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Want some ractopamine with your cheeseburger? See the list of drugs the USDA still allows to be used in cattle

Monday, January 27, 2014 by: Thomas Henry
Tags: ractopamine, beef cattle, antibiotic abuse

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(NaturalNews) Unless you are seeking out meat that is certified organic, certified antibiotic- and hormone-free or raised by a local farmer you know and trust, chances are very good that you are eating plenty of pharmaceutical drugs with your cheeseburger.

The FDA has approved a long list of dozens and dozens of "safe" food additives for animal feed, including several classes of antibiotics for growth promotion and feed efficiency (such as monensin), natural steroid hormones (including progesterone, testosterone and estradiol), synthetic steroid hormones (such as trenbolone, melengestrol acetate and zeranol) and other chemicals - designed to keep densely packed factory farm animals healthy enough to make it to slaughter, while gaining as much weight as possible to boost profits.

Just a few of the FDA-approved feed additives used in beef cattle, including a number of antibiotics: bacitracin zinc, bambermycins, chlortetracycline, erythromycin thiocyanate, lincomycin, monensin, oleandomycin, oxytetracycline, tylosin, virginiamycin, lasalocid sodium, salinomycin sodium, melengestrol acetate, monensin sodium and ractopamine hydrochloride.

One of the most controversial drug additives are the beta-agonists (also known as beta blockers) which target beta-adrenoceptors in the heart, muscles, lungs and other tissues, and generally interfere with stress hormones. They also allow for an amazing amount of lean muscle weight to be added to livestock in the final period before slaughter - about 30 pounds on average for beef cattle.

Ractopamine has caused more sick animals than any other drug on the market

Ractopamine - sold by Elanco (an Eli Lilly subsidiary) as Paylean for pigs and as Optaflexx for cattle - and Zilpaterol - sold as Zilmax by Merck - are the two most widely used beta-agonists, and both have flamed outrage, triggered bans and led to suspended sales.

Banned in 160 countries, ractopamine has been declared unfit for human consumption over concerns of its negative effects on human health. Beta-agonists are known for producing rapid heart beat and have been associated with coronary heart complications, despite some use in treating these issues. It is not known how much the residue found in meat for human consumption could affect people, but numerous safety concerns have supported restrictions on its use.

According to a report carried by NBC and produced by the Food and Environment Reporting Network, the only human study used by Elanco to determine ractopamine's safety removed one of the six healthy human participants due to an issue with a racing and abnormally pounding heart. This information factored into the decision to ban its presence in meats by the European Food Safety Authority.

In livestock, the use of ractopamine has produced more sick pigs than any other approved pharmaceutical. FDA records show that it has caused more than 218,000 reported adverse reactions in pigs since it was introduced on the market. The biggest issue is that it renders animals unable to walk, known in the industry as "downers," as well as hyperactivity, trembling, broken limbs and cardiovascular issues. According to NBC, the FDA denies that the symptoms are induced by the drug.

Bans in Russia and China have included barring U.S. imports of meat raised with ractopamine, causing significant trade tensions. U.S. trade officials have been applying diplomatic pressure to try to open the market and bolster its nearly $5 billion in beef and pork exports.

Industry pulls Zilmax after lame cattle exposed

Meanwhile, Reuters just went public with a special report on Zilpaterol hydrochloride - sold by Merck pharmaceuticals under the brand name Zilmax - which has come under recent scrutiny after it was associated with unexplained cases of lameness in cattle, including at least 15 documented cows who were unable to walk, had disintegrating hooves and were unwilling to even move after spending months in a feedlot with the drug as a regular additive to promote weight gain.

Back in August, video was shown of some of these lame cows by a veterinarian specialist at a JBS, Inc., conference, one of the biggest meat packers and feedlot operators in the world. Tyson Foods, the nation's largest and most influential meat packer, decided to refuse all cattle treated with Zilmax.

Merck has since voluntarily suspended Zilmax sales, while nations including South Korea have banned imports of Zilmax-treated meat. The possible connection of lame cattle to the beta-agonist Zilmax has never been officially proven, but market triggers have led to its discontinuation in most uses.

Though market pressure has reined in the use of both of these seemingly dangerous drugs, both are still officially allowed by the FDA. In November 2013, the USDA posted information to qualify for its new marketing label "Never Fed Beta Agonists," which producers can use to distinguish their meats from those still using the questionable drug additive.

Why so many drugs in livestock production? It's all about the heavyweight champions...

The meat industry produced about 26 billion pounds of beef from some 91 million cattle in recent years, as compared with about 24 billion pounds of beef from around 130 million cattle back in 1975... bulking up the average head of cattle by almost 150%. That's more meat with less effort, thanks in large part to an intensive pharmaceutical and feed additive regimen.

Steroids, antibiotics, hormones and other pharmaceuticals in general have been overused and controversial in raising livestock for meat, and their derivatives knowingly enter the environment. The huge amounts of waste - dumped into groundwater and used as cheap fertilizer - have been shown in studies to affect fish and wildlife, while the presence of many pharmaceutical drugs in public water supplies has raised human health concerns.

The FDA just finalized a rule in December 2013 encouraging livestock producers to voluntarily phase out the use of antibiotics used primarily to stimulate weight gain, and reserve use for the actual prevention of disease - as the systematic overuse of antibiotics in raising livestock has contributed significantly to the ineffectiveness of antibiotics as a whole and the rise of many types of superbugs. Of course, this rule is voluntary, so the actual results of this on the market remain to be seen.

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