Emergency Petition to Food & Drug Administration to Suspend Ractopamine Use

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an emergency petition with the Food and Drug Administration to suspend the agency’s approval of ractopamine — a drug used to rapidly grow muscle in cows and pigs, which can harm the animals and the environment.

Updated

June 3, 2020

Work Type

Regulation

Status

Active

Next Step

Pushing the FDA to Eliminate a Drug that Harms Farmed Animals

On June 3, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Food Animal Concerns Trust, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed an emergency petition with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to suspend the agency’s approval of ractopamine — a drug used to rapidly grow muscle in cows and pigs but that also causes animals’ bodies to suffer tremors, lesions, and deterioration, elevates consumers’ heart rates, and harms the environment — as processing plants face shutdowns and delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ractopamine belongs to a class of drugs called beta-agonists, which producers feed to animals during the final weeks of their short lives to encourage a last-minute increase in muscle mass before slaughter. Because the FDA has approved ractopamine only for the last stage of farmed animals’ lives, and because industrial meat production followed a precise schedule before the pandemic, the agency and the factory farm industry have paid scant attention to the animal suffering, human health risks, and environmental harms from continuing to administer ractopamine to animals being held on feedlots and factory farms.

Because producers administer pigs and cows ractopamine at levels that cause them to suffer psychological stress and rapidly deteriorate, the additional time spent on the drugs waiting at factory farms increases the likelihood of them suffering, dying, and being mistreated during handling in transit to slaughter. The slaughterhouse slowdowns and bottlenecks will increase the incidence and ways in which the animals’ bodies tear, crack, and fall apart.

Beta-agonists have long been controversial. The FDA itself has reports from consumers and producers about adverse effects of ractopamine, including increased numbers of lameness and deaths in producers’ herds. Still, ractopamine usage has been estimated at 60-80 percent of all pigs raised for food in the U.S.

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