FERN Takes the Lead on Ractopamine Coverage

Dispute Over Drug in Feed Limiting U.S. Meat Exports,” which was published January 25, 2012 (and was our second story after our launch in 2011), on MSNBC.com (now NBCnews.com), was the first in-depth article on the growth-promoting drug ractopamine in the U.S. mainstream press. We knew we’d hit a nerve when the story starting receiving a lot of coverage by other outlets and queries from Taiwanese reporters and legislators. At the time, Taiwan was considering lifting the country’s ban on ractopamine, and at least five articles in the Taiwanese media followed our reporting, heightening tensions over the issue.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) responded to the article by revising its statistics on pig illnesses and deaths attributed to the drug. We wrote this Editor’s Note at the time in response to the FDA’s decision.

FERN continued to follow the story, noting in 2013 that Russia joined China and Taiwan in banning U.S. beef and pork that had been raised with the drug. Then, in June 2013, Smithfield Foods, which had quietly decreased the amount of pork it produced with ractopamine, was sold to China’s largest meat processor. This prompted our follow-up report and a look at how our reporting had helped spur the public to ask more questions about the drug’s safety for humans.

Since then, the FDA has issued voluntary guidelines recommending that the livestock industry discontinue the use of micro-doses of antibiotics to fatten up animals. Ractopamine was included on that list, so its use could continue to decrease.

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