NEW YORK – Smithfield Foods Inc. announced that half its hogs will be raised on feed that does not contain ractopamine, a growth promoting additive that has been banned in Russia and China.

Two Smithfield plants, which process 43,000 hogs a day or roughly 10 percent of the US industry, already are ractopamine free. A third plant will be converted by June 1, so that 50 percent of Smithfield’s pork operations will not be using ractopamine as part of feed rations, said Larry Pope, CEO of Smithfield, speaking at BMO Capital Markets Farm to Market Conference in New York.

“We see that as a strong competitive advantage —that we can change the way we raise the animals on our farms and get access to a market that the rest of the industry struggles to do,” Pope said.

China already banned ractopamine. Russia's ban on US frozen meat exports became effective Feb. 11, and a ban on chilled meat began Feb. 4. The impact of Russia’s ractopamine ban was not as dramatic for pork compared to beef. However, pork exports through February declined 15 percent in volume (7,037 mt) and 16 percent in value ($21.1 million), according to US Meat Export Federation data.

Pope said the company changed its hog raising operations to accommodate the needs of export partners. The move also highlights the value of Smithfield's vertically integrated operations, he said. Delivering a ractopamine free product gives Smithfield access to markets that are currently closed to their competitors.

“Whether I like it or not, this industry has gotten married to exports, so we've got to do what we can to manage,” Pope said.

“We think that we have feeding arrangements — whether those are wheat-fed arrangements to differentiated genetics — that we can deliver to Japanese markets, to the Chinese market, the Asian market, the European market that gives us a point of difference because of our system,” he added.