Ractopamine: The Meat Additive on Your Plate That's Banned Almost Everywhere But America
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Have you ever heard of ractopamine? Neither have most US food consumers though it is used in 80 percent of US pig and cattle operations. The asthma drug-like growth additive, called a beta-agonist, has enjoyed stealth use in the US food supply for a decade despite being widely banned overseas. It is marketed as Paylean for pigs, Optaflexx for cattle and Topmax for turkeys.
This month, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) have sued the 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 has only produced 464 pages out of 100,000 pages that exist. Worse, all 464 pages have already been released as part of a reporter's FOIA. Thanks for nothing.
CFS and ALDF have spent over 18 months meeting with the FDA and seeking information about the effects of ractopamine on "target animal or human liver form and function, kidney form and function, thyroid form and function" as well as urethral and prostate effects and "tumor development." The lawsuit says the CFS has "exhausted administrative remedies" and that the FDA has "unlawfully withheld" the materials.
Ractopamine's effects on animals are documented, say the groups, but effects on humans remain a mystery. Codex, the UN food standards body, established ractopamine safety residues on the basis of only one human study of six people and one subject dropped out because of adverse effects! "Data from the European Food Safety Authority indicates that ractopamine causes elevated heart rates and heart-pounding sensations in humans," says CFS.
In an early Canadian study, monkeys given ractopamine "developed daily tachycardia"-- rapid heart beat. Rats fed ractopamine developed a constellation of birth defects like cleft palate, protruding tongue, short limbs, missing digits, open eyelids and enlarged heart.
Two cousin drugs of ractopamine, clenbuterol and zilpaterol, cause such adrenalin effects in humans they are banned by the Olympics. Cyclist Alberto Contador failed a Tour de France anti-doping test in 2010 for levels of clenbuterol which he said he got from eating meat. Clenbuterol has been banned or restricted in meat after human toxicities. "The use of highly active beta-agonists as growth promoters is not appropriate because of the potential hazard for human and animal health," wrote the journal Talanta.
Certainly the ractopamine label puts no one at ease. "WARNING: The active ingredient in Topmax, ractopamine hydrochloride, is a beta-adrenergic agonist. Individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure," says the label for the turkey feed. "Not for use in humans. Keep out of the reach of children. The Topmax 9 formulation (Type A Medicated Article) poses a low dust potential under usual conditions of handling and mixing. When mixing and handling Topmax, use protective clothing, impervious gloves, protective eye wear, and a NIOSH-approved dust mask. Operators should wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling. If accidental eye contact occurs, immediately rinse eyes thoroughly with water. If irritation persists, seek medical attention. The material safety data sheet contains more detailed occupational safety information. To report adverse effects, access medical information, or obtain additional product information, call 1-800-428-4441." This is used in food production?
Ractopamine is banned in the EU, Russia, China, Taiwan and many other countries. In 2007, China seized shipments of US meat and charged that frozen ribs, pig ears and sausage casing contained ractopamine. This year, when the US refused to comply with ractopamine-free certification, Russia closed its market to US beef, pork and turkey.