Trent Loos

When you are running, your body starts doing things it doesn’t normally do when you don’t run. In layman’s terms, you put your body in high gear and get stored hormones headed to your muscles.

Your heart rate increases and basically everything that happens puts your body into protection mode. The end result is that fat decreases and muscle increases. Those responsible for marketing diet supplements are always looking to find ways to sell products and they developed a product called Raspberry Ketones that creates an internal experience similar to running without the footwork. While it is widely discussed today in regard to its effectiveness in humans, livestock producers are more familiar with a synthetic version of this product known as ractopamine.

With the opportunity to investigate the Phase 1 China deal, the discussion and buzz in the pork business is clearly about whether or not to use ractopamine. The only hole in the China trade agreement is the lack of science behind the safety concerns for the use of ractopamine in food animals. As a result, China is currently stating that any pork imported into the country must be from pigs that have never been exposed to ractopamine.

I used the word “exposed” because even pigs that were never fed ractopamine may still have ingested some because of residue in a feed truck or auger. Even simple exposure to the manure of another animal that ate the ingredient will be enough to throw the pig out.

So the immediate question is, “Why, if we have proven zero risk, would China not accept pork from pigs fed ractopamine?” I have a fairly good idea but can’t totally visualize what pig farming was like in China. We also know that China is littered with black market salesmen who have been making such things without government oversight so the simplest way for them to control it in China was to ban it altogether. I am told that there is a black market of illegal products here in the United States and clenbuterol is the real issue so instead of trying to police the difference, China bans them all.

In the past couple of days I have talked to several veterinarians who are in the know on how the beta agonist ractopamine really works. It is simply a repartitioning agent that turns muscle fibers on and uses fat cells to drive the process. For the very reason that its cousin Raspberry Ketone is used, we know that it is safe to consume meat from animals that are fed ractopamine. Within 24 hours of the removal of feed containing the supplement, there is zero residue in the muscle fibers. However, it is my understanding that any pig ever exposed to ractopamine will exhibit some level of residue in the liver and kidney forever.

In my opinion, here is where the whole story about this technology gets tricky. Clearly it works; it creates more lean muscle mass, it accelerates growth and efficiency of food animals. We know that lean muscle is more efficient to build on an animal than fat and maybe that contributes to the bad rap. I contend that pork loins, in general, are too lean and devoid of marbling and flavor, which may be a result of feeding this ingredient. However, it is a tool for producers who are targeting a percent lean grid and not those selling high quality, taste-driven pork direct to the consumer.

China does not accept pork from pigs fed ractopamine because they could not police the proper use of the product within their own country. I will add that the greatest concern I have goes back to my run. If you don’t manage your run, you can really wreck your body and I will liken that to use of beta agonist: if you don’t use it according to the label then you can really wreck the body of a food animal.

While I don’t see ractopamine as a tool that everyone wants to use, including me, I find it very concerning that these technologies are being rejected based upon emotion without regard for science. In the next sentence after rejecting beta agonists, the food marketeers go on about developing sustainability plans. Science and technology should be the drivers in sustainability, not emotions.

Repartitioning agents (beta-adrenergic agonists and somatotropins) are compounds that increase lean content and reduce fat content of meat animals, while improving the rate and efficiency of growth. We can not let this door open into a room full of more mandates on producers that limit their ability to convert God-given resources into human consumable products for the sake of generating sales in the short term. We don’t just need pigs running, we need to keep pork operations and family farms running toward a successful finish line.

Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.LoosTales.com, or email Trent at trentloos@gmail.com.

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