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Lawsuit demands FDA respond to petitions seeking to ban ractopamine

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety and Food Animal Concerns Trust are seeking a response to their rulemaking petitions urging for the reduction or elimination of the feed additive in farmed animals.

Pigs In Pens Eating
songqiuju | iStock.com

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety and Food Animal Concerns Trust have filed a lawsuit to require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to respond to two rulemaking petitions on the use of ractopamine in farm animals.

Plaintiffs are seeking a “substantive response” to their 2012 and 2020 rulemaking petitions urging for the immediate reduction or elimination of the allowable levels of the feed additive in farmed animals.

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires federal agencies to decide on all rulemaking petitions within a “reasonable” period of time. The groups said the FDA has violated this mandate by failing to provide final decisions on the 2012 and 2020 petitions.

Ractopamine is approved for use in pigs and beef cattle in the U.S., but is banned in many international markets, including China and the EU. The drug increases animals’ weight gain and feed efficiency, and they end up using 10-20% less feed or water to reach final weight gain.

The groups said the FDA’s own files show evidence that links ractopamine to human heart and respiratory issues in meat consumers and farm workers, increased risk of pathogen contagion, and intensified environmental pollution through seepage and runoff to ground and surface waters.

“For years the FDA has had evidence of the dire effects ractopamine has on animals physically and mentally but has refused to take action — risking the safety of public health and the environment,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Managing Attorney Daniel Waltz in a press release. “The Animal Legal Defense Fund urges the FDA to reduce allowable ractopamine levels — or withdraw the drug’s approval all together — instead of allowing the industrial animal agriculture industry to dictate what is safe.” 

The groups previously challenged the approval of ractopamine in court in 2014, but that litigation was thrown out, largely on procedural grounds, according to Reuters.

FDA and Elanco Animal Health, the manufacturer of ractopamine, have not responded to Feed Strategy’s requests for comment.

In the U.S. in recent years, Hormel Foods, Tyson Fresh Meats and JBS USA said they would stop using ractopamine in its pig diets to expand export opportunities to China. U.S. pork producer Smithfield Foods, which is owned by China-based WH Group, also does not use ractopamine in pigs raised on its company-owned and contract farms. Tyson, JBS and Smithfield are the three largest pork producers in the U.S.

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