The mid- 2000s saw the rise of ractopamine as a prominent growth promoting agent for the meat industry. Suppliers in this industry are probably familiar with ractopamine, but manufacturers using meat in their products may not know much about its use and effects. We’ve pulled together the top 3 facts to know about ractopamine:

1. Ractopamine promotes lean muscle growth in the weeks prior to slaughter.
Ractopamine belongs to a class of drugs called beta adrenergic receptor agonists. These drugs mimic the effects of adrenaline, resulting in increased protein synthesis in muscle tissue during the administration period, which is typically a few weeks prior to slaughter. Ractopamine also increases feed efficiency, causing the livestock to grow at a more rapid rate while consuming less feed. This results in animals with a higher lean muscle to fat ratio, allowing farmers to be able to produce more lean meat on fewer natural resources.

2. Regulations and guidance for the use of ractopamine varies among nations and the scientific community.
The International Codex Alimentarius Commission in conjunction with The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) published an information sheet in April 2012 summarizing their evaluation on ractopamine. Later that summer, Codex voted to adopt a Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) of 10 ppb for ractopamine in pork and beef. Despite the long-awaited decision, many countries across the globe have either kept or moved forward with a ban on the controversial drug. All of the members of the European Union along with China and Russia have banned its use in domestic meat production as well as in imported products. Ractopamine use is currently legal in the US, Canada, and Mexico. The MRL in the US is 50 ppb – well above the limit introduced by Codex.

3. Ractopamine’s effects on human health is not widely understood.
The effects of ractopamine on animals are fairly well documented, but scientists and government agencies continue to seek a better grasp on the potential health consequences of ractopamine in humans. The one known study of the effects of ractopamine on human health involved six young men, one of which backed out after experiencing adverse effects. The main cited symptom was rapid heart rate. However, it’s widely understood that ractopamine, when used according to appropriate veterinary practices, causes no harm to human health. The idea is that when the drug is used according to label instructions, any residual levels that may be present in final product intended for human consumption would not be cause for concern. This is also supported in the findings from Health Canada’s human safety assessment of ractopamine. They concluded that based on the assessment of available toxicological and residue data, the residues found in edible tissues of cattle, swine and turkeys resulting from the use of the ractopamine products (according to the label directions) are considered to be safe and would not pose any adverse health effects in humans. This conclusion further backs the stance taken by Codex, which was made evident by its adoption of an MRL.

It’s evident that ractopamine will continue to be a mainstay of the veterinary drug world. However, whether using ractopamine or not, it’s always necessary to adhere to regulations and program requirements depending on the jurisdiction. Some combination of analytical testing and supplier verification programs is a common strategy in verifying the absence or at least the trace presence of ractopamine.

Do you need to start testing for ractopamine in your product? Mérieux NutriSciences is excited to be introducing a new LC/MS method, validated against CFIA’s reference method CVDR-M-3021.09, for the detection of ractopamine, in addition to several other beta agonist residues in pork and beef samples.

Our flagship chemistry lab, the Dr. John H. Silliker Solution Center in Crete, IL, is one of the exclusive USDA AMS approved labs to test for ractopamine in pork and beef. Contact us to start testing today!

Meet the Author

Nick Price
Associate Product Manager, Chemistry, Mérieux NutriSciences

Nick Price is the Associate Product Manager for Chemistry at MerieuxNutriSciences. His current focus is on the development of analytical offerings in areas of nutrition, pet food, contaminants, and others. Nick received a Bachelors degree in Chemistry from the University of Illinois and is currently pursuing an advanced degree in Food Science. In his free time he enjoys playing golf, spending time with his two dogs, and volunteering on behalf of Autism Speaks.

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