US pork producers have debuted a label that assures consumers their meat was not made by giving animals ractopamine, an asthma drug-like beta agonist that increases protein synthesis. The ractopamine molecule is a mixture of mirror-image “stereoisomers,” which are discouraged in medicines because of unpredictability.
Ractopamine is considered a “repartitioning agent” and was recruited for livestock use when asthma researchers found the drug made mice more muscular says Beef magazine. It is marketed as Paylean for pigs, Optaflexx for cattle and Topmax for turkeys and used in 45 percent of US pigs, 30 percent of ration-fed cattle and in turkeys.
Three years after Paylean’s 1999 approval, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine’s Office of Surveillance and Compliance accused Elanco, which was Eli Lilly’s animal drug division at the time, in a warning letter of withholding information about “safety and effectiveness” and “adverse animal drug experiences” upon which ractopamine was approved.
“Our representatives requested a complete and accurate list of all your GLP [Good Laboratory Practices] studies involving Paylean (Ractopamine hydrochloride), including their current status as well as the names of the respective study monitors. In response, your firm supplied to our representatives multiple lists which differed in the names of the studies and their status. In addition, your firm could not locate or identify documents pertaining to some of the studies. This situation was somewhat confusing and created unneeded delays for our representatives,” wrote Gloria J. Dunnavan, Director Division of Compliance.
Omitted said the FDA were calls from farmers reporting “hyperactivity,” “dying animals,” “downer pigs” and “tying up” and “stress” syndromes to Elanco, said the FDA. Elanco also received calls from farmers saying that “animals are down and shaking,” and reporting “pig vomiting after eating feed with Paylean,” accused the FDA.
According to Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, the “indiscriminant use of Paylean (ractopamine) has contributed to an increase in downer non-ambulatory pigs,” and pigs that “are extremely difficult to move and drive.” In Holsteins, ractopamine is known for causing hoof problems, says Grandin and feedlot managers report the “outer shell of the hoof fell off” on a related beta agonist drug, zilpateral marketed as Zilmax.
An article in the 2003 Journal of Animal Science confirms that “ractopamine does affect the behavior, heart rate and catecholamine profile of finishing pigs and making them more difficult to handle and potentially more susceptible to handling and transport stress.”
Zilmax, cited by Dr. Grandin and discussed in the 2014 expose The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business, is so harmful to animals, the hooves on cattle given the drug were “basically coming apart,” said Keith Belk, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University who viewed photos of lame cattle at Tyson Foods Inc. slaughterhouse in southeastern Washington state last year. Some of the animals had to be euthanized.
After images of the lame cattle on Zilmax were shown, Tyson told feedlot customers it would stop accepting Zilmax-fed cattle and Merck temporarily suspended Zilmax sales. But despite FDA reports of 285 US cattle dying unexpectedly or being destroyed after being fed Zilmax and 75 animals who lost hooves, 94 with pneumonia and 41 with bloat, Merck said last year it would reintroduce the drug. Quite simply, Zilmax makes more money for meat producers especially during drought and, if anything, its use is increasing.
Clenbuterol, a cousin drug to ractopamine like zilpateral, causes such adrenalin effects in humans it was banned in Olympics sports. 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.
Ractopamine is banned in Europe, China and 160 countries and actually caused riots in Taiwan in 2007. A rumor that Taiwan’s ractopamine ban was going to be lifted caused 3,500 pig farmers and party members to congregate at the Department of Health and Council of Agriculture in Taipei City in 2007, some carrying pigs, reported Taiwan News.
Chanting “We refuse to eat pork that contains poisonous ractopamine,” and “Get out, USA pork” protesters threw eggs at police, soldiers and reporters and pig dung at government buildings. Demonstrators then gathered at Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture and the American Institute where institute spokesman Thomas Hodges defended ractopamine’s safety but agreed to pass a petition on to US officials. Farmers told reporters that “the use of ractopamine in pigs will serve only to harm consumers and the local swine industry, because ractopamine residue will most likely stay in the internal organs of livestock, thus local consumers would fall victim to health problems if the ban is lifted,” reported Taiwan News.
Demonstrators were referring to the fact that, unlike other livestock drugs which are withdrawn days or weeks before slaughter, ractopamine is administered up until slaughter. As much as twenty percent of Paylean, given to pigs for their last 28 days, Optaflexx, given to cattle their last 28 to 42 days and Topmax, given to turkeys their last 7 to 14 days, remains in consumer meat says author and well known veterinarian Michael W. Fox.
A safety report from Ottawa’s Bureau of Veterinary Drugs verifies ractopamine residues in meat and raises other safety questions. It cites a constellation of birth defects in rats fed ractopamine like cleft palate, protruding tongue, short limbs, missing digits, open eyelids and enlarged heart.
While it is amazing that a drug whose safety and initial approval were always in question was given such wide use in the US food supply, it is also encouraging that US pork producers are hearing consumers. Will beef and turkey producers be next?