Center for Health & Wellness

Was your Thanksgiving Turkey on Drugs??? The truth about Ractopamine

How-Do-I-Roast-a-TurkeyAccording to a 2012 survey by the National Turkey Federation, the average American eats 16 pounds of turkey each year. In just one week, 88% of us will eat turkey on Thanksgiving. These facts bring me to a very important topic…..DRUGS!

If you care about the drugs that make it into the U.S. food supply, or about what happens to the animals that supply us with meat, you should definitely care about ractopamine (marketed as Paylean for pigs, Optaflexx for cattle and Topmax for turkeys). As of now, about 160 nations have banned or restricted the use of this controversial drug during various animal productions (and therefore many countries WILL NOT except U.S. meat), but the U.S. still uses this regularly in up to 80% of American-grown pigs, cattle and (you guessed it) TURKEY!

Ractopamine was approved in 2000, as a feed additive to promote growth and leanness in animals raised for their meat. Pharmacologically, it is a beta-adrenergic agonist, a widely used drug class used to treat asthma. Some well-documented adverse reactions to beta-agonist drugs include, increased heart rate, insomnia, headaches, and tremors.

Why the red flags about this being in our animal feed??

First off, the label on ractopamine clearly raises safety questions…. “WARNING: The active ingredient in Topmax, ractopamine hydrochloride, is a beta-adrenergic agonist. Individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure. Not for use in humans. Keep out of the reach of children. The Topmax 9 formulation (Type A Medicated Article) poses a low dust potential under usual conditions of handling and mixing. When mixing and handling Topmax, use protective clothing, impervious gloves, protective eye wear, and a NIOSH-approved dust mask. Operators should wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling. If accidental eye contact occurs, immediately rinse eyes thoroughly with water. If irritation persists, seek medical attention. The material safety data sheet contains more detailed occupational safety information. To report adverse effects, access medical information, or obtain additional product information, call 1-800-428-4441.”

Another very concerning fact is that ractopamine is given to the animals until slaughter. It is actually pumping through their systems as they arrive on the killing floor (and therefore is able to be detected in variable amounts in our meat that is sold in our supermarkets for consumption!!).

The numerous reports (dating back almost a decade) citing the LACK OF SAFETY of ractopamine are not hard to come by.

  • 2009, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) termed ractopamine a “cardiac stimulator”. They stated that Ractopamine residues “represent a genuine risk to consumers.”
  • Medical journals, cite ractopamine to have “long plasma half-lives, and relatively slow rates of elimination.” This refers to the body’s cleansing through the function of kidneys and liver in addition to excretion functions to eliminate a substance from the body.
  • One report from  Ottawa’s Bureau of Veterinary Drugs says that animals fed ractopamine developed a collection of birth defects including enlarged hearts, cleft palate, protruding tongue, short limbs, missing digits, and open eyelids.

By now you may already have guessed the even more disturbing news…..The FDA is well aware of ractopamine’s downside! In 2003, three years after its approval for use in U.S. pigs, the FDA wrote a 14 page warning letter to ractopamine manufacturer, Elanco, accusing them of withholding information about ractopamine’s “safety and effectiveness” and “adverse animal drug experiences”. Some of the experiences that angry pig farmers were reporting to Elanco include, “dying animals,” “downer pigs,” animals “down and shaking,” “hyperactivity” and “vomiting after eating feed.”

So how did this ever get approved to be used for other animals, after the obvious problems in pigs?! Aapparently with skilled lobbying, claiming that ractopamine, like antibiotics, is “green” and can help lower the carbon footprint.

As for the meat quality of these ractopamine Turkeys? You can read for yourself what the manufacturer of this drug, Elanco, has reported in their 2008 summary (the year before it began being fed to turkeys that show up in our grocery stores).


They actually state that turkey meat produced with ractopamine has “alterations” in muscle such as a “mononuclear cell infiltrate and myofiber degeneration,” There was “an increase in the incidence of cysts,” and differences, some “significant,” in the weight of organs like hearts, kidneys and livers. Concerning?! It should be!!



Hopefully all of this disturbing information motivates you to think about the food you and your family eat! If it does, rest assured that it is EASY (and worth the extra dollar per pound you will likely spend) to find a local farmer that can supply your family with healthy, humanely raised animal products.

You can avoid ractopamine this Thanksgiving and beyond, (this drug can be found in supermarket deli cuts year round as well), by choosing a certified organic turkey. Ractopamine, along with antibiotics and GMOs, is PROHIBITED in organic farming.

There are lots of resources to help you in your quest. allows you to plug in your zipcode and easily locate an organic supplier near you or you can also head to a specialty grocer such as Whole Foods, New Seasons or the Natural Grocery.

P.S. If you’re ordering an organic turkey make sure you put your order in now, as supply often goes fast and it may be hard to find the day or two before a holiday.