International commission sets ractopamine standards

A United Nations (UN) Commission has approved international standards for ractopamine, a feed ingredient used to promote leanness in pork and beef. As for all feed ingredients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had long ago reviewed and approved ractopamine products. In all, 26 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines and South Korea had approved the products. However, some countries maintained a ban, which kept their markets closed to many exporting countries.

At its annual meeting being held July 2-7 in Rome, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which was established by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote food safety and fair practices in trade, adopted a science-based standard for ractopamine. Specifically, on Thursday the commission adopted Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) and Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) for pig and cattle muscle, fat, liver and kidney. The lack of international standards had caused confusion regarding the product, the resulting meat and exports.

"NPPC is pleased that the Codex commission finally approved this scientifically proven safe product," says National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President R.C. Hunt, a producer from Wilson, N.C. "The commission, as it should, fulfilled its mandate to base standards and guidelines on science."

But this is not the first time that a Codex panel of international scientists, including scientists from the European Union, has confirmed the safety of ractopamine. In all, this marks the fifth time the UN body considered setting a maximum residue limit for ractopamine.

The human safety of meat products derived from pigs and cattle fed ractopamine had been confirmed by the Joint FAO/OIE Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) in 2004, 2006 and 2010, as well as by 27 regulatory authorities around the world.

"Despite those findings and the support of the United States, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico and countries in every part of the world outside of Europe, the standard again was opposed for non-scientific reasons outside the scope of the Codex by the European Union and Russia," points out NPPC.  Currently, the EU, China, Taiwan and Thailand ban pork imports from pigs fed ractopamine.

"U.S. pork producers are very disappointed with the continued opposition to ractopamine for reasons other than scientific ones from several countries, particularly Russia," Hunt notes.  "That country is set to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) this year, and it requires member countries to abide by international trade standards. Given Russia's intransigence on ractopamine, we're concerned about its commitment to WTO principles."

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) also is hopeful that the Codex decision will bring science back to the forefront of policies set by U.S. trading partners.

"Standards not based on science create an unnecessarily volatile trading environment for U.S. exporters who are reluctant to ship products to countries with non-science based testing regimes. Hopefully, the Codex decision to move forward with science based standards will translate into a shift in trade policy for other countries to adopt science based safety standards," NCBA said.

Elanco produces ractopamine products for both hogs and cattle. Company officials point out that "ractopamine is a feed ingredient that directs nutrients from fat to lean protein, helping increase the yield of lean meat from cattle and swine. It is not an antibiotic, steroid hormone or genetically modified organism nor is it manufactured busing genetically modified organisms."

"These (Codex) standards provide an international food safety reference point that helps assure consumers that their food is safe," says Jeff Simons, president of Elanco. "Codex standards for ractopamine are a significant step towards enabling sustainable meat production, fulfilling the increased demand for animal protein and therefore addressing worldwide hunger."

The Codex decision will become official when the commission's report is finalized on Saturday, July 7.