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IUPAC name
3D model (JSmol)
MeSH Ractopamine
Molar mass 301.386 g·mol−1
4100 mg/L
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Infobox references

Ractopamine is a feed additive, banned in most countries, to promote leanness in animals raised for their meat. Pharmacologically, it is a TAAR1 agonist and β adrenoreceptor agonist that stimulates β1 and β2 adrenergic receptors.[1][2] It is the active ingredient in products known as Paylean for swine and Optaflexx for cattle, developed by Elanco Animal Health, a division of Eli Lilly and Company, for use in food animals for growth promotion.

Ractopamine use is banned in the European Union, mainland China and Russia[3][4] while 27 other countries, such as Japan, the United States,and South Korea, have deemed meat from livestock fed ractopamine safe for human consumption.[5][6]

Commercial ractopamine is a mixture of all four possible stereoisomers.[7]

Mode of action[edit]

When used as a food additive, ractopamine added to feed can be distributed by the blood to the muscle tissues, where it serves as a full agonist at mouse (not necessarily human) TAAR1.[1] It is also an agonist at beta-adrenergic receptors.[2] A cascade of events will then be initiated to increase protein synthesis, which results in increased muscle fiber size. Ractopamine is known to increase the rate of weight gain, improve feed efficiency, and increase carcass leanness in finishing swine. Its use in finishing swine yields about 3 kg (6.6 lb) of additional lean pork and improves feed efficiency by 10%.[8]

Regulation around the world[edit]

As of 2015, ractopamine use as a feed additive is authorized in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.[9] The American Institute in Taiwan, which represents U.S. interests in Taiwan, claims that these "and many other countries have determined that meat from animals fed ractopamine is safe for human consumption";[5] this is in the context of an ongoing trade dispute between Taiwan and the U.S. on this subject, which threatened to prevent Taiwan's entry to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.[10] In the U.S., ractopamine is allowed to be used at a feed concentration of 5–20 mg/kg feed for finishing pigs and in dosages of 5–10 mg/kg feed for finishing pigs heavier than 109 kg. The maximum residue limit for ractopamine for meat in the USA is 50 parts per billion (ppb).

The USDA approved of a new label, "no ractopamine — a beta-agonist growth promotant" to be used.[11] Currently, the USDA label for organic means no synthetic compounds can be used other than those on the list of allowed synthetics, therefore, ractopamine would not be allowed in certified organic production.[12]

In Canada, ractopamine is only allowed in meal or pellet feed for finishing barrows and gilts, confined finishing cattle, and finishing heavy turkeys.[13]

Japan, which had permitted its feed additive use at least until 2009,[9]:1 and South Korea only allow import of meat with ractopamine residues up to the maximum residue limit (MRL), but do not permit its use in beef production.[14]

On 6 July 2012, the international reference standard Codex Alimentarius Commission narrowly approved the adoption of a MRL of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for muscle cuts of beef and pork.[15] Setting any limit was a controversial move. Countries with major meat export markets had been lobbying for the establishment of such a standard for several years to use it as leverage to erode individual national-level bans in World Trade Organization disputes.[15] Consumers International, a world federation of consumer groups that represents 220 consumer organizations in 115 countries, strongly opposed the move.[15]

As of 2013, ractopamine use in food animals has been banned in over 160 countries.[16] It has not been allowed in the 28 member countries of the European Union, based on the 2009 European Food Safety Authority's opinion on its safety evaluation, which concluded that available data were insufficient to derive a maximum residue limit as a 'safe residue level for human consumption'. The uncertainty was particularly great for people who might be thought to be more susceptible than most to an increase in β adrenergic stimulation from consuming the additive, such as people with cardiovascular disease or children, and that simply increasing the "uncertainty factor" built into the calculation as a safety factor would rapidly become arbitrary.[9][17]

Russia and China banned ractopamine in pork,[18] and Russia also in beef,[16] deeming it unfit for human consumption. Taiwan banned ractopamine along with other beta-adrenergic agonists in October 2006,[19] but in 2012, its legislature passed amendments to the Act Governing Food Sanitation, authorising government agencies to set safety standards for ractopamine.[20] The Department of Health ultimately established an MRL of 10 ppb for ractopamine in beef on 31 July 2012.[21]

Pharmacokinetics in humans[edit]

A study was conducted to define the pharmacological response of humans to ractopamine. A single oral dose of 40 mg of ractopamine hydrochloride was given to human volunteers. The drug was rapidly absorbed; the mean blood plasma half-life was around 4 hrs and it was not detected in plasma 24 hrs after dosing. Less than 5% of total ractopamine excreted represented the parent drug, while the urinary metabolites were monoglucuronide and monosulfate conjugates, with ractopamine monosulfate being the major metabolite present.[22]

The metabolic fate of ractopamine hydrochloride is similar in the target species (pigs and cattle), laboratory animals, and humans. Besides the pharmacology effect, ractopamine may cause intoxication effect; therefore, any consumption by humans of a meat and/or byproducts of animals that consumed ractopamine with feed for growth stimulation, may result in such clinical effects as tachycardia and other heart rate increases, tremor, headache, muscle spasm, or high arterial blood pressure.[23] The effect of ractopamine on humans is not entirely known, but consumption of products that contain ractopamine residues is not advisable for persons with cardiovascular diseases.

