Ractopamine in Pork

Ractopamine in Pork
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BREAKING NEWS video: An analysis of yesterday’s Consumer Reports finding that 1 in 5 samples of retail pork tested positive for the growth-promoting drug ractopamine. Tomorrow, I’ll cover their findings on Yersinia contamination.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Earlier this year, China rejected 200,000 pounds of pork from the United States, after discovering residues in the meat of an adrenaline-like drug called ractopamine, which is fed to U.S. pigs and turkeys as a growth-promoter to improve muscle yields.

What about the domestic U.S. meat supply? Last year’s report from the USDA National Residue program said 310 pigs were tested (out of about 10 million slaughtered). The 2012 report listed the number of tested pigs at zero.

That’s why it’s so important to have public interest groups, such as Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, to fill the gaps. Yesterday, they released a report in which they analyzed 240 U.S. pork products, and found trace levels of ractopamine in about 20% of retail pork sampled.

In response, the National Pork Producers Council tried to allay concerns by noting that the levels found in U.S. pork chops were less than half the ractopamine residue limit set by the UN Codex Commission this summer. What they didn’t mention was that out of the 143 ballots cast, the Commission came within a single vote of setting any safe levels in pork, given “outstanding safety concerns.”

The National Pork Producers Council also failed to mention that residue limit was based on a single human study that only had six people in it. That six-person study was exhibit #1 in the European Food Safety Authority’s analysis of the drug. (EFSA is Europe’s equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration). The experiment in question was a preliminary study, designed not to establish a safety level, but to find a suitable test dose for a larger study that never happened.

Ractopamine was originally developed as an asthma medication, but it didn’t work. The study involved giving these six men between 5 and 40 milligram doses of ractopamine. At the higher levels, the subjects reported feeling their hearts racing and pounding. In fact, one of the six subjects was withdrawn from the study, because, apparently, he couldn’t take it. At 5 milligrams, though, no cardiac changes were noted. So, that’s the dose the Codex Commission used to calculate the maximum allowable meat residue, and acceptable human daily intake levels.

Just because the dose didn’t cause a problem in six people, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that level is safe. The EFSA panel calculated that a study of six people wouldn’t even have the statistical power to pick up a 40% change in cardiac output. To detect as statistically significant a 10% change in blood pumping, the study would have required at least about 60 people.

In addition, the study only looked at the cardiovascular effects of ractopamine. Given the adrenaline-like effects, one would expect metabolic effects—such as an increase in blood sugar levels, muscle tremors, or behavioral effects, such as restlessness, apprehension, or anxiety. Also, all six subjects were healthy young men. What about vulnerable populations, such as children, those with heart disease, or on certain medications?

The panel concluded that the UN limits did not sufficiently take these higher risk populations into account. Bottom line, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the single small human study could not be taken as a basis to derive an acceptable daily intake, and consequently no proposal for maximum [meat] residue levels could be made. In other words, we just don’t have enough human data to determine what the safe level in meat may be.

Last month, the Council on the European Union joined China in reaffirming their ban on ractopamine, “[s]tressing that the policy…is based on persisting scientific uncertainty about the safety of products derived from animals treated with this substance…and also takes into account concerns on animal health and animal welfare….”

Studies going back a decade have shown that pigs on ractopamine may have chronically elevated heart rates, increased stress reactions, and difficulty walking. In fact, the warning label on the drug reads: ‘‘Caution: Pigs fed PAYLEAN [ractopamine] are at an increased risk for exhibiting the downer pig syndrome.” Meatier pigs, their slogan says, heftier profits; but, maybe, downer pigs—where pigs are too sick, injured, or exhausted to stand, and may be dragged to slaughter in chains.

It’s ironic that the pork industry continues to defend the use of gestation crates for pregnant pigs, on the pretext of preventing aggression between sows. Mother pigs are confined for nearly their entire lives, in crates so restrictive they can’t even turn around. This is from the communications director of the National Pork Producers Council, if you can believe it: “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls…I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around.”

Anyway, the industry claims that this is to keep them from fighting, while at the same time feeding growing pigs a drug shown to increases aggressiveness and attacks—thought to be due to changes in brain chemistry in the pigs, caused by the drug.

