Why is banned salbutamol still being fed to pigs in Vietnam?


Vietnamese pig farmers have been using salbutamol to enhance lean meat in pork production for decades.

This beta-agonist, is a bronchodilator used in human medicine to treat asthma and other respiratory diseases. It is used in small doses under doctor’s supervision as it becomes toxic if used improperly.

Understanding that the practice of feeding salbutamol to pigs has harmful effects even on human consumers regulators banned it in 2002.  But the continued use suggests a better approach is needed to stop the practice.

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“Salbutamol helps pigs produce more lean meat with bright red color that consumers and processing companies find attractive,” said Tran Ba Tuyen, a swine farmer, who previously used the substance before his conscience stopped him.

He said a trader used to give him the substance, directing him to feed it to the pigs 5-7 days before collection.

“He said if I don’t, he will not buy the pigs because the meat color and lean percentage are not good enough,” he told Asian Agribiz.

Increasing concerns

Previously, the biggest violators were small-scale backyard farms, but more recently, authorities have reported cases involving large-scale commercial farms.

In December 2022, authorities in Dong Nai province inspected a commercial farm and identified 130 pigs positive for salbutamol at concentrations 5-10 times higher than maximum levels. The pigs, weighing 90kg, were ready for harvest.

Authorities also detected the substance in carcasses in slaughterhouses. Some illegal slaughterhouses are also buyers that require farmers to feed their animals with salbutamol. 

The color and lean meat content attract more consumers, forcing producers to use salbutamol to achieve such results.

Potential alternatives

The continued use of salbutamol means a safer alternative must be found.

Unfortunately, producers believe there is no safer alternative currently. Some companies have developed additives such as chelate minerals and practices like immunocastration as alternatives, but these are not common in Vietnam.

Other solutions include choosing the right breed to produce high-lean meat and using plant-based supplements containing antioxidants to achieve better color. But these solutions must be affordable for farmers to convince them to switch.

Blockchain technology can also help reduce the use of the banned substance through traceability.

But most needed is consumer awareness about the danger of feeding salbutamol-laced feed to pigs. They should demand the end of the practice. Although the government is raising awareness and concern about beta-agonist use, more must be done. In the meantime, producers need better additives to combat salbutamol use.