Eight pork-processing plants will not be able to send product to China, at least for a while. Chinese officials say the move is in response to finding traces of ractopamine in U.S. pork products headed for Beijing.

USDA received a notification on Wednesday, reporting that the product had been pull aside, says USDA Press Secretary Keith Williams. The names of the pork-processing plants have not been released. 

This follows an episode a few weeks earlier where China pulled product from two U.S. suppliers, citing the same issue. Given China's recent export problems with a variety of products shipped to the United States and the growing backlash it is receiving, there is reason to believe that China's actions against U.S. pork smacks of retaliation.

The Food and Drug Administration and Food Safety Inspection Service have deemed ractopamine safe at certain levels. However, it has been a challenge to convince the Chinese, notes Williams.

The Chinese tend to paint ractopamine with the same brush as clenbuterol, "an entirely different drug," he says. China banned clenbuterol in 2002. While both are classified as beta-agonists, ractopamine comes from a different branch of the family tree.

"The quality, reliability and safety of American product is known and well respected throughout the world," Williams says. "FDA's finding, as well as that of FSIS, is that this [drug] is safe."

Meanwhile, Taiwan officials have announced that the country will soon lift its ban on ractopamine. Both China and Taiwan have had a zero-tolerance level for ractopamine.

This is a major change as recent calls, driven by Taiwanese pig farmers, have been for the government to crack down on products with trace levels. In a joint statement, Taiwan's Council of Agriculture and Department of Health said they would lift the ban, but did not set a date.

A panel of 19 experts reached consensus on ractopamine's safety. DOH then proposed maximum allowable residue levels in pork and beef at 10 parts per billion for muscle and fatty tissue, 40 ppb in liver and 90 ppb in kidney.

Source: USDA, Meatingplace.com