WASHINGTON, July 11, 2012 -The Codex Alimentarius Commission, the United Nations food standards body, agreed Friday on a set of residue limits for the veterinary drug ractopamine in animal tissues. Ractopamine is a growth promoter that also keeps pigs or cattle lean and is prohibited for use by producers in the EU and China. The decision will likely make it easier for exporters like the United States to challenge strict ractopamine limits or bans before the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“The decision was made after a rigorous process of scientific assessment to ascertain that the proposed levels of residues have no impact on human health,” according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The Codex is jointly run by the FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) and sets international food safety and quality standards.
It approved the limits with a narrow vote: 69 votes for, 67 against, and seven abstentions. The Codex, attended by 600 delegates representing member states, as well as a large number of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, set the ractopamine limits at10 micrograms per kilogram of pig or cattle muscle, 40 micrograms per kilogram in liver and 90 micrograms per kilogram of the animals' kidneys.
“After more than five years, the focus on food safety and science has prevailed with the Codex Alimentarius Commission,” said American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) President and CEO Joel Newman, who noted the years-long process leading up to the vote on ractopamine.
Overall, the vote “was about Codex committing to their well-established, science-based food safety principles and not letting individual countries use their legislative and/or social factors to impede the process,” Newman said.
Ractopamine approval has historically caused unnecessary trade disruptions, according to National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Chief Veterinarian Kathy Simmons. She said ractopamine is recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a safe feed additive, but the lack of international MRL standards caused confusion.
“Standards not based on science create an unnecessarily volatile trading environment for U.S. exporters who are reluctant to ship products to countries with non-science based testing regimes,” Simmons said. “Hopefully, the Codex decision to move forward with science-based standards will translate into a shift in trade policy for other countries to adopt science based safety standards.”
Nonetheless, the Codex decision will not have much effect in one import market that has made the growth additive an issue. The Taiwanese government said last week the ruling would be used “only as a reference” and will not change policies governing imports of beef and pork containing ractopamine.
The Taiwanese legislature is set to vote during a special session beginning July 22 on whether to ease restrictions on imports of beef containing ractopamine.
Pork containing the residue from the growth additive is banned from import and Premier Sean Chen said in a statement that any easing of the ban on ractopamine will apply only to beef imports. He said the government will refer to the Codex standards in setting up a certain level of ractopamine in beef imports in the future.
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