According to a report in China’s state news agency, Xinhua, three senior officials in central China have been suspended, and 22 have been arrested in the Henan province on charges of adding the drugs clenbuterol and ractopamine to pig feed to produce leaner meat. Some of those arrested were pig farmers in Henan province, China’s main pig producing area. Arrests were also made at a slaughterhouse in Nanjing city, where the tainted meat was being butchered.
China’s top meat processor, Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development Company, was singled out as one of the chief companies suspected of selling the contaminated pork. Chinese government officials are investigating over 1,300 pig farms and 130 feed and veterinary drug stores; and at least six officials and workers were suspended or fired at local animal quarantine stations.
According to Agence France-Presse, clenbuterol is known among farmers as “lean meat powder”, and is banned in China because of its serious side effects.
Clenbuterol is a bronchodilator prescribed for human use outside of the U.S. It is popular with bodybuilders and athletes for its ability to increase lean muscle mass and reduce body fat. Clenbuterol can have significant adverse cardiovascular and neurological effects. “Like other beta adrenergic agonists, cenbuterol, can produce adverse cardiovascular and neurological effects, such as heart palpitations, muscle tremors, and nervousness”. Clenbuterol is not approved by the FDA, and is banned for IOC-tested athletes. “If it spreads to other producers, it will send shockwaves across the nation’s meat industry, similar to the 2008 milk scandal,” Zhao Yong, an industry analyst with Haitong Securities, told the Global Times newspaper. Agence France-Presse claims China reported 18 outbreaks of food-related clenbuterol poisoning between 1998 and 2007, according to a report on the Shanghai Food Safety website. One person died and more than 1,700 others fell ill, the website said.
Ractopamine is also used as a feed additive to promote lean meat in pigs. In the US, ractopamine is the active ingredient found in the feed additive Paylean, produced by Elanco Animal Health, previously owned by Eli Lilly. Paylean was approved by the FDA in 1999, and has also been approved in more than 20 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and Thailand. Most pork products sold in the US contains Paylean. Paylean is banned in China and Malaysia, however, as well as the European Union, and 150 other countries. Paylean is also a beta-agonist which is associated with cardiac stimulation, including increased heart rate and systemic dilation of blood vessels. Paylean has the potential for causing cancer and cardiovascular disease. Natural News claims no long term studies have been conducted to determine the safety or the effects of ractopamine hydrochloride in humans, the active ingredient in Paylean. “No data exists relating to the long-term exposure of humans to the chemical. Since some beta-adrenoceptor agonists have been found to be carcinogenic, Dr. L. Ritter of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs at Health and Welfare, Canada, recommends studies of Paylean’s genotoxicity and pharmacology”.