Alta., B.C. producers halt ractopamine

Olymel, Maple Leaf able to export | Hog producers stopped using the drug to regain access to Russia

It’s been a year since Russia rattled the global hog industry by banning pork imports with ractopamine residues.

Many Canadian farmers continue to use the beta agonist, which increases feed efficiency and stimulates the rate of gain, but hog producers in Alberta and British Columbia have abandoned the drug, says Darcy Fitzgerald, executive director of Alberta Pork.

“As far as Alberta and B.C., it’s not being used and the plants don’t accept pigs that have it,” Fitzgerald said.

Russian buyers are now accepting ractopamine free pork from Alberta, he added.

“Olymel in Red Deer was relisted as a plant that can ship back to Russia.”

Fitzgerald said the Maple Leaf hog processing plant in Lethbridge also doesn’t accept hogs produced with ractopamine, which is marketed as Paylean.

Russia cited food safety concerns when it announced it would ban the import of beef, pork and turkey raised with ractopamine. However, meat industry observers have speculated the ban is a non-tariff trade barrier and possibly payback for U.S. criticism of Russian policies on human rights.

Canadian Pork Council spokesperson Gary Stordy said Canada’s hog industry responded quickly to the ban because Russia is the third largest buyer of Canadian pork. It exported $491 million worth pork to Russia last year, compared to $878 million to Japan and $981 million to the United States.

“There are processing plants that worked with their producers to basically remove or not use that product during production,” he said.

China also doesn’t permit the use of ractopamine, and the European Union doesn’t accept meat with ractopamine residues.

Two billion people live in those three markets, which is difficult for a pork-exporting nation like Canada to ignore, Stordy said.

“We (Canadian Pork Council) do let producers decide on how they raise their pigs, with or without this product, but we do suggest that it (be) an informed decision with the plant they ship or sell their animals to,” he said.

“Producers and processors and traders are adapting where they see fit…. Certainly in Alberta and B.C., they made those changes.”

The council worked with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency earlier this year to develop a ractopamine-free pork certification program, which ensures the drug isn’t present in any stage of the supply chain, from feed manufacturers to finishing barns to processing plants.

Stephane Beaudoin, regional market access manager for Elanco, the manufacturer of Paylean, said the use of ractopamine varies in Canada, depending on expectations of regional processors.

He said the Canadian government has defended ractopamine, arguing the scientific evidence shows it is safe. He added the government is taking a balanced approach. The feds needed to develop ractopamine-free protocols, through the CFIA, for producers and processors that want to sell into Russia and other markets.

Beaudoin said Elanco continues to engage the Russian government and regulatory authorities, regarding the ractopamine ban, but didn’t elaborate on the progress of those discussions.

Fitzgerald said the shift away from ractopamine wasn’t particularly painful for Alberta producers be-cause a significant percentage never used the growth stimulant.

“It was probably somewhere in around 50 percent that were using it.”

Of course, it hasn’t been as easy for hog operators who used ractopamine, Fitzgerald added

“I don’t think the producers that were using ractopamine, I can’t say they are all happy,” he said, although lower feed costs in recent months have smoothed the transition.

Alberta and B.C. producers may have ditched Paylean to secure market access, but a percentage of Manitoba hog farmers are sticking with the product.

Glen Gratton of Maple Leaf Agri Farms estimated that 50 percent of Manitoba’s hog producers continue to use the drug.

Maple Leaf uses ractopamine at some of its Manitoba barns.

“We would be on a50-50 split,” he said.

“A lot of our farms don’t use it because we’re doing RWA (raised without antibiotics) … that means there is no ractopamine.”

Gratton said Maple Leaf segregates RWA production at its Brandon processing plant. He doesn’t expect ractopamine to disappear.

“In North America, the U.S. is not taking out ractopamine at all, hardly.”

The chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods, which is the largest pork producer in the U.S., said this fall that the company was cutting its use of ractopamine.

Bloomberg reported that 40 percent of Smithfield’s products are now made without ractopamine.

2 Responses

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  1. This is just one of the horrifying things that everybody should know about pork and Paylean (ractopamine) ….compliments of AlterNet. The Canadian government however continues to defend its use, as safe, based on scientific evidence. Unfortunately,they didn’t bother to ask the pigs for their opinion.

    “Veterinary drugs given to animals on factory farms whether antibiotics, antiparasite and fungal drugs, vaccines, heavy metals and additives in feed (to impart color to meat) or growth promoters do not appear on labels. But one drug used in 45 percent of US pigs since 1999 to promote leanness is especially worrisome. Unlike most veterinary drugs which have to be withdrawn before slaughter, ractopamine is begun in the days before slaughter and never withdrawn. [11]

    Three years after ractopamine’s approval, the FDA accused its manufacturer Elanco, Eli Lilly’s animal subsidiary, of withholding information about “safety and effectiveness” and “adverse animal drug experiences.” Elanco, said the FDA in a 14-page warning letter, failed to report furious farmers phoning the company about “dying animals,” “downer pigs,” animals “down and shaking,” “hyperactivity,” and “vomiting after eating feed with Paylean [ractopamine].”

    In 2009, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) termed ractopamine a cardiac stimulator capable of causing undue stress and health risks in animals. [12] The journal Talanta said there was, “potential hazard for human and animal health.” And a report from Ottawa’s Bureau of Veterinary Drugs says that rats fed ractopamine developed a constellation of birth defects like cleft palate, protruding tongue, short limbs, missing digits, open eyelids, and enlarged heart.”

  2. David Stewart on

    I thank the Hog Producers in both Alberta and B.C. for their collective decisions to stop the use ractopromine. I am neither a PETA nor Organic disciple but after doing considerable reading and after a great deal of thought I have come to the conclusion we are consuming a wide range of chemical additives that are in the meats mainly to promote growth and lean meat. The major benefits of which go to the producers and the packers.
    The current list of chemical additives and antibiotics that is published by Agriculture Canada as approved for Dairy, Swine and Poultry exceeds 60 items and is growing.
    The practice of using such chemicals is relatively new in agriculture, mainly within the past 30 years. One has to wonder if the rapid increase in the last 30 years of children being diagnosed with severe food allergies, autism and other strange and uncommon symptoms might be related to some of the additives in the meat we eat.
    Thanks to the Pork Producers of at least 2 provinces it would appear that at least one of these chemicals is out of play. The decision not to use may well have been made to secure a market of 2.5 billion consumers bur at least the producers listened to what the customer asked for. Good for you.

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