The fabulous taste of bacon is more popular than ever. But if you are eating conventionally-produced bacon or other pork products, chances are great that you are consuming ractopamine, a livestock growth altering drug so dangerous that 160 countries around the world have banned its use.
Not the U.S. though, where this chemical additive has been given the green light by the FDA, in spite of the fact that it endangers livestock and farm workers as well as consumers.
Although the EU and Asia have banned ractopamine, estimates are that 80% of hogs produced in the U.S. and a lesser number of beef cattle are treated with the drug. In fact since 2013, Smithfield Foods a former U.S. company and the world’s largest producer of pork products, is now working for China and Russia producing ractopamine-free pork.
Of course some of Smithfield’s remaining U.S. plants still spit out ractopamine-laced products for American consumption. Smithfield refers to these as delivering “differentiated products to meet customer specifications.”
Why the FDA Says This Growth-Altering Drug is OK for Americans
The use of ractopamine nets pork producers more cash for each hog they sell because it directs nutrients away from the production of fat deposition in favor of production of lean meat, which weighs more.
Since hog producers selling their animals for slaughter are paid by the pound, this adds up. It can put an extra $10 in a producers pocket for each animal raised, which can translate to an additional $400,000 per year for those running fairly large operations.
The National Pork Producers Council is a powerful lobby for those who grow hogs, with its 20 members spending as much as 1.3 million dollars annually during the implementation of ractopamine in pork. It also generously donates to strategic political campaigns. The groups current agenda appears to be getting countries who have banned ractopamine to reverse their ban.
What are the Hazards of Ractopamine?
The important thing here is that feed for both hogs and cattle contains ractopamine right up until it’s time for the animals to be slaughtered. There is absolutely no clearance time mandated, as there is with other drugs so that those chemicals can be flushed from the animal’s body.
The reason? If the traditional clearance time of two weeks for drugs in animals used for food were observed, the effects of ractopamine would be lost, as the animals would lose their extra weight gain during the clearance period.
As a result, animals fed ractopamine go to slaughter with maximum amounts of the drug in their bodies. This mean that when you eat their meat, you too will contain maximum levels of ractopamine.
Ractopamine is a beta-agonist, a class of drugs that in humans binds to beta-receptors on cardiac and smooth muscle tissues and creates stimulation. This is probably why heart palpitations can follow the eating of a ham sandwich.
There have been no long term studies done to assess whether ractopamine is safe or not, and the consequences of long term human consumption are unknown.
A study published in 2014, though, found that ractopamine could be found in the lung, spleen, heart, liver, muscle tissue, plasma, and brain of rats after they received a small dose intravenously.
Interestingly, the feed additive containing ractopamine comes with a warning that individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure. Those who mix and handle it are cautioned to use protective clothing, impervious gloves, protective eyewear, and NIOSH approved dust masks.
Feeding Ractopamine is Cruelty to Animals
Hogs and cattle fed with ractopamine become so muscle-bound that they walk like arthritic old men, and they must be beaten to get them to go down the chute to slaughter. Ractopamine can also cause profound sickness and death in animals, along with agitation, shortness of breath, trembling, and lameness. Having to deal with ractopamine-fed animals jeopardizes workers, placing them in the line of injury or death.
Cris Birky, owner of Birky farms has discontinued the use of ractopamine in feed after the extreme agitation of the animals got to him. His animals became irritable and aggressive, and posed a threat to anyone working with them. Death and injury of the animals was frequent. He says:
“When we would move pigs or load them for market, we had to be so careful. Any stress at all and pigs would turn purplish and shake and sometimes you might lose one to a heart attack …Just seeing what effect it had on the animals was plenty of reason not to feed it [ractopamine], for their sake alone…The pigs I saw, didn’t like what it did to them, and neither did I.”
The Humane Society, the Center for Food Safety, the United Farm Workers and others have recently filed suit against the FDA to ban ractopamine from the food supply. Stay tuned.