Vegan Health ArticlesAdditive Used in U.S. Meat Production May Be Too Dangerous Even for Codex
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From Barbara Minton,
August 2009

It clearly warns that individuals with cardiovascular disease should use special caution to avoid exposure.

The latest session of the U.N. Codex Alimentarius ended without final adoption of a maximum residue level for ractopamine, a feed additive widely used in pork and beef production. The commission agreed to review additional information on the drug to be submitted by China, a country that has outlawed its use. Although this is very good news for meat eaters, the U.S. delegation to Codex expressed disappointment in the commission's decision to delay adoption of a minimum residue level for ractopamine, and urged that the review of information from China be completed by the Codex meeting in July, 2010. The National Pork Producers Council has been pushing the commission to adopt a minimum residue level for ractopamine, even though no evidence has surfaced to suggest its use is safe for animals or for the humans that consume products from animals bulked up with this drug.

Ractopamine's only benefit is to fatten up meat producers' bottom lines

Ractopamine was approved in 1999 for use on finishing swine, pigs that are being fed and readied for market. The drug directs nutrients away from the production of fat deposition and promotes an increase of lean meat, resulting in more weight gain, increased carcass leanness, and fatter bottom lines for pork producers. In early 2003, the FDA approved ractopamine for use as a growth promoter in cattle during the last 28 to 42 days of the finishing period for feedlot steers and heifers. No long term studies documented the safety of ractopamine prior to its approval for hogs or cattle.

Ractopamine is a product of Elanco technology, a company owned by Eli Lilly. It trades under the name Paylean for use with hogs, and Optaflexx for use with cattle. Producers of hogs love Paylean because it improves feed efficiency by 13 percent, and average daily weight gain by 10 percent. Average daily feed intake is reduced by 6 percent, and total lean meat production is boosted by 25 to 37 percent. Paylean use can net a pork producer an extra $5 to 10 per hog, and can increase profits by more $320,000 a year in a fairly good sized operation.

For cattle fed with Optaflexx, the additional weight gain is about 14.2 lbs when fed with 200 mg per head per day. Feed efficiency is improved up to 15.9 percent. The net increase to cattle producers who use the drug averages $8.00 per head. According to industry data, red meat yield is increased with no affect on marbling.

No clearance period prior to slaughter mandated for ractopamine

Animals can dine on ractopamine laced feed right up until they enter the slaughtering chute. There is no required clearance period for this drug as there is with other drugs used by producers. If a clearance period were required for ractopamine, the animals' unnaturally produced weight gain would evaporate and so would the extra profits. Other drugs used on hogs and cattle require a clearance time of two weeks before the animal can be turned into steaks and chops. This relaxation of clearance time is in the face of industry research which has shown it takes a full seven days for 97% of Paylean to be excreted following a one-time typical dose in pigs. This means that every time one of the traditional American favorite hot dogs or hamburgers is eaten, the person doing the eating will be ingesting ractopamine.

Ractopamine is cardiac stimulator and possible carcinogen

Ractopamine belongs to the class of beta-adrenoceptor agonists. This class of drugs binds to beta-receptors in the heart. The overall effect of beta-agonists is cardiac stimulation, including increased heart rate and systemic dilation of blood vessels. Other drugs in this class have been found to be carcinogenic.

Although there have been no long term studies of the effects of ractopamine in humans and no data exists to determine the outcome of long-term exposure to the chemical, short-term animal studies have shown destabilization of heart rate, reduced testicular and uterine weight, and heart weight increase. Studies using rats have shown reduction in mean litter size and an increase in total number of fetuses that fail to develop.

Since some beta-adrenoceptor agonists have been found to be carcinogenic, Dr. L. Ritter of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs at Health and Welfare Canada has recommended studies of Paylean's genotoxicity and pharmacology, and surveys of all non-therapeutic effects of long term use of the drug class in humans. He sees this as essential in the prediction of the consequences from long-term intake of ratopamine residues by consumers of treated products.

