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NewsBites December 2015 Issue

New Labeling for Drug-Free Meats

Following concerns about antibiotics in meat and poultry, the next target in efforts to avoid drugs at the meat counter may be "beta-agonists." The drugs are used to add muscle weight to animals in the weeks before slaughter. Many producers already avoid the most common type of beta-agonist, called ractopamine hydrochloride, in pork, beef and turkey for export, because some major markets including China, Russia and the European Union prohibit it. But ractopamine is used in 60-80% of pigs raised in the US, and even producers who don’t use it couldn’t boast about that fact on their domestic labels—until now.

With little fanfare, the USDA recently approved two companies’ requests to label their meat as "produced without ractopamine." The agency had previously developed a “Never Fed Beta-Agonists Program” in 2013, but that was strictly for exported meats. China, a key export market, has rejected US meats several times after finding ractopamine residues.

Should you worry about ractopamine? The FDA and pork industry say the drug—originally developed as a potential asthma treatment in humans—poses no risk to consumers. Other countries, however, worry that the health effects in humans are unknown.

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