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Are growth-promoting drugs in your pork?

Livestock drug ractopamine is prohibited by the E.U., China, and hundreds of other countries, and yet is widely used in the U.S. to increase lean meat and boost profits for meat producers. It is also sickening animals at an alarming rate. Which makes you wonder: What is the drug doing to people who consume trace amounts of it every day?

Ractopamine hydrochloride. Heard of it? Not many outside of livestock production have, either. The drug, made by Eli Lilly under the brand names Paylean or Optaflexx, is the cause of ongoing trade disputes between the U.S. and China, Taiwan, and the European Union. On a Google search, it appears that it has made modest appearances in health articles over the last several years, but it has remained largely outside of mainstream media.

Food politics reporter Helena Bottemiller dug into recent developments and published this excellent article about ractopamine use and trade disputes last week. Widely used in U.S. livestock production, particularly in pigs and cattle, ractopamine causes animals to bulk up with lean meat, increasing profits for meat producers. Profit isn’t everything it increases: A large rise in sick, “downer” animals has been tied to the drug.

Which makes you wonder: If it’s making pigs sick, what is it doing to the people who consume trace amounts of ractopamine every day? The drug mimics stress hormones, and the only human study was conducted by the drug manufacturer and involved just six healthy adult males. What’s more, reports Bottemiller, there’s no knowing just how much of the drug is being passed to humans through the food supply: The USDA’s testing for ractopamine residues in meats is extremely limited (last year not one test was conducted on the 22 billion pounds of pork produced).

In fact, 150 countries have prohibited the use of the drug as a leanness-enhancing agent. Imports of ractopamine-laced meat have been rejected by China and the E.U., and Whole Foods Markets, Chipotle, and Niman Ranch also reportedly avoid meat produced with the drug, according to Bottemiller.

Is it any wonder why the vegan diet is gaining popularity? This only adds conviction to my meat-free lifestyle, but for those who enjoy their spare ribs or follow a paleo diet? Opt to eat only organically raised animals. Better yet, reduce meat consumption altogether and go for organic eggs, a more sustainable choice of high-quality protein.

What are your thoughts on this clandestine (at least to mainstram media) livestock drug? Share in the comments.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Dana Jacobi (not verified)
on Feb 8, 2012

This says ractopamine is being fed to cattle. Does that mean beef as well as pork?

Can an individual producer, or a trade association like the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. be asked if they administer this drug to their cattle.


on Feb 8, 2012

Yes, cattle are also fed this drug; it is in the beef supply, too.

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