Thirty-three U.S. senators from livestock states, including Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, on Tuesday sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk urging him to “quickly address” Russia’s recent ban on all U.S. beef, pork and turkey over residues of ractopamine, an animal drug used to boost growth and leanness. The senators called the trade restriction, which jeopardizes more than half a billion dollars in U.S. exports, an “egregious trade barrier with no scientific merit” and accused Russia of violating World Trade Organization rules. “With your swift action and use of all enforcement tools available, it is our sincere hope that the issues surrounding Russia’s import ban can be quickly and decisively resolved thereby ensuring a stable and predictable trading environment for U.S. livestock producers and exporters,” read the letter. The letter argues that Russia’s zero tolerance for ractopamine residues is inconsistent with the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement and is “in practice, an import ban,” in large part because the UN’s Codex Alimentarius Commission recently recognized a safe maximum residue limit. With an MRL set at Codex, a zero tolerance ban goes against the international standard usually used to settle WTO disputes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of ractopamine for pigs in 1999, and later approved the drug as a feed additive for cattle and turkeys. More than two dozen other countries, including Australia and Canada, have since approved the drug as safe for food animals and for human consumption at very low levels. “The United States must do everything it can to defend its rights in both the WTO and CODEX and prevent non-science-based trading practices from other trading partners, including Russia,” continued the letter, which included Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA),  Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). “Further, we must demonstrate to Russia that its newfound commitment to WTO membership includes adherence to science-based standards, such as the CODEX MRL for ractopamine.” Hours after the letter was announced, Reuters reported China will soon require third party certification confirming that U.S. pork imports are ractopamine-free. Joe Shuele of the Meat Export Federation told Reuters that Chinese regulatory authorities suggested the requirement could kick in March 1, even though exporters have been meeting Chinese requirements after a serious of temporary bans were sparked by ractopamine positives. “China has a zero-tolerance (ractopamine) requirement for pork,” noted Shuele. “The issue is how do you satisfy the third-party verification requirement when U.S. pork is already ractopamine free.” As Food Safety News has reported, China and the European Union, which together produce and consume the majority of the world’s pork, have been ardent opponents of ractopamine: “China has expressed concerns about the higher concentrations of ractopamine residues found in pig organs, which can be part of a traditional Chinese diet, and the EU has argued that the science backing the drug’s safety is flawed. In 2009, the European Food Safety Authority published a 52-page report strongly criticizing the data and methodology used by Codex to calculate the Acceptable Daily Intake for ractopamine, upon which the ractopamine residue standards are based.”