December 16, 2009

From Russia With Love: Russia widens ban on U.S. pork imports over concerns of antibiotic residues

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

downloadedfileThe Russians are helping build political will for passage of PAMTA! How has this happened and should we allow foreign influence in our domestic policy to preserve antibiotics for medical treatment? In this case the answer should be a resounding yes since industrial agriculture in the U.S. appears more responsive to the needs and desires of the export market than to the health and safety of the American people. Tom Johnston recently reported on that Russia removed three U.S. pork-processing plants from “its list of eligible exporters for findings of oxytetracycline and salmonella exceeding that country’s standards,” as reported by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on November 30, 2009. Since December 7 Seaboard Foods’ Guymon, OK slaughterhouse, Farmland Foods’ Denison, IA and Crete, NE pork processing plants can no longer export pork products to Russia. Less than a week later (12/10/09) Reuters reported Russia had widened its ban on U.S. pork imports to 13 U.S. pork plants, including seven Smithfield-owned pork processing facilities. The number of U.S. pork plants still approved for export to Russia, the fifth largest market for U.S. pork, is now down to six from a high of about 40 earlier this year.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office in Washington expressed concern that “current Russian standards are not based on international standards and do not have a scientific justification.” This sounds like Pork Council language to those of us who have witnessed the distortion and manipulation of scientific data by the industry.

Food safety standards to protect the Russian people should provide a model for the U.S. to emulate and surpass. The pork industry continues to fight vigorously against passage of PAMTA by using methods such as selective reporting and distortion of the facts related to the removal of antibiotics as growth promoters in the Danish pork industry. Perhaps as their export markets begin to constrict, the Pork Council will recognize that removing antibiotics from swine feed is in their best interest. To date arguments that such removal would be in the best interests of the health of the American public appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Congresswoman Slaughter, a microbiologist with a master’s degree in public health, has been fighting an uphill battle to gain support for PAMTA. I am sure she will be surprised to learn that Russia is emerging as an unlikely ally in her efforts!

-Robert S. Lawrence, MD

For more Livable Future blog coverage of PAMTA:

PAMTA gathers steam at rules committee hearing (July 14, 2009)

PAMTA under fire from Farm Bureau (March 25, 2009)

The Center for A Livable Future statement on PAMTA