Its effects on human health are uncertain-the drug's safety assessment involved just one human study, of six healthy young men, one of whom dropped out after his heart began racing and pounding abnormally. But in America, ractopamine is legal, and administered to an estimated 60 to 80 percent of American pigs, with residues often finding their way into supermarket pork.
The meat industry's fanatical devotion to a drug that boosts growth rates at the cost of all other concerns - animal welfare, the environment, and perhaps even human health - only makes sense when you consider the industry's mindset. For factory farmers, there's always been one frustrating limit to their ability to ramp up meat production while slashing costs: the animal's natural biology. They cut corners and take dramatic steps in a neverending quest for greater yield and profits: shutting some animals indoors, jamming them into immobilizing crates and cages, and denying the vast majority of animals used in agriculture any protections under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. But still, animals - stubborn natural creations that they are - continue to act, well, like animals.