When Smithfield Foods Inc. quietly weaned the first of its pigs off the controversial feed additive ractopamine last year, it may have helped open the door for a Chinese counterpart to acquire the world’s largest hog producer.
Used for more than a decade in the U.S. livestock industry to help pigs quickly build lean muscle instead of fat, the additive had begun to ring alarm bells among some major meat importing countries around the globe. U.S. media reports of ractopamine-fed pigs becoming sick fueled questions among food-safety critics last year about the potential long-term impact on human health.
Among worried buyers was China, a nation stung by a series of food-safety scandals including the export of arsenic-laden apple juice as well as toxic toothpaste; authorities had been on high alert after a 2011 scare with a different, and toxic, growth drug found in some pork. This March, China began requiring third-party verification that U.S. pork products were ractopamine-free. Russia, the sixth-largest buyer of U.S. pork, had blocked imports of U.S. meat using ractopamine weeks before.
The debate over ractopamine use will also be closely watched by one of the pharmaceutical industry’s largest players: Eli Lilly and Co., whose Elanco Animal Health unit is one of the leading producers of such medicated feed additives, and fueled nearly a tenth of the company’s revenues in 2012.
Eli Lilly declined to comment Wednesday on the deal. Elanco said in a statement that it works closely with both Smithfield and Shuanghui, and that the deal should have minimal impact on its business.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I (阿江) actually invest in Eli Lilly, and have seen a 7% decrease over the past 2 weeks.
Ractopamine is a beta-agonist. Initially developed to treat asthma in humans, ractopamine was found to be extremely effective at changing the metabolism of an animal, so that the animal would quickly and cost-effectively add sought-after muscle. The FDA approved the use of beta-agonists in pigs in 1999, for cattle in 2003 and for turkeys in 2008.
Personal concerns over stock values aside, it’s good to see a company wean its livestock away from drugs, to provide a more natural meat. However, companies never do things unless there’s a financial advantage to it. One must also wonder in today’s market, how pigs are being grown. If that’s one drug that was removed, what others are these pigs being fed? Livestock are constantly being fed drugs, sometimes to enhance their meat, or sometimes just to keep them alive, as the documentary “Food Inc.” had mentioned.
This is the result of normal people being removed from the process of making their own food, and is inevitable, in a highly functional society, where more and more specialized roles which take up more of our time. Leaving little to check up on where our food comes from.