Given the human and animal welfare concerns, why does the U.S. pork industry continue to feed this drug to millions of pigs every year? A few weeks ago, a meta-analysis was published in the Journal of Animal Science. Based on all the studies done to date, pigs fed ractopamine “had an overall carcass cutability advantage of 1.01 percentage units when compared to control pigs.” All this for a 1% greater yield.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Special thanks to pradtf for his all-hands-on-deck help to get this breaking news video up and out. Images thanks to Farm SanctuaryThe Humane Society of the United States; and Seth Anderson via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Earlier this year, China rejected 200,000 pounds of pork from the United States, after discovering residues in the meat of an adrenaline-like drug called ractopamine, which is fed to U.S. pigs and turkeys as a growth-promoter to improve muscle yields.

What about the domestic U.S. meat supply? Last year’s report from the USDA National Residue program said 310 pigs were tested (out of about 10 million slaughtered). The 2012 report listed the number of tested pigs at zero.

That’s why it’s so important to have public interest groups, such as Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, to fill the gaps. Yesterday, they released a report in which they analyzed 240 U.S. pork products, and found trace levels of ractopamine in about 20% of retail pork sampled.

In response, the National Pork Producers Council tried to allay concerns by noting that the levels found in U.S. pork chops were less than half the ractopamine residue limit set by the UN Codex Commission this summer. What they didn’t mention was that out of the 143 ballots cast, the Commission came within a single vote of setting any safe levels in pork, given “outstanding safety concerns.”

The National Pork Producers Council also failed to mention that residue limit was based on a single human study that only had six people in it. That six-person study was exhibit #1 in the European Food Safety Authority’s analysis of the drug. (EFSA is Europe’s equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration). The experiment in question was a preliminary study, designed not to establish a safety level, but to find a suitable test dose for a larger study that never happened.

Ractopamine was originally developed as an asthma medication, but it didn’t work. The study involved giving these six men between 5 and 40 milligram doses of ractopamine. At the higher levels, the subjects reported feeling their hearts racing and pounding. In fact, one of the six subjects was withdrawn from the study, because, apparently, he couldn’t take it. At 5 milligrams, though, no cardiac changes were noted. So, that’s the dose the Codex Commission used to calculate the maximum allowable meat residue, and acceptable human daily intake levels.

Just because the dose didn’t cause a problem in six people, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that level is safe. The EFSA panel calculated that a study of six people wouldn’t even have the statistical power to pick up a 40% change in cardiac output. To detect as statistically significant a 10% change in blood pumping, the study would have required at least about 60 people.

In addition, the study only looked at the cardiovascular effects of ractopamine. Given the adrenaline-like effects, one would expect metabolic effects—such as an increase in blood sugar levels, muscle tremors, or behavioral effects, such as restlessness, apprehension, or anxiety. Also, all six subjects were healthy young men. What about vulnerable populations, such as children, those with heart disease, or on certain medications?

The panel concluded that the UN limits did not sufficiently take these higher risk populations into account. Bottom line, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the single small human study could not be taken as a basis to derive an acceptable daily intake, and consequently no proposal for maximum [meat] residue levels could be made. In other words, we just don’t have enough human data to determine what the safe level in meat may be.

Last month, the Council on the European Union joined China in reaffirming their ban on ractopamine, “[s]tressing that the policy…is based on persisting scientific uncertainty about the safety of products derived from animals treated with this substance…and also takes into account concerns on animal health and animal welfare….”

Studies going back a decade have shown that pigs on ractopamine may have chronically elevated heart rates, increased stress reactions, and difficulty walking. In fact, the warning label on the drug reads: ‘‘Caution: Pigs fed PAYLEAN [ractopamine] are at an increased risk for exhibiting the downer pig syndrome.” Meatier pigs, their slogan says, heftier profits; but, maybe, downer pigs—where pigs are too sick, injured, or exhausted to stand, and may be dragged to slaughter in chains.

It’s ironic that the pork industry continues to defend the use of gestation crates for pregnant pigs, on the pretext of preventing aggression between sows. Mother pigs are confined for nearly their entire lives, in crates so restrictive they can’t even turn around. This is from the communications director of the National Pork Producers Council, if you can believe it: “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls…I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around.”

Anyway, the industry claims that this is to keep them from fighting, while at the same time feeding growing pigs a drug shown to increases aggressiveness and attacks—thought to be due to changes in brain chemistry in the pigs, caused by the drug.

