U.S. food, animal groups seek lower ractopamine limits

Food safety and animal welfare groups petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday seeking limits on an animal feed additive now being blocked from meat exports to Russia.

Russia said earlier this month it was requiring meat it imports to be tested and certified free of the feed additive ractopamine, a move jeopardizing more than US$500 million a year in exports of U.S. beef and pork to that country.

U.S. trade authorities have taken a stand against Russia’s sudden decision to require that meat imports be documented as free of ractopamine and have urged Russia to suspend such measures.

Russia has denied its action on meat imports was in response to the U.S. Senate including a measure to "name and shame" human rights violators as part of a bill expanding trade with Russia.

Ractopamine is fed to animals to accelerate growth and make their meat leaner, but countries such as China have banned its use amid concerns the additive may be harmful to the animals and that traces of the drug could persist in meat products.

In their petition to the FDA, the Center for Food Safety and the Animal Legal Defense Fund called for an immediate reduction in the allowable levels of ractopamine and asked FDA to study the long-term effect of human consumption and the impacts on animals associated with ractopamine.

"FDA’s approval for ractopamine relied primarily on safety studies conducted by the drug-maker, Elanco," the groups said in a statement. "A review of available evidence collected from FDA and the European Food Safety Authority calls FDA’s approvals into question."

The groups said ractopamine is fed to an estimated 60 to 80 per cent of U.S. pigs, and has resulted in more reports of sickened or dead pigs than any other livestock drug on the market.

Ractopamine effects may include toxicity and other exposure risks, such as behavioural changes and cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, reproductive and endocrine problems, the groups claimed.

About 160 countries ban or restrict ractopamine, including all the nations of the European Union, China, Taiwan, and Russia, the groups said.

FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said the agency extensively evaluated ractopamine before approval and "continues to monitor the safety and effectiveness of animal drugs like ractopamine" after they receive FDA approval.

"Twenty-six other countries have also approved ractopamine," Burgess said and all "have concluded that food derived from animals treated with ractopamine is safe for humans to eat."

Among those countries is Canada, where U.S. animal health giant Elanco markets ractopamine as Paylean 20 premix for hogs and heavy tom turkeys, and as Optaflexx 100 premix for finishing beef cattle.

The drug was approved for use in Canada in 2006 and is also cleared for use in countries such as Australia and Mexico.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission — the main organ for the joint food standards program of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) — in July adopted an acceptable daily intake (ADI) and maximum residue levels (MRLs) for ractopamine in pig and cattle muscle, fat, liver and kidney.

Elanco — an arm of drug maker Eli Lilly — and meat-exporting nations had hoped importing countries would use the Codex standards as a reference point for allowing the product.

Approved on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s list of medicating ingredients in livestock feeds, Paylean contains ractopamine at 20 grams per kilogram; Optaflexx is approved at 100 g/kg.

— Carey Gillam writes for Reuters from Kansas City. Includes files from AGCanada.com Network staff.

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