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What is Ractopamine and Why Is It the Most Controversial Food Additive in the World?

Professor of Financial Economics and Part-time Value Investor, Transfin.
Jan 20, 2020 10:37 AM 2 min read

You may not have heard of ractopamine, probably the most controversial food additive in the world, but it's stirred quite a bit of business and geopolitical turmoil around the world.


What is It?: Ractopamine is a drug added to animal feed that's consumed by pork, cattle and turkeys. It makes the animal grow larger and leaner - so, there's more meat to be sold by the farmer for less money and in less time. But it can also be adverse in its side-effects, which can include hyperactivity, toxicity and muscle tremors.


What is Ractopamine and Why Is It the Most Controversial Food Additive in the World?


Ractopamine is banned in over 160 countries. China, Russia and all 28 countries of the European Union bar its use. Its use is authorised in varying degrees in about 22 countries including the United States, Canada and Mexico.


Both these sides accuse the other of being unscientific in its approach. And as the world economy becomes more and more integrated and globalised, the war over ractopamine is heating up.


How Serious is the Issue?: The US uses ractopamine in up to 80% of the meat it produces. Because the US is a trade giant and the use of this additive is such a controversial issue in countries where it is banned or heavily regulated, this disparity has resulted in less than ideal situations.


For example, it has further strained relations between China and the US, which wants Beijing to lift its ractopamine ban to increase pork imports. In 2007, there were riots in Taiwan over rumours that the ractopamine ban would be lifted. In 2013, Russia briefly shut all meat imports over reports of the additive being present in some of them. And last year, China asked Canada to stop exporting meat over the issue.


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