Given the human and animal welfare concerns, why does the U.S. pork industry continue to feed this drug to millions of pigs every year? A few weeks ago, a meta-analysis was published in the Journal of Animal Science. Based on all the studies done to date, pigs fed ractopamine “had an overall carcass cutability advantage of 1.01 percentage units when compared to control pigs.” All this for a 1% greater yield.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Special thanks to pradtf for his all-hands-on-deck help to get this breaking news video up and out. Images thanks to Farm SanctuaryThe Humane Society of the United States; and Seth Anderson via flickr

Doctor's Note

I had been collecting papers on ractopamine and Yersinia enterocolitica for my 2013 batch of videos, but no time like the present, given yesterday’s findings by Consumers Union that a significant proportion of the U.S. pork supply is contaminated with both! For more on drug use by the livestock industry, see Meat Mythcrushers, as well as Drug Residues in MeatU.S. Meat Supply Flying at Half Staph; and MRSA in U.S. Retail Meat. Next, I cover CU’s finding that the majority of retail pork samples harbored the foodborne bacteria Yersinia enterocolitica; see Yersinia in Pork.

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: Ractopamine and Yersinia in U.S. Pork and Bugs & Drugs in Pork: Yersinia and Ractopamine.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

21 responses to “Ractopamine in Pork

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    1. Yes, true that! Still something needs to be done with the copious amounts of drugs being used in our nation’s livestock. Not only for our welfare, but also for the welfare of these poor maltreated animals.

  1. wow dr. greger, you are literally breathless in this video and with good reason. i am grateful for your passion and up to date information. i don’t eat pigs but the consequences of this report are so much more than just what i personally put in my mouth. dr. oz has a time cover story this week on how to eat healthy on the cheap. i haven’t read the whole thing but i did see that he encouraged readers to eat eggs from caged animals. what to make of this article? have you seen it? anyway, look forward to tomorrows continuation and just, i wonder what besides making informed choices i as an american can do…

    1. Dr. Oz was chomping on some pork chops the other day made from Valerie Bertinelli (sp). A cardiothoracic surgeon who should (and does) know the research.

      From what I can see Dr. Oz is out to make money and keep his show going, not to inform people or patients of the best way to improve health.

      If you took every pill that Dr. Oz recommends you would be taking barrels of supplements everyday and would have no room left for food.
      Just ludicrous I say. Reminds me on a Holy Grail line, “What sad times are these when passing ruffians can say ‘Ni’ at will to old ladies.” Thus referring to, say what you want to sell your product because it makes you money.
      What happened to being ethical? What happened to, “Let food be thy Medicine.”? What happened to, “Do no harm.”? What happened to being being a patient advocate?

      Don’t believe the hype. Follow the research on NutritionFacts.org and PubMed.

      1. Yep it’s true, the Dr Oz show has everything including the kitchen sink thrown in. He represents all view points because that’s how the air time gets filled, that’s how more people will tune in, and that’s how you don’t step on any (potential) advertisers’ toes. He doesn’t even pick his guests; staffers handle all of that planning. Stick with sites like NutritionFacts if you want true data, uninfluenced by big money/media advertising $$. The information on this site may evolve/change as new science comes in, but at least it’s based on research.

      2. Good morning Dr. hemo, I hope all is well in Northern California.

        Dr. oz isn’t all bad. His general take home message is eat less meat, stay away from junk and exercise. He talks a lot about cardiovascular disease and prevention. I was under the impression he was vegetarian. But let’s just say he moves his watching population from eating meat from 3 times a day to 3 times a week isn’t he helping the average American on the SAD?

        Baby steps.

        I had a hard time watching this video. Those poor pigs.

        1. True! Baby steps are important but not for the people with severe CAD, Diabetes, Peripheral Vascular disease. Moderation kills in these folks.

          Sure he does some good but at what expense?

          And if all he did was talk about being Vegan everyday he would have to close shop and go back to thoracotomies.

          1. And that’s my point.

            If he talks vegan everyday no one would tune in and then he would be influencing no one. Which is better? I have been able to influence and change my patients diet over time. That way they don’t think I am nuts and before you know it they have gone from a high protein meat based diet to plant based. They lose weight, start to get compliments on how great they look and eat very little meat, their blood work improves and they are sold.

            Did you see his show with Rosie O’Donnel? She has recently had a heart attack. The overall take home message was good.

