The New York Times published an article[1] on the use of a growth promotant (ractopamine) used by some cattle and hog producers to increase the efficiency of the final stages of growth before animals are slaughtered. I recently described the shift away from the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry.

USDA recently approved food manufacturers in the U.S. to indicate that no ractopamine was fed to the livestock producing the meat so labeled. Not that many consumers will know what ractopamine is, but as previously discussed, consumers are increasingly choosing food from animal raised with more “natural” and untreated feed. “Ractopamine” is not a term or ingredient one thinks of as “natural.”

Two things came to mind when reading this article (that prompted this blog).

First, as the NYT article pointed out, food manufacturers and livestock producers have been eliminating the use of certain feed ingredients, including ractopamine, to avoid embargoes from other countries that ban the importation of such products. The influence of international markets on of livestock production in this country is expanding exponentially and will have an even greater impact in the future. Stay tuned for more on this topic.

Second, it occurred to me that many reading the article may not know that USDA, not FDA is responsible for food labeling of certain meat products, but there are at least three federal agencies with some authority over how livestock are raised (USDA, FDA, and EPA)[2].

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the public health agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.

FSIS has a “glossary of meat and poultry labeling terms” on its website. Here are some defined terms:

According to FSIS “Natural” means:[1]

[1] FDA, another federal agency with authority over livestock feed and drugs, does not have a definition for “natural.”

A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term.

FSIS does not permit a label to state “No Hormones (pork or poultry)” because “hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry.”

Therefore, the claim ‘no hormones added’ cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says ‘Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.’

In addition to labeling requirements, FSIS also establishes and approves the laboratory methods used to test for the presence of ractopamine in bovine and swine muscle and liver.

But FSIS does not have the authority to establish which tolerance levels are permitted in these products or in the environment. FDA establishes the tolerance levels permitted in meats sold in interstate commerce, and EPA establishes permissible environmental tolerance values. For more on FDA’s authority go to “FDA’s authority over livestock production and food labeling.”

For decades pundits have discussed moving all food production and related commerce under the authority of one agency.

Maybe the next administration will consider this consolidated approach . . . Or maybe not.

[1] Stephanie Storm, New Label Identifies Pork Without a Growth Drug,” New York Times (September 5, 2015)

[2] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services lists FSIS, FDA, and CDC as three main federal agencies with authority over food safety at Selected Federal Agencies with a Role in Food Safety.