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The 2019 Grand Champion Market Barrow exhibited by Elijah Keplinger of Clark County sold to Bob Evans, Ohio Farm Bureau, Tim Huffman, Ohio Harness horseman’s Association, ad Event Marketing Strategies for $33,000.

Ohio’s fairs wrestling with ractopamine

From coast to coast, the U.S. commercial pork industry is excited about the tremendous potential for exporting to China. China, though, is not excited about ractopamine, the active ingredient in Paylean, Optaflexx and other products. China has a ban in place for imported pork from hogs that have been fed ractopamine.

The challenge is that ractopamine has U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval as a legal feed additive for pigs over 150 pounds and has been commonly used to provide some extra muscle for the show ring and commercial production. Pork from pigs fed ractopamine is safe for human consumption. But, like it or not, if China doesn’t want it, the packers who process the pigs are not going to want it. If packers do not want it, the already limited options for processing pigs fed ractopamine get much, much slimmer.

State Veterinarian Tony Forshey outlined the problems now facing fairs at the Ohio Fair Managers Convention in early January.

“Paylean is going to be a big one for pig exhibitors this year. With the whole issue with China and shipping pork, they do not want any ractopamine, or Paylean. That will be a voluntary thing these kids will have to do and it is really going to put the onus on the buyers,” Forshey said. “The people buying these pigs and sending them to slaughter are going to have to sign an affidavit saying these pigs have not been fed Paylean and that is going to cause problems for the buyers and the packers. The packers are going to demand that there is no Paylean being fed to those pigs. Exhibitors are just going to have to not feed Paylean and that will be a problem for a lot of people.”

Fairs around the state have already started discussions on how to handle the problem of Paylean, a supplement to hog feed proven to have champion-caliber results for show pigs in the past. Knowing the incredibly high international stakes, the commercial hog industry has largely phased out of ractopamine use. This will likely be a much more challenging situation for show pigs, though, because ractopamine use is so commonly accepted and its benefits have often been the difference between success in the show ring and finishing closer to the bottom of the class.

Ohio’s hog exhibitors are now looking to fairboards for some guidance. The Ohio State Fair is still gathering information and is hoping to have a decision made by mid- to late February. Some county fairs are already moving on the issue.

“We are weighing all of the options,” said Charlie McCullough, chairman of the Hardin County Fair’s swine committee. “We want to make sure we provide the best opportunities for our youth. That includes ensuring youth have a place to market their product at the conclusion of the fair.”

The Greene County Agricultural Society (GCAS) voted at the January 2020 board meeting to ban the use of ractopamine in all market hog projects at the 2020 Greene County Fair from birth to time of slaughter.

This board said the decision was based on two major issues:

  1. Packers will be testing for and rejecting any hogs that have been fed Paylean at any time during their life.
  2. Union Stockyard will not accept any market hogs that have been fed Paylean at any time during their life.

Greene County Extension issued this statement from the board.

“Union Stockyard and the GCAS will be requiring all market hog exhibitors, and their parent/guardian, to sign an affidavit stating that the hogs exhibited/sold have never been exposed to Paylean. Affidavits will be turned in at weigh in with DUNF forms. Greene County Fairboard reserves the right to test hogs, feed, or equipment for traces of ractopamine.”

The Allen County Fair also decided to prohibit ractopamine in market hogs with steep penalties for those caught breaking the prohibition through random testing in each shipment of hogs from the fair. If their hog is found with signs they’ve been fed ractopamine, the exhibitor could be responsible for covering “the total packer bill for all hogs sold and all associated cost with lost products,” according to a social media post from Allen County Extension.

Other fairs around the state are wrestling with many questions regarding the testing, enforcement and legalities of banning ractopamine in show pigs. Stay tuned for more as this issue unfolds.

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