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The Sketchy New Ingredient In Your Bacon

NUTRITION

Listen up, bacon lovers (hello, most of the planet): There’s a threat to your beloved meat, and it’s got nothing to do with saturated fat. It’s called ractopamine, and it might be in most bacon you eat.

Sketchy

If you’re thinking racto-what?, you’re not alone. Ractopamine belongs to a class of drugs commonly administered to animals called beta-antagonists, which increase protein synthesis and help animals pack on muscle weight. It’s fed to an estimated 60% to 80% of US pigs in the weeks before slaughter. The drug is now beginning to get buzz because the USDA just granted approval for meat manufacturers to use the phrase “produced without ractopamine” on labels if they don’t use the drug.

What’s the deal with this mystery drug? While the research is still out on its effect on humans, it’s been shown to cause hyperactivity, broken bones, death, and other issues among pigs, according to FDA records.

The FDA approved ractopamine for use in pigs in 1999 (and later, in cows and turkeys), and while most of the drug does pass through animals quickly, per the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, traces may remain, since it’s administered in the last weeks of an animal’s life.

Other countries, however, aren’t too keen on having any ractopamine—even in trace amounts—in their meat. In 2009, a European safety panel said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove meat produced using the drug is safe for us to eat, while even China has been known to turn away shipments of US meat that contain the drug.

The good news, though, is that ractopamine is pretty easy to avoid if any of this news upsets you—and you don’t even have to seek out products that explicitly state that they’re free of ractopamine. Here’s what you can do:

Buy organic: Organic meat is never produced using ractopamine or similar weight-boosting drugs. Buy small and local: Sourcing meat from small local farms and farmers’ markets where you can actually talk to the farmer about their practices is another safe bet. Go “natural”: Several producers of “natural” meats, like Applegate and Niman Ranch, do not use beta-antagonists. Not sure about your product? Call up the company and ask. Hit up Whole Foods and Chipotle: Both only source meats that have not been produced with beta-antagonists like ractopamine.

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