Russia will ban U.S. pork and beef imports starting this month over concerns about ractopamine, a veterinary drug commonly used in North America to boost growth and leanness that is increasingly controversial overseas, according to Russian media reports.
“Since the violations continue and we are finding ractopamine in meat shipments from the USA, we plan starting February 11 to impose restrictions on the import of this product,” Sergei Dankvert, the chief of Russian veterinary and food safety service, Rosselkhoznadzor, told Interfax.
U.S. trade and agriculture officials have rebuked Russia’s position as retaliatory and unscientific.
“The United States is very concerned that Russia has taken these actions, which appear to be inconsistent with its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in December when Russia first announced it would test beef and pork imports for the drug. “The United States calls on Russia to suspend these new measures and restore market access for U.S. beef and pork products.”
U.S. interests believe the ban is a retaliation for the Senate approval of a bill that punished Russian officials linked to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison after accusing authorities of embezzlement. The ban was announced hours after the bill passed. Russian agriculture officials maintain that their new policy, which has been in the works for months, is not politically motivated, but a response to lingering questions about the safety of ractopamine.
On Wednesday, Rosselkhoznadzor said it had informed the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service “that despite the repeated warnings the growth promoter ractopamine prohibited for use in Russia was detected during the laboratory monitoring of imported food product safety in pork consignments produced by plant No.17D and beef liver produced by plant No.235 which was a crude violation of Russian and CU animal health requirements.” (The same day, Russia’s veterinary service announced it was rejecting 22 tons of fruit, including grapes, apples, and strawberries, from China because of a compliance with plant health requirements and 63 tons of fruits and vegetables, supplied mostly from Poland, for pesticide residues that exceeded Russian standards. Products imported from Turkey and Italy were also rejected.)
In response to the new policy on ractopamine, Canada and Brazil have reportedly given Russian authorities assurance that pork and beef exports will be certified ractopamine-free before being shipped to Russia. The drug, which is a beta-agonist and mimics stress hormones, is fed primarily to swine and cattle in the weeks leading up to slaughter to improve the rate at which the animals convert feed to lean muscle. It was first approved by the FDA in 1999 for pigs, and has since been approved for cattle and turkeys.
Around two dozen countries have approved ractopamine as safe for use, but the European Union, China and several other countries, including Russia, ban their producers from using the drug. Last year, Taiwan had a contentious debate over whether to accept imports that contained low levels of the drug.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service does very limited testing for the drug, but the agency has never found levels that violate the U.S. residue limits, according to the data posted online. A recent test conducted by Consumer Reports of 240 pork samples found that about one in five were positive for very low levels of the drug under 5 parts per billion (ppb), which is well under the FDA’s established MRL of 50 ppb for pork. The FDA’s MRL for beef is 30 ppb. The recently-adopted residue limit at the Codex Alimentarius Commission is 10 ppb MRL for both beef and pork.
Advocacy groups recently petitioned the FDA to lower the maximum allowed residue limits for ractopamine in domestic meat products and review the drug’s impact on animal welfare.
The fact that pork producers have reported a high number of adverse reactions to the drug was first reported by the Food and Environment Reporting Network in an NBCnews.com report: “The drug has triggered more adverse reports in pigs than any other animal drug on the market. Pigs suffered from hyperactivity, trembling, broken limbs, inability to walk and death, according to FDA reports released under a Freedom of Information Act request. The FDA, however, says such data do not establish that the drug caused these effects.”
The FDA added a warning label to Paylean in 2002, noting that the drug could increase the incidence of “downers.”
The petition, filed by the Center for Food Safety and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, asks the FDA to immediately review the Codex standards and meet them or set “more health- and welfare-based standards.” - Helena Bottemiller, Food Safety News