SENATE Agriculture Committee leaders wrote a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk asking him to quickly address Russia's new import ban on U.S. beef, poultry and turkey -- a ban that could cost the U.S. economy $600 million annually.
Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and ranking member Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) said the ban is "unfounded, not based on sound science and violates World Trade Organization rules."
The trade violation stems from Russia's zero-tolerance policy regarding ractopamine, a feed additive for livestock approved in 2000 by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and last summer by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an international organization that sets science-based food safety standards.
"We must demonstrate to Russia that its newfound commitment to WTO membership includes adherence to science-based standards, such as the Codex (maximum residue limit) for ractopamine," the senators wrote.
Ractopamine is used in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and South American countries such as Brazil. U.S. livestock producers can add ractopamine to the feed of animals nearing slaughter, explained Dr. James McKean, an Iowa State University professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine and associate director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center.
The additive acts as a growth regulator that "repartitions" the proportion of fat and lean muscle the animals produce. Swine fed ractopamine grow a higher proportion of muscle at a time when they normally add more fat, he said. Ractopamine also increases feed efficiency.
Concerns that traces of the substance remain in the meat after an animal has been slaughtered have prompted other countries to ban the product.
In their letter to Kirk, Stabenow and Cochran wrote, "With your swift action and use of all enforcement tools available, it is our sincere hope that the issues surrounding Russia's import ban can be quickly and decisively resolved, thereby ensuring a stable and predictable trading environment for U.S. livestock producers and exporters."
McKean said Russia's decision to stop importing U.S. meat that contains ractopamine resulted more from heightening trade tensions between the two countries than from a concern over public safety.