More Facts about U.S. Beef and Ractopamine
OT-1202E | Date: 03/01/2011
Why Use Ractopamine?
With high feed grain prices and increasing world demand for meat products, producers in the United States and other countries must use all available technologies to increase meat production while reducing production costs and maintaining affordable prices for consumers. Ractopamine helps increase the ability of cattle and pigs to efficiently turn what they eat into muscle rather than fat. This leads to reduced feed demand, less waste, higher quality, and more affordable meat for consumers.
More than 100 clinical studies and country-directed risk assessments have documented that ractopamine is safe and effective, and 27 counties have approved ractopamine for feed use with animals or established safe maximum residue levels for imported meat products. Feeding ractopamine to cattle and pigs is a tried and proven way to boost production to meet growing world demand for meat while keeping consumer prices at reasonable levels.
Have 100 Countries Really Banned Ractopamine?
Although that statement has become popular in local media, it is false. The truth is that the manufacturer has applied for approval only in countries that have significant commercial domestic animal production or that are major markets for U.S. exports of beef or pork. The EU, China and Taiwan are the only major markets that ban domestic use and also do not allow the import of meat that contains any residue of ractopamine. It is also important to note that authorities in those countries were unable to document any legitimate food safety risk for ractopamine and used non-scientific reasons to justify their bans.
The United States exported beef and pork products to more than 100 countries around the world in 2011. Over the past 10 years, millions of people have eaten billions of kilograms of U.S. beef and pork with no reports of illness or any other effect linked to the consumption of meat from animals fed ractopamine.
Why Can’t the U.S. Just Ship Ractopamine-Free Beef to Taiwan?
Because ractopamine is considered safe and has been approved for use in cattle, there is generally no segregation of the beef supply in the United States. As a result, ractopamine-free beef is available only from a limited number of small certified-organic ranches and processors. In fact, organic beef is estimated to account for less than 3 percent of total U.S. beef production.
But If the U.S. Ships Ractopamine-free Beef to the EU, Why Should Taiwan Settle for Less?
A limited number of U.S. exporters have set up dedicated operations to meet the EU’s requirements. It is important to note, however, that this program was costly and cumbersome to implement, requiring nearly 10 years before exports to the EU finally matched the level of exports to Taiwan in 2011. Also as a result, consumer prices for U.S. beef in the EU are 15-20 percent higher than they would be in the absence of the ban.
Taiwan imports a much smaller range of different beef cuts than does the EU. As a result, for ractopamine-free or organic beef, the U.S. exporter would be forced to sell the other remaining organic cuts to non-organic markets at a lower price and cover those costs by charging more to Taiwan importers. Restricting imports of U.S. beef, therefore, will ultimately force Taiwan consumers to pay higher prices for U.S. beef.
Because such a decision is not supported by science, the choice to pay higher prices for organic beef should be left to consumers. Consumers in Taiwan, Japan, the United States and many other countries already have that choice when it comes to buying other food products, including pork, chicken, fruits and vegetables. Beef should be no different.
Are Feed Additives and Other Veterinary Compounds Necessary?
Consumers in Taiwan and the United States have access to a wide variety and abundant supply of food products such as meat, eggs, milk, fish and other foods that come from animals. Our agriculture sectors strive to provide consumers with safe, nutritious foods at an affordable price. To ensure that they can meet the growing demand for food, however, producers must take advantage of modern technologies that allow them to increase production, reduce the cost of inputs and help maintain affordable consumer prices.
Feed additives and other veterinary compounds are an important part of the production equation in every country. Manufacturers and regulatory authorities conduct exhaustive research and reviews to determine application levels that provide the desired result while still providing a wide safety margin to protect consumers. Some studies suggest that without the use of agricultural chemicals, the production and quality of food would be severely affected, with estimates that food supplies would decline 30-40 percent due to the ravages of agricultural pests and diseases.
Regulatory authorities in every country establish safe and effective tolerances for feed additives and other veterinary compounds. Taiwan itself has established maximum residue levels for more than 100 veterinary compounds. A list of these can be found at:
Does Eating Meat From Animals Fed Ractopamine Cause Aggressive Behavior in Humans?
Next Magazine recently published an article that seems to imply a link between the consumption of ractopamine and possible suicide in humans. The article that Next cited was written by researchers from the U.S. Agricultural Researcher Service and published on-line in the Journal of Animal Science (JAS) in May 2010. The JAS article referenced another study that looked at chemical markers for "aggressive behavior in animal species and even suicidal traits in humans." In the JAS article, however, it is very clear that the authors were not suggesting a link between the consumption of meat from animals fed ractopamine and aggressive or suicidal behavior in humans. The JAS article clearly is about the possible effects on animals that have been fed ractopamine, and there is no discussion in this article about the effects of ractopamine on humans. To suggest such a link based on this study is poor science and completely unsupported by the research. The JAS article can be found at
It is important to remember that, based on the standards adopted by 27 major producer and importer countries of meat products, including Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, the United States and others, the residue levels in meat from animals fed ractopamine are far below the level at which there would be any effect on consumers. More than 100 clinical animal studies and a confirmatory human study were used to determine a safe level below which there would be no effect of any kind. This level was further reduced by a safety factor of 100 to establish maximum residue levels in meat products.
To put this into perspective, a person would need to eat more than 270 kilograms of beef or more than nine kilograms of beef liver every day to reach that maximum safe level. Over the past ten years, millions of people in more than 100 countries around the world have consumed billions of kilograms of U.S. beef with no reports of any illness or other effect linked to ractopamine. Clearly, this is strong evidence that U.S. beef and ractopamine are safe.