that was not certified ractopamine-free, challenging U.S. agriculture trade and affecting hog futures at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Additionally, a new report by the research and testing publication Consumer Reports investigating 240 U.S. pork products for ractopamine found that one in five products tested positive for ractopamine residues.
Ractopamine is used to accelerate weight gain and promote feed efficiency and leanness in animals raised for meat. In 2000, FDA ruled that ractopamine was safe and approved it for use in feed for pigs; they later approved it for cattle and turkeys, also. As with the vast majority of animal drugs used in the U.S. industrial meat system, FDA’s approval for ractopamine relied primarily on safety studies conducted by the drug-maker, Elanco. A review of available evidence collected from FDA and the European Food Safety Authority calls FDA’s approvals into question.
“The continued use and abuse of ractopamine in our food supply needs to be put in check,” said Elisabeth Holmes, staff attorney at Center for Food Safety. “FDA must do its job of assessing risks, questioning health impacts, and providing better solutions for our food system. American families and, potentially, the nation’s economy are at risk.”
While studies on the potential human health effects of ractopamine are limited, data from the European Food Safety Authority indicates that ractopamine causes elevated heart rates and heart-pounding sensations.
Ractopamine has also been shown to have significant health impacts on animals. Fed to an estimated 60 to 80 percent of pigs in the U.S. meat industry, ractopamine use has resulted in more reports of sickened or dead pigs than any other livestock drug on the market. Ractopamine effects may include toxicity and other exposure risks, such as behavioral changes and cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, reproductive, and endocrine problems. It is also associated with demonstrations of high stress levels in animals, “downer” or lame animals, hyperactivity, broken limbs, and death.
“More pigs have been adversely affected by ractopamine than by any other animal drug—over 160,000, by the FDA’s own calculations,” says Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “The effects of ractopamine are cruel and completely avoidable. At a time when consumers are increasingly demanding more humane treatment of animals slaughtered for the meat industry, the United States should be at the vanguard of strong animal protections, rather than behind the international curve.”
Based on available evidence, many countries have taken a cautionary approach to the use of ractopamine in their national food systems. Currently, approximately 160 countries ban or restrict ractopamine, including all the nations of the European Union, China, Taiwan, and Russia.
A copy of the petition to the FDA is available HERE.
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