Ractopamine: The Potentially Dangerous Pig Steroid
It seems that each year passing brings another label to the spotlight in order to part shoppers with a few extra cents (or dollars) on the promise that whatever it is that is or isn’t in the food is better for their health. Now, thanks to David Maren of Tendergrass Farms, shoppers will see a label along the lines of “no ractopamine – a beta-agonist growth promotant” on various types of pork. For lifelong vegetarians and vegans that are unfamiliar, it’s a situation not unlike the bovine growth hormone found in dairy products and beef, it’s used to make cows grow faster and was initially found to increase the likelihood of various types of cancer.
Ractopamine was approved by the FDA for use in pigs in 1999, though:
“…safety regulators in the European Union, China, Russia, and a variety of other countries have not approved the drug. They say there’s not yet enough evidence to prove that pork produced using ractopamine is safe to eat.” – NPR
In this case China is demanding that the pork it buys is ractopamine-free and as the public becomes aware of the potential side-effects of the drug on both themselves and the animals, it could kill the demand for pigs raised on the drug, though at this point it’s merely speculation. For the omnivore readers the conclusions to draw are pretty straight-forward: this likely isn’t the end of the line as there are plenty of other iffy chemicals used in raising chickens, cows, pigs and turkeys; they’ll continue to come out as time goes by.
Wikipedia has an in-depth entry on ractopamine that details the adverse effects:
Genotoxicity and mutagenicity
Mutation studies in prokaryotes and eukaryotes show that ractopamine is not mutagenic. However, the results of several in vitro studies, including chromosome aberration tests in human lymphocytes, are positive. The positive genotoxic results are explained with limited evidence to be due to a secondary auto-oxidative mechanism from ractopamine-catechol-producing reactive intermediates.
Ractopamine is not considered to be a direct carcinogen. It is not listed by IARC, NTP, ACGIH, or OSHA. The induction of benign leiomyomas (tumors of smooth muscle) in mice and rats can possibly be due to a general feature of beta-adrenergic activity of ractopamine.
Dose-dependent changes of heart rate and cardiac output are observed within the first hour after administration of ractopamine and gradually return to baseline values. The systolic blood pressure will also increase in a dose-dependent manner, while the diastolic pressure remains unchanged.
Skeletal muscle tremor is the most common adverse effect of beta-agonists, and is more likely to be seen after oral administration than after inhalation. Tremor results from an imbalance between fast- and slow-twitch muscle groups of the extremities, and its severity varies greatly between individuals. No such effects were recorded at the NOELdetermined in the toxicological studies conducted in laboratory animals given ractopamine or in the study in humans on cardiovascular effects of ractopamine.
Feelings of restlessness, apprehension, and anxiety were reported effects after the use of various beta-agonists, particularly after oral or parenteral treatment. In pilot clinical trials with ractopamine, four patients showed little evidence for central nervous system stimulation. It is unclear whether long-term treatment with these drugs results in the development of tolerance to these adverse effects.