Activists want FDA to lower ractopamine limits

Dec 28, 2012

The global dispute over the use of ractopamine in beef and pork has escalated in recent weeks, and now includes U.S. groups requesting more research.

According to Food Safety News, animal rights and food safety groups are petitioning FDA to immediately lower the allowed residue limits for ractopamine and to study the drug’s effects on human health and animal welfare. “The continued use and abuse of ractopamine in our food supply needs to be put in check,” said Elisabeth Holmes, staff attorney at the Center for Food Safety, which partnered with the Animal Legal Defense Fund to file the 37-page petition. “FDA must do its job of assessing risks, questioning health impacts and providing better solutions for our food system,” said Holmes in a statement Thursday.

FDA approved ractopamine as safe more than a decade ago, but the petition claims the agency did not thoroughly review all of the potentially negative consequences of the drug. More than two dozen countries have approved ractopamine as safe, but some, including China and the European Union, ban the drug’s use. Russia recently adopted a zero tolerance policy for ractopamine in imported meat, and last summer, in a 69-67 vote, the Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted a 10 ppb safe maximum residue limit (MRL) for both beef and pork.

Russia’s new ractopamine requirements came just after the Senate and House passed the Jackson-Vanik Repeal Act, legislation that established Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Russia.

In a joint statement, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said, “The United States is very concerned that Russia has taken these actions, which appear to be inconsistent with its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The United States calls on Russia to suspend these new measures and restore market access for U.S. beef and pork products. The United States sought, and Russia committed as part of its WTO accession package, to ensure that it adhered rigorously to WTO requirements and that it would use international standards unless it had a risk assessment to justify use of a more stringent standard. Especially in light of its commitment to use international standards, this is an important opportunity for Russia to demonstrate that it takes its WTO commitments seriously.”

According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, beef exports to Russia totaled $203.7 million and pork exports totaled $202.9 million from January to September 2012.

When FDA approved ractopamine, it set an MRL of 30 ppb for beef, and according to USDA-Food Safety and Inspection Service data, the agency has never found levels that violate the MRL. However, the U.S. petition filed last week asks FDA to immediately review the Codex standards and meet them or set “more healthand welfare-based stan dards.”

The groups also want the agency to perform “comprehensive scientific studies needed to characterize the health, welfare and behavioral risks posed by the use of ractopamine.”

Meanwhile, the media blitz has begun, with ractopamine as the new evil in agriculture production.

The January 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine features an article claiming antibiotic-resistant bacteria and traces of ractopamine were found during an analysis of U.S. pork. The article is titled “What’s in that pork?” The author claims that ractopamine is a drug “given to as many as 60 to 80 percent of pigs raised in the U.S., by one estimate.” The article advises consumers to help prevent the routine use of antibiotics in agriculture by buying organic pork. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor