(MintPress) – This week, Russia imposed a ban on the import of beef, pork and turkey from the U.S., citing that the nation would not purchase any meat from the U.S. until the U.S. could guarantee its exported meat was not exposed to an animal feed additive called ractopamine. Ractopamine hydrochloride is a drug fed to animals right up […]
(MintPress) – This week, Russia imposed a ban on the import of beef, pork and turkey from the U.S., citing that the nation would not purchase any meat from the U.S. until the U.S. could guarantee its exported meat was not exposed to an animal feed additive called ractopamine.
Ractopamine hydrochloride is a drug fed to animals right up until they are slaughtered. Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first ruled the drug was safe 14 years ago, many nations including the European Union, China, Taiwan and Russia have banned ractopamine, due to concerns regarding the drugs impact on human health.
Fed to animals to amplify the production of lean meat and reduce fat, ractopamine is said to leave animals’ bodies quickly, with studies on pigs showing 85 percent of ractopamine will be excreted in a day. But the drug can still be found in animals more than a week after they’ve consumed the drug.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has assured the public that levels of the drug found in meat have been determined safe by the FDA, but many nations, including Russia, are just not willing to take the United States’ word for it.
“The United States is very disappointed that Russia has taken action to suspend all imports of U.S. meat, which is produced to the highest safety standards in the world,” said Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, and Tom Vilsack, and U.S. agriculture secretary, in a joint statement.
But it’s not just health concerns that are likely behind Russia’s decision to ban ractopamine-tainted meat, it’s also a move that is in step with Russia’s policies. Just before the ban took place, there were reports of a Russian company that was fined 20,000 rubles, or about $665, for selling imported U.S. pork products that had traces of ractopamine.
Because some countries, such as China and Taiwan, have no safety threshold for the drug, they must reject shipments of meat if traces of the drug are found. The European Union has a similar requirement. And though the drug is legal in the U.S., some U.S. food companies avoid meat produced with the drug, including Chipotle restaurants, meat producer Niman Ranch and Whole Foods Markets.
Part of the United States’ concern with Russia’s ban is the financial threat it has on the U.S. meat export market, which is reportedly worth $500 million annually. In addition to the U.S., Canada and 24 other countries have approved the use of ractopamine, and U.S. trade officials have pressured more countries to accept meat from animals raised on the drug.
Resolving the issue with China and the European Union, specifically, had been an agricultural trade priority for the Obama administration, which is trying to increase exports to help the economy.
Many European nations have placed bans on meat imported from the U.S. not just because of ractopamine, but more generally, European Union officials are concerned about all hormone-treated meats, citing potential health risks like cancer as a major concern.
Hormones are often added to stimulate growth in animals before they are slaughtered, but some, like Roy Hertz, former director of endocrinology at the National Cancer Institute and a leading authority on hormonal cancers, warn of the carcinogenic dangers these additives can cause. Hertz says no dietary levels of hormones are safe and that a dime-sized piece of meat contains billion of millions of molecules.
One of the first hormones used to fatten animals, Diethylstilbestrol (DES) was banned in 1979 after forty years of evidence that DES caused cancer. DES has since been replaced with sex hormones like estradiol and progestins, which are synthetic forms of the naturally-occurring hormone progesterone.
Elanco, a division of Eli Lilly, manufactures the ractopamine drug under the brand name Paylean. The company claims that pigs that were fed the drug before they were slaughtered produced an average of 10 percent more meat than those animals that didn’t receive the drug.
Elanco’s ractopamine was approved for pigs first in 1999, for cattle in 2003 and turkeys in 2008. Before the drug was approved, Elanco conducted safety studies to judge how much ractopamine could safely be consumed.
According to a study by European food safety officials, in the only human safety study Elanco conducted, one of the six healthy young men who participated was removed because his heart began racing and pounding abnormally.
All of the other test subjects were animals — mice, rats, monkeys and dogs. Elanco reported “no adverse effects were observed for any treatments,” but after the drug had been used for a few years, veterinarians and pig farmers reported hundreds of sickened pigs.
Similarly, USDA meat inspectors reported an increase in the amount of “downer pigs” — animals unable to walk in slaughter plants. Aware of the high volume of complaints about adverse reactions animals were having to ractopamine, the FDA requested Elanco add a warning label to the drug and sent a warning letter to Elanco for failing to disclose all data regarding the safety and effectiveness of the drug.