By Barbara Minton | November 29, 2010
Planning on a holiday ham? This year, conventional grocers will be loaded up on hams laced with Paylean, the proprietary name for the drug ractopamine, a drug that nets pork producers more cash for each hog they sell. Consumers may not be too merry though, because Paylean has been shown in short-term studies to have the potential for causing cancer and cardiovascular disease..
Paylean is a product of Elanco technology, a company owned by Eli Lilly. It was approved in 1999 for use on finishing swine, pigs that are being fed for market. Paylean directs nutrients away from the production of fat deposition toward the production of lean meat. According to Elanco’s website, years of university and private research have shown that Paylean produces an increased rate of weight gain, improved efficiency, and increased carcass leanness in hogs ready for market.
Paylean is a conventional hog farmer’s dream. come true. It improves feed efficiency by 13 percent, and increases average daily gain in hogs by10 percent. It reduces average daily feed intake by 6 percent, and increases lean gain by 25 to 37 percent according to research results. Use of Paylean can net a pork producer an additional $5 to10 per hog. A producer who runs a fairly large operation can increase profits by $320,000 a year or more by using Paylean.
Pigs can be dining on Paylean laced feed right up until the time they enter the slaughtering process. There is no clearance period mandated. Other drugs used by producers require a clearance time of two weeks before the animal can be turned into food for the dinner table. Not so with Paylean, even though industry research has shown that it takes a full seven days for 97% of Paylean to be excreted following a one-time typical dose in pigs. A clearance requirement for Paylean would negate its weight gain benefits. This means that whether you are eating a hot dog at the ball park or your Christmas ham, you are consuming Paylean.
The active ingredient in Paylean, ractopamine hydrochloride, belongs to the class of beta-adrenoceptor agonists. This class of drugs binds to beta-receptors on cardiac and smooth muscle tissues. Overall, the effect of beta-agonists is cardiac stimulation including increased heart rate, and systemic dilation of blood vessels.
No long term studies have been conducted to determine the effects of ractopamine hydrochloride in humans, and no data exists relating to the long-term exposure of humans to the chemical. Some beta-adrenoceptor agonists are carcinogenic, according to Dr. L. Ritter of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs at Health and Welfare, Canada. He recommends studies of Paylean’s genotoxicity and pharmacology, and surveys of all non-therapeutic effects that follow long term use of beta-adrenoceptor agonists in humans to assist in the prediction of the consequences from long term intake of residues of raptopamine by consumers.
Although there is no clearing period required before swine fed Paylean can be slaughtered and turned into food, the Paylean label clearly states that Paylean is not for human use. It warns that individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure to Paylean. Individuals mixing and handling Paylean are told to use protective clothing, impervious gloves, protective eyewear, and NIOSH approved dust masks. Operators are told to wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling Paylean.
Jim McPeak, one farmer whose family owned farm produces 40,000 swine each year refuses to use Paylean for several reasons. He cannot get his arms around the idea that the USDA requires no clearing time for Paylean and yet people are warned not to touch it with bare hands or breathe it. “My scientific training says how can an animal be fed this drug and in just a few hours that animal is ready to eat. Obviously the USDA says Paylean is broken down before consumption, but we know it goes into the cells to form more muscle, so how can that be?”
Evidently, the Chinese are better at putting two and two together. They will only buy pork from America that is not treated with Paylean. A recent news announcement from Smithfield Foods reports the company has agreed to sell 60-million pounds of Paylean-free pork to China. According to the article, Smithfield “controls their own swine production so all they have to do is stop feeding Paylean. Three weeks later they will have Paylean-free pork.” This is an industry admission that fully three weeks is the amount of time needed to clear Paylean from the body of a hog so that it cannot be found through inspection.
In addition to consumers, pigs too pay a price for the boost to their producer’s bottom line. Another reason McPeak refuses to use Paylean is what it does to the animals. He calls it the Arnold Schwarzenegger drug. “In a matter of weeks it turns hogs nearing market weight into solid muscle similar to what steroids do for body builders or athletes." According to McPeak, animals fed Paylean walk like arthritic old men, and actually squeal when moved along. Small men working on swine farms hate loading Paylean hogs because they are mean and refuse to load out, needing to be forced down the chute. Men must beat Paylean fed animals to move them. Paylean makes life miserable for farm workers, but owners of factory farms don’t load animals, they sit behind a desk.
Paylean also makes the animals miserable according to Chris Birky, the owner of Birky farms, who several years ago tried to raise Paylean fed pigs. Birky says the Paylean fed animals became extremely agitated. “They were very irritable and aggressive towards each others, feeders, waterers and even me. They were very flighty and very stressy. Mortality increased as did injury. When we would move pigs or load them for market, we had to be so careful. Any stress at all and pigs would turn purplish and shake and sometimes you might lose one to a heart attack…Just seeing what effect it had on the animals was plenty of reason not to feed it, for their sake alone…The pigs I saw, didn’t like what Paylean did to them, and neither did I.”
McPeak does not use antibiotics either, and says his animals stay healthy because they have built immunity to invading organisms. The secret is never introducing new animals into the herd, which could act as the new vectors of disease. He uses no live replacement females from other farms that would be vectors of new diseases. Breeders come from in-house stock.
“Most swine farms think it is cheaper and easier to buy replacement gilts from outside farms and use antibiotics instead of raising their own replacement females inside their farms like we do, says McPeak. Swine genetic companies make their money selling female replacement stock so they promote the idea of buying outside gilts. And, of course, the drug companies support the buying of outside gilts too. Because we are not fighting disease all the time, ours is a much easier farm to operate. Remember, even if a farm is large, it can be profitable without antibiotics or Paylean,”
McPeak's farm provides breeding stock to other producers of antibiotic and Paylean free pork usually sold through Whole Foods or branded under the name of Coleman and others. He says sales of antibiotic and Paylean free pork have really dropped as the economy has tightened. He questions the sincerity of people about eating drug-free meat. “Producers listen to people demanding drug-free, humanely produced meat, and they get geared up to produce it. Then the market for niche products like that falls out of bed and the producers suffer the additional cost of producing the pork.”
Consumers must hold up their end of the bargain with quality producers
Meadowbrook Farms, a cooperative of family owned farms, recently announced it was filing for bankruptcy because it was unable to make its debt payment. Meadowbrook has been dedicated to producing the kind of meat health conscious people say they want, free of antibiotics, Paylean, and humanely raised. But since the beginning of the recession, many of these people have gone back to traditional grocers and bought conventional food, leaving places like Meadowbrook without the income flows needed to continue operation. When people become diseased from a diet of antibiotic and Paylean laced meat, they will want to get their health back by eating better, but they may find that the producers of high quality food did not survive their desertion.