The USDA recently announced a new meat certification program. Under the new scheme, livestock producers will be permitted to market their products with a special “Never Fed Beta Agonists” label. Beta Agonists are fed to feedlot cattle to increase muscle mass and weight in the last weeks before animals are slaughtered.
For meat-eaters who prefer that their meat be as natural as possible, the new certification program will represent yet another option at the grocery store. It will also allow the United States access to meat export markets previously closed because of bans on the additive in other nations.
"Commonly used growth-enhancing drugs in the beta-agonist family include ractopamine, which is fed to hogs, and zilpaterol, which is fed to cattle. Clenbuterol, another beta agonist, reportedly induces unintended side effects in humans and has been banned for use in food animals in the U.S., Canada, Taiwan and Hong Kong," reports Food Safety News.
In addition to potential hazards to human consumers, there's also scientific evidence that suggests beta agonists harm the animals themselves. According to Dr. Temple Grandin, a meat scientist from Colorado State University, "some animals fed beta agonists consequently suffer from stiff muscles and sore feet, problems which become particularly evident between the feedlot and the packing plant."
Announcement of the USDA's new program comes nearly a year after animal-rights and food-safety groups petitioned the FDA to revise allowed residue limits for ractopamine and study the drug’s effects.
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