ISU livestock experts react to Russian ban on U.S. meat imports


Russia this month banned imports of U.S. meat containing a feed additive known as ractopamine, which allows animals to add more lean mass than fat.

AMES, Iowa – Russia’s decision to stop importing U.S. beef and pork containing a commonly used feed additive won’t have an immediate sweeping impact on Iowa livestock producers, a livestock market expert at Iowa State University said this week.

Russia has announced that it will ban U.S. beef and pork imports because of concerns surrounding the use of ractopamine, a product that helps animals add lean mass rather than fat, unless the U.S. can certify that exported meat does not contain residue left behind by the product.

Lee Schulz, an ISU assistant professor of economics and an Extension and Outreach livestock market specialist, said Russia accounted for about 6.7 percent of the 2012 U.S. beef export market through November, up 7.6 percent from the previous year. On the pork side, Russia was one of the strong markets in 2012 with shipments there growing by 47.3 percent through November. He said Russia accounted for about 5.6 percent of the U.S. pork export market in 2012.  

Schulz said the Russian market is relatively small compared to other major markets for U.S. meat, but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant.
“Any time trade is restricted, it has the potential to affect individual producers,” Schulz said. “But the impact could be limited. The restriction being in place doesn’t necessarily mean exports will completely cease, especially for pork.  U.S. pork producers and processors have been producing non-ractopamine fed pigs for some markets. Beef producers could do the same, if the markets are large enough and pay well enough.”  
Ractopamine, often referred to by the brand name Paylean, is used in the United States, Canada, Mexico and South American countries such as Brazil.  Concerns that traces of the substance remain in the meat after an animal has been slaughtered have prompted other countries to ban the product.
Dr. James McKean, a University Professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine and associate director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center, said ractopamine went through a long and rigorous testing period and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration before livestock producers began using it more than a decade ago.

McKean said it’s a safe product.
“Ractopamine underwent very thorough safety testing, and it took a long time to get the product on the market,” he said. “I’m very comfortable with its safety for human consumption.”
McKean said Russia’s decision to stop importing U.S. meat that contains ractopamine resulted more from heightening trade tensions between the two countries than from concern over public safety.
McKean said U.S. livestock producers commonly add ractopamine to the feed of animals nearing slaughter. The additive acts as a growth regulator that “repartitions” the proportion of fat and lean muscle the animals produce. Swine fed ractopamine grow a higher proportion of muscle at a time when they normally add more fat, he said.Ractopamine also increases feed efficiency.
“As pigs grow into heavier weights, they tend to put on fat, and this is a way to put muscle on them more efficiently,” he said. “That’s a big benefit for producers and consumers, especially during a time of high feed costs.”