Smithfield is one of the biggest meat production companies in the world, and in the U.S. it feeds pigs, cattle and turkeys the growth-promoting drug ractopamine. However, ractopamine is not used in 160 other countries because of the risks it poses to public health and animal welfare as it unnaturally accelerates weight gain in animals raised for meat. Robyn O’Brien has begun a petition on Change.org requesting that Smithfield stop feeding ractopamine to animals intended for consumption in the U.S. Read on for details.
Ractopamine is of concern on two fronts. The first is the possible effects on human health. In livestock the drug increases lean meat production and works like a stress hormone, increasing heart rate and relaxing blood vessels. When the FDA approved the drug in 1999, it did so based on test results provided by ractopamine’s manufacturer, Elanco. In the only human trial they conducted, one of the six test subjects had to be removed from the program due to a racing, pounding heart.
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Most countries that don’t allow the use of the drug have done so because of the lack of proven safety data for the drug when consumed by humans. While most ractopamine leaves an animal’s system quite quickly, residues remain for up to a week. The drug is fed to animals in the last two weeks before slaughter to rapidly promote lean meat production, so there’s a strong possibility of residual traces in the meat consumed. China, Taiwan and the E.U. don’t allow any residual traces of ractopamine in the meat they import from the U.S.
Secondly, and of no lesser concern, is the impact of ractopamine on the animals themselves. Ractopamine is fed to an estimated 60 to 80 percent of pigs in the U.S., and has resulted in more reports of sickened or dead pigs than any other livestock drug on the market. One common effect is the incidence of “downer” animals, animals weakened, lamed and unable to walk to slaughter unassisted. According to the FDA’s own calculations, more than 160,000 pigs have been affected by the drug. O’Brien states in her petition that other side effects include “behavioral changes and cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, reproductive, and endocrine problems. It is also associated with high stress levels in animals … hyperactivity, broken limbs, and death.”
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O’Brien notes that Smithfield operates one, possibly two, raptopamine-free production plants in the U.S. — a necessity if they are to export meat to the countries that don’t accept the drug. In her petition, she is requesting that the company make all their U.S. production plants raptopamine free. To add your name to the petition, click on over to Change.org. For more information on raptopamine, Helena Bottemiller has a very comprehensive report over at The Fern.
Photos via Change.org; and the USDA via Flickr