by Gretchen Goetz
FOOD SAFETY NEWS
A controversial animal drug, fed to a majority of pigs raised in the United States, has become the focus of a long-running trade dispute centered on meat exports.
Ractopamine hydrochloride – used to keep swine lean and boost their growth in the last weeks before slaughter – is administered to an estimated 60 to 80 percent of pigs raised in the United States. But key trading partners,want assurance that it is safe, and have a zero-tolerance policy for meats with even traces of the substance. So export markets are limited, according to a report published Wednesday by msnbc.com.
The feed additive is also responsible for more deaths and illnesses among pigs than any other livestock drug on the market. It has killed or sickened more than 218,000 pigs since it was introduced, according to the analysis in Business on msnbc.com this week.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that ractopamine was safe for use in pigs 13 years ago – in 1999 – and has since approved it for use in cattle and turkeys as well.
The agency set a threshold for residues of the drug. Sale of any meat with levels below this amount are legal-
But testing for ractopamine in meat products has been limited. In 2010, for example, 712 samples were taken from 26 billion pounds of beef, and the results of this testing have not yet been released.