            1. I see your point but I disagree with saying Dr. Oz is OK with what he is doing. Just look at the last two days of video’s on Pork (which he happened to eat on TV) and look at the medical cost burden to our society by advocating eating these things.
              I feel when someone is in the Medical Public Eye (just like sports figures) that they should be held to a higher standard because of the amount of people that believe them.
              Meat and dairy consumption causes an estimated Medical cost burden of 500,000,000,000 to 900,000,000,000 dollars a years because of the chronic diseases that they cause to our society. So to say we should still advocate it, in my opinion, is ludicrous and criminal.
              But me, like you, understand even baby steps are better than nothing.

      3. Hemodynamic: Thank you for your post about Dr. Oz. I watched that show for a little while to see what all of the fuss was about. I was shocked at how bad it was. There is just enough baby in his giant swimming pool of bathwater to keep people permanently confused for years to come. The Dr. Oz shows are constantly contradicting themselves with information, sometimes even within the same show. And I’ve never seen him actually tell people to eat fewer animal products. He actively tells people to eat animal products *all* the time.

        The sad part is how powerful he is. I have several co-workers who follow his every word. I have a low-income co-worker in poor health who is overweight. Instead of deciding to eat healthy, she went out and bought an expensive supplement that was recommended on the Dr. Oz show that is supposed to help her loose weight. The co-worker certainly has to take responsibility for her own health, but I agree with you that a medical professional has an ethical responsibility to tell people the truth, whether they can do a TV show or not. He bears some of the responsibility, especially because he is so high-profile, for the sad state of confusion about food in America.

        Rant Over. Thanks for giving me a good spot to rant.

    2. I’d take anything Dr. Oz has to say with a HUGE dose of critical thinking (think of the medium he chooses to spread his “knowledge”, how it is funded, i.e, through advertising dollars, and what the shows real purpose is –hint: as infotainment and to make $$) and further research.

      If you really want to learn how to eat healthy on the cheap, you should check out NF’s “cost savings” videos and the Environmental Working Group’s Good Food on a Tight Budget.

    3. In addition to Hemodynamic MD’s comments with which I totally agree. There is no health justification for eating eggs unless I missed something in the 50+ videos and related articles on NutritionFacts.org. In fact all the evidence points to the harm ranging for risk of infectious disease such as salmonella to accelerated decline of kidney function due to animal protein to arterial disease. The sad truth is many of my persons eat eggs to get “quality protein” when in fact the essential amino acid profile of eggs is identical to broccoli and asparagus. The best three articles on protein that I have read are by Dr. John McDougall. If you go to his website, http://www.drmcdougall.com, then search monthly newsletters for articles in 12/03(History of Protein), 4/07(Sources of Protein) and 1/04(Protein overload). The take home message is there is no justification to eat eggs from a health perspective and since most eggs are produced in industrial farming operations that are detrimental to the environment (see DelMarVa peninsula effects on the Chesapeake Bay as an example) not to mention the billions of suffering egg laying hens not to mention the short lived male egg laying chickens who are dropped into grinders (industrially accepted disposal method). Keep coming back to NutritionFacts.org as the science is always changing. Be well.

  2. Powerful!
    I think we should lock the pork farmers in a cage so they can’t turn around for 2.5 years and feed them Ractopamine. Would be a quite interesting study. Just Imagine!

  3. Wow. This kind of information leaves me so depressed. There just does not seem to be much hope for humanity. :-(

    I’m grateful that you took the time to do a “breaking news” video. It’s awesome that you have be flexible on this site and react to the news we are getting.

  4. The meat industry :-((; among so many others :-((, is killing us :-(( in the name of profit. :-(( “Thank you” Dr. Greger. :-))

  5. Because MegaMeatCorpInc. has too much influence in the U$. It’s really really pathetic and I struggle with this as I make BBQ every 4th of July for family and friends. This year I will NOT cook chicken. Next year I may raise my own pork, depends on how much corn I can grow because I won’t use industrial produced feeds if I do.

  6. I don’t eat pork, (or any other animal products at this point) but it may be of interest to those who do eat pork, that there is a calm, clean, odorless, flyless, drugless method of raising pigs that is taught by Korean Natural Farming, Master Cho in Korea. My husband and I traveled around Korea visiting pig raising facilities where the sows and their progeny had low stress lives in clean, spacious, pleasant, deep litter pens. The pigs were notably calm, and were not at all upset by the presence of the tour group.

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