Pork Producers Call for International Standards for the Approval of Veterinary Products and Feed Additives

CANADA - The Canadian meat industry suggests China’s rejection of several tonnes of North American pork after finding traces of Ractopamine demonstrates the need for common international standards for the approval of animal health products and feed additives.
calendar icon 29 September 2007
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China Rejects Canadian and U.S. Pork

Earlier this month (September 15) Chinese inspectors rejected several shipments of pork from the U.S. and Canada after finding traces of Ractopamine in samples that were tested.

Ractopamine, marketed under the trade name Paylean, is a dietary supplement which promotes lean meat production while inhibiting fat production. It was approved for use in the U.S. in 1999 and in Canada in 2005. However, the product was banned in China in 2002.

Ractopamine was found in five shipments of pork from Canada over the past few months, including two shipments from the Maple Leaf plant in Brandon which has been de-listed as an exporter to China.

Three other Canadian plants are being monitored to ensure corrective action has been taken and a total of ten plants have been de-listed in the United States.

Ractopamine Shown Safe

Canadian Pork Council (CPC) executive director Martin Rice, who was recently in China as part of a Canadian Pork Council delegation attending the World Pork Congress in Nanjing, when the announcement was made, suggests the situation is fairly complex.

He notes Ractopamine has been subject to more than 300 studies, many of which indicate there are no human health issues. However the product is in a class of compounds that includes products that pose a serious human health hazard, such as Clenbuterol which has been used illegally in China as well as in Europe.

“The Chinese, like the E.U., the European Union, took an approach of banning that whole class of products instead of banning them individually.”

He suggests, it would be like banning all antibiotics because some may not be good for human health even though others would be fine.

Canadian Meat Council Calls for International Standards

“It certainly indicates that the world needs to move toward some type of international accreditation of these various feed ingredients or veterinary drugs and agree to accept some international body’s approval of these things,” says Jim Laws, the executive director of the Canadian Meat Council.

He suggests, for example, some sort of Codex [Codex Alimentarius Commission] standard which could be referenced to indicate a particular product is safe.

Approach to Food Safety Varies from Country to Country

Harvey Wagner, producer services manager with the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board (Sask Pork) believes a lot of work will have to be done by all countries at the highest levels to make sure differences in the regulatory system are not so glaring.

Wagner was in China as part of a Canada-China Agriculture Development Program that operates a project intended to improve hog production and food safety, especially among small pig producers in China.

His role was to share information with Chinese pork industry officials about Canadian on farm food safety, specifically the Canadian Quality Assurance® Program.

“The challenge is that every country sees food safety slightly differently and, even though the science may not indicate that a ban of a particular chemical or a particular ingredient is warranted, sometimes political considerations can overrule the science.”

He believes that’s what’s happening here.

He recalls what happened when the U.S. blocked the import of steel from Russia.

“All of a sudden chicken legs didn’t move into Russia.”

Laws notes, as everyone knows, there have been a lot of international pressure on China lately because of various food safety issues.

“You recall the melamine issue coming out of China and then, of course, on the safety of some toys coming out of China as well so that adds to the complication of the international talks in that regard and makes it challenging for Canadian exporters of pork.”

China Adheres to Zero Tolerance

Big Sky Farms CEO Florian Possberg, who was part of the CPC delegation, agrees.

“Unfortunately for China they’ve had some food safety issues and their ambition is to crack down on that.”

He notes, “Ractopamine is accepted in at least 20 countries around the world plus additional countries have a minimum level of tolerance that they accept. China’s policy is zero tolerance and, because they have had food safety issues, they are clamping down.”

He admits it remains to be seen whether China, which needs pork from around the world, will go to standards that are accepted around the world or whether countries like Canada and the United States will have to withdraw the use of some products so we can access the Chinese market.

He points out, “We’re already seeing one of the packers, Smithfield’s in the U.S., allocating Ractopamine free plants to supply China with pork and we don’t know, at this point, whether China will back off on their zero tolerance or whether in fact we will have to dedicate plants specifically for China.”

Maximum Residue Limits Encouraged as Opposed to Zero Tolerance

Rice believes China needs to be convinced that residues of Ractopamine should not be confused with residues of those more dangerous products and, that if it is allowed for use in China, that it won’t lead to those dangerous products being used.

“In the meantime we’re hoping that China will, as Japan did, look at the tolerance that the international body called Codex is arriving at even though it has not yet made the product available for its own producers.”

Japan has approved a maximum residue limit (MRL) for Ractopamine and allows product in that falls within that limit even though the product has still not approved for use among Japanese producers.

“If China could go that route, that would certainly be the most beneficial outcome for everyone,” says Rice.

Ractopamine Issue Continues to Create Uncertainty

Possberg admits the situation in the short term is rather disappointing.

“We know we have pork stocks in North America that could certainly reduce some of the pork shortages that they’re seeing in China. At the same time we can appreciate that China is trying to place a lot more emphasis on food safety within their own boundaries.”

Canada-China Relations Remain Strong

Despite the controversy, Wagner observes, “I’d have to say I believe the relationship between the Canadian agriculture community and the Chinese agriculture community to be absolutely first rate. We’re viewed extremely positively there as a country and as an agricultural community. They really value our expertise and our experiences. In many ways they’re trying to emulate our expertise and our experiences but they do have challenges.”

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