A significant percentage of the U.S. pork supply could soon get a little bit healthier, thanks to a recent game-changing policy shift by the world’s largest pork producer and processor. Reports indicate that Smithfield Foods is gradually ditching the use of a controversial animal feed additive known as ractopamine, which triggers high production of lean meat in pigs. But the decision, which is apparently in preparation for a buyout by a major Chinese counterpart, has prompted the drug-pushing U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to come out in defense of the dangerous additive.
Like with most other pharmaceuticals currently on the market, ractopamine has never been long-term safety tested for low-level intake in humans. In other words, nobody can say for sure whether or not residues of the drug, which admittedly persist in pig muscle after the time of slaughter, are safe for human consumption. Likewise, the drug’s negative effects on the animals it was fed to have also not been taken seriously by regulators, as the FDA welcomed the drug into the factory farm fold with open arms back in the late 1990s without requiring that any independent science be produced to verify its safety and effectiveness both in animals and in the food chain at large.
However, many other countries around the world, including China, have rejected the use of ractopamine, which is presumably why Smithfield is now opting to eliminate it from its production protocols. Like Russia and the European Union, China currently does not allow the import of meat products containing any traces of ractopamine. And since a Chinese company is considering the purchase of Smithfield, it only makes sense that the U.S.-based producer is making changes to meet growing demand in the Chinese market.
But this decision, which benefits everyone, has apparently angered the FDA, which continues to insist that ractopamine is safe. In a recent statement, the drug industry-backed agency said it “remains confident” that ractopamine is safe and effective “when used in accordance with the approved labeling.” But the FDA has absolutely no legitimate science to back up this claim, hence the agency’s ambiguous use of the term “confident” to describe its position on a drug that it was carelessly approved with little scrutiny.