Safety concerns[edit]

Target animal safety[edit]

In swine ractopamine is correlated with adverse effects, especially hyperactivity, trembling, and broken limbs, leading to censure by animal rights groups.(FDA)[24]

In a conversation with Boulder Weekly newspaper Colorado State University Professor of Animal Science Temple Grandin, an expert on animal welfare, described harmful effects of ractopamine on feedlot animals, such as cattle with stiff, sore, and lame limbs, and increased heat stress.[25] In the same column she also opines that meat from ractopamine-treated animals may be tougher.[25]

Ractopamine use is a factor in the development of downer pigs, animals that are unable to move or stand.[26][27]

When a winning show lamb tested positive for ractopamine in 2014, the owner claimed it was due to negligent feed contamination by the manufacturer, rather than intentional and illegal doping.[28]

Adverse effects[edit]

Acute toxicity[edit]

Oral LD50 levels in mice and rats are 3547–2545 mg/kg body weight (male and female) and 474–365 (male and female), respectively.[29]

Genotoxicity and mutagenicity[edit]

Mutation studies in prokaryotes and eukaryotes show that ractopamine is not mutagenic. However, the results of several in vitro studies, including chromosome aberration tests in human lymphocytes, are positive. The positive genotoxic results are explained with limited evidence to be due to a secondary auto-oxidative mechanism from ractopamine-catechol-producing reactive intermediates.[which?][citation needed]


Ractopamine is not considered to be a carcinogen and not listed by IARC, NTP, ACGIH, or OSHA.

Cardiovascular effects[edit]

Dose-dependent changes of heart rate and cardiac output are observed within the first hour after administration of ractopamine and gradually return to baseline values. The systolic blood pressure will also increase in a dose-dependent manner, while the diastolic pressure remains unchanged.

Musculoskeletal effects[edit]

Skeletal muscle tremor is the most common adverse effect of beta-agonists, and is more likely to be seen after oral administration than after inhalation. Tremor results from an imbalance between fast- and slow-twitch muscle groups of the extremities, and its severity varies greatly between individuals.

Behavioral changes in humans[edit]

Restlessness, apprehension, and anxiety were reported effects after the use of various beta-agonists, particularly after oral or parenteral treatment. In pilot clinical trials with ractopamine, four patients showed little evidence for central nervous system stimulation. Whether long-term treatment with these drugs results in the development of tolerance to these adverse effects is unclear.[citation needed]

Analytical method for residues in meat[edit]

The determinative procedure for the analysis of ractopamine residues in tissue can be performed, using liver or muscle as the target tissues, by high performance liquid chromatography with fluorescence detection. The confirmatory method include reversed-phase HPLC/electrospray ionization triple tandem quadrupole mass spectrometry. The limit of quantification of the drug using this LC/MS instrument was shown to be 1 ng/g.[30]

International controls[edit]

US-EU WTO dispute[edit]

In the late 1990s, the World Trade Organization authorized the United States and Canada to impose retaliatory tariffs of US$116.8 million per year on the European Union after it found the EU beef hormone ban to be in violation of the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement).[31][32] In September 2009, the United States and the European Commission signed a memorandum of understanding, which established a new EU duty-free import quota for grain-fed, high-quality beef as part of a compromise solution.[32]


In July 2007, officials of the People's Republic of China seized US-produced pork for containing ractopamine residues.[33] Further shipments of ractopamine-fed pork were seized in September, though this time they were Canadian in origin.[34]


Ractopamine has been banned in Taiwan since 2006.[35] In the summer of 2007, two US shipments including ractopamine-laced pork were rejected by Taiwan's health authorities, while the Taiwan government had been considering lifting the ban on such imports.[36] This resulted in mass protests in the capital city, Taipei, by swine farmers insisting that the ban remain in place. Health Minister Hou Sheng-mou (侯勝茂) declared no lifting of the ban would occur unless related laws were amended. Although the use of ractopamine in livestock is still banned and enforced on the domestic industry, and the government has maintained a “zero tolerance” policy on pork imports that contain it, Taiwan's legislature amended the food safety act in August 2012 to allow the import of beef products containing up to a maximum residue level of 10 parts per billion of the additive.[37] The remaining restrictions have been an obstacle to the two nations signing a free-trade agreement, and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR)’s 2018 Trade Policy Agenda and 2017 Annual Report assert that these remaining restrictions as “are not based upon science” and highlights their removal as among the main priorities for the US in its trade with Taiwan.[37]


According to the Malaysian Food Act 1983 and Regulations (as of 5 January 2010), ractopamine is allowed in pig muscle and fat (MRL of 10 ppb), pig liver (MRL of 40 ppb), and pig kidney (MRL of 90 ppb).[38] Ractopamine is allowed as its half-life is lower, leading to reduced residues in the food, and the dose required to affect humans is much higher than other beta agonists.[39] On 30 December 2008, the Malaysian Veterinary Services Department quarantined 10 of the 656 pig farms in Malaysia, as the livestock were found to contain the banned chemical.[40][41]


The use of ractopamine in Russia is prohibited. On 6 June 2011, the Russian Ministry of Agriculture notified key meat import/exporters in Russia of a future prohibition of ractopamine in meat imported to Russia.[citation needed]

On 7 December 2012, the prohibition went into force, and pork and beef export to Russia required submission of compliance certificates confirming absence of ractopamine in exported meat.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

Stuntman and comedian Steve-O has publicly spoken of his involvement as a test subject in an early ractopamine study whose aim was to determine the stress limits of ractopamine saturation in humans. Glover claims, "Based on how dangerous the study was, the more money you get."[42]


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External links[edit]