The drugstore in your meat

Most people couldn’t name one animal drug used to produce their food. Yet conventionally produced US meat is grown with antibiotics, vaccines, anti-inflammatory drugs, hormones and other chemicals, most of which people would want to avoid if they were on the label.

A 2010 Office of Inspector General report found that Food Safety and Inspection Service, for example, found beef released to the public contained penicillin, the antibiotics florfenicol, sulfamethazine and sulfadimethoxine, the anti-parasite drug ivermectin, the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug flunixin and heavy metals. Yum.

Few realize that meat consumed daily in the US is often banned in Europe. Since 1989, beef grown with the routine hormones oestradiol-17 (an estrogen), testosterone, progesterone and zeranol, trenbolone acetate and melengestrol acetate have been banned by the European Commission (EC).

Why? “There is an association between steroid hormones and certain cancers and an indication that meat consumption is possibly associated with increased risks of breast cancer and prostate cancer,” says the Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures. “The highest rates of breast cancer are observed in North America, where hormone-treated meat consumption is highest in the world,” it says, adding that the same statistics apply to prostate cancer.

Kwang Hwa, Korea, has only seven new cases of breast cancer per one hundred thousand people whereas non-Hispanic Caucasians in Los Angeles have 103 new cases per one hundred thousand people, says the EC report. Since the breast cancer rate increases when immigrant groups move to the United States, the report suggests that the differences are environmental and not genetic. Hormonal growth producers and residues from other drugs, like antibiotics, in the meat may even be responsible for the United States’ increasing rates of allergy diseases and precocious puberty, the report suggests, which accords with research also conducted in the US.

The asthma-like growth producing drug ractopamine, used in US beef, pork and turkeys, has been reported to be banned 160 countries. While US pork producers will be debuting a “ractopamine-free” label because of the public uproar over the questionable drug, it has been nevertheless been used—unlabeled—in 45 percent of US pigs and in 30 percent of ration-fed cattle.

Drugs used in poultry production also raise questions. Four years ago, Pfizer announced it would stop selling arsenic-treated chicken feed after the FDA found inorganic arsenic, a carcinogen, “at higher levels in the livers of chickens treated” than in untreated chickens. Pfizer said the feed was used to control parasites, promote weight gain and feed efficiency, and improve “pigmentation.” Until the announcement, the public was largely unaware of the arsenic-laced feed.

Unfortunately, a quick look at the Code of Federal Regulations for turkey drugs shows other approved feed drugs with arsenic which the code warns are “dangerous for ducks, geese, and dogs,” and must be discontinued, “5 days before slaughtering animals for human consumption to allow elimination of the drug from edible tissues.”

Halofuginone, another drug given to turkeys to kill pathogens, “is toxic to fish and aquatic life” and “an irritant to eyes and skin,” says the federal code. “Avoid contact with skin, eyes, or clothing” and “Keep out of lakes, ponds, and streams.”

The problem does not appear to be getting any better. Just this week the US Department of Justice entered a consent decree of permanent injunction in the District of Vermont against the Correia Family Limited Partnership, doing business as Wynsum Holsteins, a dairy farm located in West Addison, Vermont. The operation was cited for selling cows for food with illegal drug residues in their tissues in 2012 and has continued to violate the laws says the FDA.

Drug residues from the antibiotics ceftiofur and penicillin and the anti-inflammatory drug flunixin meglumine were found says the FDA—used illegally without “a licensed veterinarian within the context of a valid veterinarian/client/patient relationship.”

How can you avoid chemicals, growth producers and other unlabeled drugs used in US meat production? The best way is to patronize grocery stores that verify their suppliers’ good practices and refuse to carry meat made with dangerous drugs.

Martha Rosenberg is a freelance journalist and the author of the highly acclaimed “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” published by Prometheus Books. Check her Facebook page.

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