Remember the Angel Dust, the greatest ever concoction to boost growth rates in cattle?
For those too young to remember, over 20 years back the "dust" was a white powder which turned a plain bullock into mister muscle. It did wonders for conformation grades. The downside was that the meat was tougher to eat.
The Angel Dust powder used in Ireland was Clenbuterol which is from a chemical group known as beta agonists.
Normally body muscle grows and breaks down. With the Clenbuterol the breaking down of muscle is curbed. As a result there is extra muscle laid down.
Fat R4H Hereford bullocks were being transformed into U3 carcases by adding the dust to their ration for a month or so.
The results were dramatic.
Fairly quickly across Ireland and the EU, Clenbuterol fell under a strictly enforced ban. Beta agonist use in farm livestock for growth promotion remains very much outlawed across the EU.
But guess what? A friend back from the US tells me that farmers there are using their very own form of angel dust (beta agonist) in cattle and pigs and that it is all quite legal.
The beta agonist that has been approved for use is called Ractopamine marketed by Elanco Animal Health.
It is sold as Optaflexx for cattle and as Paylean in pigs. It can also be used in the diets of poultry and turkeys.
Canada too has licensed the use of Ractopamine, as has Japan.
However, it remains very much banned in the EU and across most of the rest of the world. Russia is threatening to ban US beef because of its use in livestock.
In Ireland, the Clenbuterol Angel Dust was a major heart stimulant. It was reckoned that some farmer users of Clenbuterol Angel Dust here died from heart attacks as a result of accidentally inhaling the powder when mixing it for cattle.
In the US, Ractopamine is also regarded as a heart stimulant but its use in livestock feed has been approved on the basis that the residues found in the meat are so low as to not being medically active or threatening to consumer health.
There is growing US consumer hostility to its use. However, like growth promoters, Ractopamine remains available to US beef and swine farmers, giving them a continued cost of production advantage over their EU counterparts.