In April of this year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that the metabolic fate of ractopamine hydrochloride is similar in pigs, cattle, laboratory animals, and humans. Their Panel on Additives and Products or Substances used in Animal Feed found from an acute study in dogs that tachycardia and peripheral vasodilatation occurred. Their report specified that NOAELS (no observable adverse effect levels) derived from pharmacological repeated dose studies should not be regarded as a meaningful basis for establishing an acceptable daily intake (ADI) because of the observed down regulation of lung beta-adrengergic receptors. They explained that when evaluating hypothetical risks for consumers, data from acute pharmacological studies would better reflect the consumer situation after intake of a single meal containing ractopamine residues.

According to this panel, significant subpopulations which may be at higher risk for adverse events after beta-adrenergic stimulation require particular consideration when estimating the safety factor. Attempts to derive an ADI so far have not sufficiently taken into account these population subsets at higher risk. The panel concludes that 5 mg, the lowest administered dose, cannot be considered a no-effect dose. Human study cannot be taken as a basis to derive an ADI as previously purposed, and no MRL could be established. The Committee for Medical Products for Veterinary Use concurred with this conclusion. This is in conflict with the Codex Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives which says ractopamine is a safe treatment for all concerned.

Others studying ractopamine have concluded that it may be more toxic after its first pass through the liver because metabolites have their own individual profiles. Ractopamine has not yet been studied after passage through animal livers in the form in which it would be present in the tissues of animals fed with it.

Paylean label says it's not for human use

There may be no clearing period required before turning ractopamine fed animals into dinner, but the Paylean label suggests significant hazards for humans using the substance. It clearly warns that individuals with cardiovascular disease should use special caution to avoid exposure. Persons mixing and handling Paylean are advised to use protective clothing, impervious gloves, protective eyewear, and NIOSH approved dust masks, as well as to wash themselves thoroughly immediately after handling Paylean.

Other countries say no to ractopamine

Only 24 counties support the use of ractopamine. It is banned in 160 countries including the EU, China and Tiawan, where punishment for its use includes fines and imprisonment. Imported meat is tested and turned away if traces of ractopamine are discovered.

U.S. based Smithfield Foods, the largest slaughter plant in the world, supplies pork to China. A recent industry article announcing a large Chinese order from Smithfield explains how that order will be filled. Since Smithfield has full control over their swine production, they will stop feeding Paylean for three weeks until the pigs test clear. This is an industry admission that fully three weeks of clearance time is needed to export meat that will pass the standards of China for being ractopamine free, a conclusion that is inconsistent with the stance of Codex.

Even the U.S. may be wising up

Smithfield subsidiary, John Morrell has just announced contracts with several large swine farms to supply them with pork that is free of both Paylean and antibiotics. Until this announcement, only small niche slaughtering plants have been interested in processing Paylean and antibiotic free hogs.

Use of ractopamine is cruelty to animals

Animals pay a great price for the chance to boost their producer's bottom lines. One of the swine producers contracting his Paylean free hogs to Morrell says that Paylean has the effect on pigs that steroids have on body builders. It makes pigs walk like arthritic old men, and act just as crotchety. Pigs on Paylean become emotional, mean and stubborn, and have to be beaten to get them loaded for market and into the chutes for processing.

Chris Birky of Birky Farms says Paylean makes animals extremely agitated and miserable. They become aggressive toward each other, and the people raising them. They lose their ability to cope with stress and can turn purple, shake and even fall down dead of heart attacks during any stressful event. At the same time, their bodies are flooded with stress related hormones that can end up in tissues.

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We began this archive as a means of assisting our visitors in answering many of their health and diet questions, and in encouraging them to take a pro-active part in their own health. We believe the articles and information contained herein are true, but are not presenting them as advice. We, personally, have found that a whole food vegan diet has helped our own health, and simply wish to share with others the things we have found. Each of us must make our own decisions, for it's our own body. If you have a health problem, see your own physician.