Cattle-feed additive ractopamine found in Cargill horse feed

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: Cargill

Cargill has found trace amounts of ractopamine in an equine feed supplement and is pulling the contaminated product from market.

The Minnesota-based agri-giant announced last week that it had found trace amounts of the cattle and swine feed additive ractopamine in a product, Progressive Nutrition Soothing Pink, designed to prevent gastric upset in horses. “The ingredient presents no health risks for horses,”​ it added in a statement provided to us.

The finding came after US equestrian competitors Adrienne Lyle and Kaitlin Blythe were provisionally suspended by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), said Cargill. The pair faced the suspension because their horses tested positive for ractopamine, which is banned in equestrian competition.  

The “supplement poses no risk to animal health, but consumers feeding this product to horses who are subject to competition testing are advised to stop feeding the product,”​ the company said. The contamination concern applies to the version of the product in 15lb packages.

Cargill is in the process of removing the supplements from the supply chain, the company said. “Though Cargill has identified and isolated the source of contamination, we will continue to examine our production practices and standards to help prevent this kind of incident from reoccurring,”​ it added.

Both company facilities and some of the mills that Cargill contracts with to produce products may use ractopamine as an ingredient in facilities that also make ractopamine-free products, the company said. However, those sites follow Food and Drug Administration (FDA) manufacturing practices to reduce the possibility for contamination.

Analysis process details

Both competitors used Cargill products, the company said. “It was important to determine if one of our products was the source of the trace ractopamine,” ​it added.

“We have had an open dialogue with the two riders and the horse owners, Elizabeth Juliano and Maryanna Haymon, and have worked very closely with them to determine the cause of the positive test results,” ​the company said. “Through our investigation, we identified that Progressive Nutrition Soothing Pink, a nutritional supplement used to prevent gastric upset, contained an ingredient that included trace amounts of ractopamine.”

An effort was made to track the source of the contamination, the company said. “At this time, we have identified and isolated the ingredient that was the source of the contamination and we have completely stopped use of the ingredient in all products,” ​it said

The digestive aid supplement remains available in a 21oz container, which did not include the contaminated ingredient, the company said. That version is being recommended as a replacement product.

Ractopamine contamination concerns

Ractopamine is approved for use as a medicated feed additive designed for finishing hogs and finishing beef, said Cargill. The feed additive is used to boost weight gain and the production of lean muscle by influencing the energy consumed to generate lean muscle tissues in place of fat.

“The product was tested in a research trial in horses at Texas A&M University several years ago and found to have some lean tissue benefit with no health issues,” ​the company reported. “Because the product is not approved as a feed additive for horses, it is considered a prohibited substance in racing and competition along with a number of other feed additives and medications.”

The amount found in the contaminated product was quite small, and only measured in parts per billion, the company said. “To put this amount in to context, the amount found was equivalent to one sheet in a roll of toilet paper stretching from New York to London,”​ it added.

“The level of ractopamine found in both the horses and the product would have no effect on their health or performance, but FEI has a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on ractopamine and we respect their process,”​ said Cargill.

The additive can improve horse endurance and lean muscle development, and can be found in a blood or urine test.

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