Ractopamine ban at state, county fairs has ripple effect in pork industry

Beginning this year, there will be a different look to many pigs being shown at the Ohio State Fair and statewide county fairs due to a ban on the use of the feed additive ractopamine.

Ractopamine, simply put, converts fat to muscle and is a very popular product in the show pig industry. Although ractopamine is legal, licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and has been used safely in the pork industry for over 40 years, one of America’s largest trading partners will no longer accept pork that has been produced using the substance.

“China, because of a very serious outbreak of African Swine Fever in their hog herds, is now starting to buy more pork from the U.S. and has decided that they will not take any products from swine that have been fed ractopamine at any point in their lifetime,” said Dr. Tony Forshey, state veterinarian with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “That creates a marketability issue for all swine and as a result, packers that ship internationally have stated that they will no longer slaughter pigs that have been fed the additive so they can maintain their market access to China.”

Many pigs that are shown during fair season are delivered to packers that ship pork products all over the globe. Because of that, fair boards across Ohio are protecting themselves from liability concerns by having exhibitors sign an affidavit at weigh-in to say that the exhibits have never been fed ractopamine.

“A half-life for ractopamine is only 24 hours so after 48 hours you are probably not going to find it in the urine, but it will remain in the organs for the lifetime of a fair pig,” Forshey said. “If exhibitors wanted to go a step further they may want to consider getting the same type of form signed when they buy a pig from a producer or at a jackpot or club show to ensure that ractopamine has never been a part of the pig’s diet.”

An affidavit has been created by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and distributed by the Ohio Pork Council to assist county and independent fairs insure that pigs shown are ractopamine free.

This affidavit is a consistent, fair way to respond to international market access. ODA strongly recommends the uniform use of this affidavit as being in the best interest of our young exhibitors,” said ODA Director Dorothy Pelanda. “I have serious questions for fairs who object to the use of this affidavit. Prohibiting the use of ractopamine in all fair activities will level the playing field and provide liability protection to our fair boards. This process allows for swine exhibitors to have access to local markets as well.”
Export markets currently reflect more than 25% of the value of the U.S. pork industry and maintaining that level of trade is vital for Ohio farmers.
“The primary reason that ractopamine needs to be removed from exhibition swine project diets is the economic impact on the entire swine and agricultural industry,” said Roger High, Ohio Farm Bureau’s director of livestock. “The loss of pork export markets would of course affect the pork industry, but it would also have repercussions for the feed grain industry and the economic impact would be felt across the entire agricultural spectrum.”