Last year, American readers clucked their tongues when news emerged from China about outbreaks of illness traced back to Chinese farmers who doped their pigs with clenbuterol, aka "lean meat powder," to make them more muscular. Oh, those Chinese! What we didn't know is that the majority of American pig farmers are doing the exact same thing with a drug called ractopamine hydrochloride.
A new report from a new investigative-journalism project called the Food and Environment Reporting Network finds use of the FDA-approved ractopamine astonishingly prevalent -- it's given to 60 to 80 percent of U.S. hogs to help them grow lean muscle mass, raising the value of the meat. While the feds say the drug is safe for humans because it cleans out of the pigs' systems so quickly, the European Union, China, and Taiwan have all banned its use. And they've even rejected a few shipments of American pork that have tested positive for traces of the drug.
The bitter irony about ractopamine (whose commercial name is "Paylean"), writes reporter Helena Bottemiller? It has sickened or killed hundreds of thousands of pigs. That means industrial farmers, who are so concerned with maximizing profits that they're effectively 'roiding up their animals, are cutting into those profits by the same practice. And, in the process, exposing us to a drug that is untested in humans.