Never underestimate the power of a freaked-out consumer to impact your bottom line. Under the right circumstances, your export market to a particular country could be gone overnight, for example. Today Reuters reports that Russia is threatening to stop all imports of beef and pork from the United States  unless the meat can be tested and certified as being free of ractopamine. It is terrifying to realize that one crazy misrepresentation of your product can have drastic implications for an industry. And so the fallout continues from the recent Consumer Reports magazine article, entitled, “What’s in the pork?”  seeking to create a stir about ractopamine use.
In spite of efforts by credible sources such as veterinarians, medical doctors and meat scientists to point out that the claims made in the article amount to junk science, the damage has already been done. The U.S. Meat Export Federation says that since the U.S. Department of Agriculture has no testing and certification program currently in place for ractopamine, the Russian demands could effectively stop our country’s exports of pork and beef to that country by tomorrow.
Now remember, all of the pork samples tested by Consumer Reports had well-below the allowable limit of ractopamine according to both international guidelines and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules. There’s an obvious trend toward ignoring sound science, and producers should be both vocal and concerned. Consider the example of antibiotic use. During a conference in Kansas this week,  Mike Appley, a professor of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University, predicted that it is highly likely that the FDA will be moving to take needed antibiotics away from farmers based on consumer perceptions alone and in spite of legitimate science that justifies the product’s use.
Yet another story reported by Food Safety News  details how a lawsuit was filed against FDA this week contending the agency withheld data regarding the sale of antibiotics used in food animal production. A group called the Government Accountability Project (GAP) wants more information released about drug company sales of antibiotics for animal use. According to one of the people pursuing the lawsuit, obtaining the data “will help public health researchers decipher how the industry’s antibiotic use erodes the effectiveness of these life-saving drugs.” Do you see any particular agenda there?
It is important to point out that ractopamine is not an antibiotic. But just what is it? According to Jeff Simmons, president, Elanco Animal Health , ractopamine hydrochloride is a feed ingredient that directs nutrients from fat to lean protein, helping increase the yield of lean meat from pigs and cattle. It is a synthetic organic compound, not an antibiotic nor a steroid hormone. Ractopamine isused in Elanco’s products Paylean for swine andOptaflexx for cattleto improve carcass leanness, increase average daily gain and improve feed efficiency. According to Elanco, 26 regulatory agencies have conducted extensive reviews of ractopamine data, and based on stringent human food safety criteria, have concluded that the feed ingredient is safe for use in swine and cattle production. Ractopamine was first approved for use in 1999 and has since been registered in multiple countries and used in well over 300 million swine worldwide.Those are the facts.
Do facts matter to consumers anymore? What do you think? Are you taking steps to educate your friends, neighbors and customers? Leave us a comment by clicking on the comment icon with this article, or email [email protected]  to let us know what you think about this situation.