THE feed additive ractopamine continues to be an issue of global debate as both Russia and Brazil recently made conflicting decisions regarding its use.
Russia decided to ban U.S. meat that may contain residues of the feed additive, which is used to promote leaner meat and increase feed efficiency.
On the other end of the spectrum, scientists in Brazil have found that using a small dose of the product can boost pork production without sacrificing quality and taste.
Pork, turkey and beef are now all on Russia's list of banned meat after Russia found ractopamine residue in some of the products.
While many say it is a political move, Russia is not the first country to reject the feed additive. In fact, many countries, including the European Union, have banned the use of ractopamine in their own countries.
After years of restrictions following the Cold War, the U.S. Senate recently passed a bill to establish normal trade relations with Russia. A provision in the bill, however, requires that the Russian government exercise sanctions against human rights violators.
Clearly angered over the requirements, Russia expressed disapproval by banning U.S. meat, saying ractopamine residues were found in meat. The government will allow the banned U.S. meat products to be imported once the U.S. can ensure that no residues will be found.
Lee Schulz, an assistant professor of economics at Iowa State University and an extension and outreach livestock market specialist, said Russia accounted for about 6.7% of the U.S. beef export market in 2012 through November, up 7.6% from the previous year.
On the pork side, Russia was a key market in 2012, with U.S. shipments to Russia growing 47.3% through November. According to Schulz, Russia accounted for about 5.6% of the U.S. pork export market in 2012.
Schulz said the Russian market is relatively small compared to other major markets for U.S. meat, but that doesn't mean it's unimportant.
"Anytime trade is restricted, it has the potential to affect individual producers, but the impact could be limited," Schulz said. "The restriction being in place doesn't necessarily mean exports will completely cease, especially for pork. U.S. pork producers and processors have been producing non-ractopamine-fed pigs for some markets. Beef producers could do the same, if the markets are large enough and pay well enough."
Dr. James McKean, a professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine at Iowa State University and associate director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center, said ractopamine went through a long and rigorous testing period and was approved by the Food & Drug Administration before livestock producers began using it more than a decade ago.
McKean insists that it's a safe product.
"Ractopamine underwent very thorough safety testing, and it took a long time to get the product on the market," McKean said. "I'm very comfortable with its safety for human consumption."
Brazil apparently agrees with the Iowa State professor. In the latest issue of the Journal of Animal Science, animal scientists in Brazil reported that a 5 mg/kg dose of ractopamine increased muscle mass and feed efficiency and had no noticeable effect on pork marbling, fat content, toughness or color. The researchers came to this conclusion by testing pork from 340 pigs raised under commercial conditions.
"We found that if (pork producers) use 5 mg/kg of ractopamine in the finishing diet of swine, that should result in no detrimental effects on fresh pork quality and cooked pork palatability," said Natalia Bortoleto Athayde, an animal scientist at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil.
Some scientists had reported reduced pork quality with higher doses of ractopamine; therefore, Athayde and other researchers split a herd of pigs into three groups and gave them 0, 5 or 10 mg/kg of ractopamine during the last 28 days before slaughter. They then slaughtered the pigs and tested the pork's pH, temperature, color, drip loss, marbling, intramuscular fat, cooking loss and tenderness.
According to Athayde, analyzing meat color is important because changes in meat color can be a sign of stress in an animal.
The researchers found that, although 5 mg/kg produced no noticeable effects, pork from the 10 mg/kg pigs was lighter and less tender than pork from control group pigs. Athayde said this confirms findings from previous studies showing that 5 mg/kg is an appropriate dose in Brazil's commercial pork production.
Athayde noted that pork is the most-consumed animal protein in the world, "and Brazil is currently the fourth-largest producer of this meat. We export about 15% of pork we produce, and we believe it is extremely important to know the quality of the meat that we offer to the world."
Ractopamine use will continue to be a controversial trade issue as both consumer demand and global food production standards change. The feed additive is viewed as a tool to feed a growing population, but with limited research, some countries continue to question its safety.
Purdue pork conference
Purdue University Extension and Indiana Pork are teaming up to host the third annual Southern Indiana Pork Conference and offer an update on the latest news in the pork industry.
The free daylong conference will be held March 20 at the Schnitzelbank Restaurant in Jasper, Ind. Lunch will be provided by Indiana Pork.
Kenneth Eck, Purdue Extension educator in Dubois County, Ind., said swine producers, veterinarians and pork buyers and packers should attend to learn about and discuss issues key to the swine industry.
"We're trying to get three groups together -- Indiana pork producers, Purdue academia and Indiana veterinarians -- to talk to each other about what issues are most important to them," Eck said.
He noted that farmers in southern Indiana are particularly interested in new livestock regulations because Dubois County leads the state in livestock production. The conference will include discussions about changes in, and updates to, production, economic and environmental factors.
* "State Fertilizer & Manure Regulation Changes" by Julie Stephens, Office of Indiana State Chemist.
* "Tyson Animal Welfare Audit Program -- What, How & Why?" by Ed Tice, Tyson Foods Inc.
* "Can New Supplemental Enzymes Improve Pig Performance for Diets High in By-Product Ingredients?" by Brian Richert, Purdue Extension swine specialist.
* "State Regulatory & Legislative Issues & How They'll Affect You" by Josh Trenary and Spencer Morris, Indiana Pork.
* "Exploring Changing Consumer Preferences for Pork Production: Purchasing Behaviors & Perceptions in 2012" by Nicole Olynk Widmar and Melissa McKendree, Purdue Extension agricultural economists.
* "Local Health Concerns -- A Veterinarian's Perspective" by John Baker, Warrick Veterinary Clinic.
* "Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) Certification" by Eck.
Reservations are requested by March 13 to the Indiana Pork office by calling (317) 872-7500.
*Krissa Welshans holds a bachelor's degree in animal science from Michigan State University and a master's degree in public policy from New England College. Welshans has long been involved in agriculture and has worked with numerous agricultural groups, including the Animal Agriculture Alliance.