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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Your Meat On Drugs

We can't taste antibiotics or hormones, but most meat-eaters in the US consume them every day.

Several different drugs have been found in the grain-based feeds given to animals grown in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) including
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Tranquilizers
  • Cardiac stimulant drugs
  • Anti-parasitic medications
  • Growth-promoting hormones
  • Sex hormones estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone
  • Antibiotics like penicillin and gentamicin

A report from the Office of Inspector General, part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), found that violations among meat producers are rampant (4 plants had more than 200 violations) and acknowledged that consuming residues of drugs in meat "could result in stomach, nerve, or skin problems."

Meat from CAFOs has also been found to be contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria. According to an analysis of data from the FDA by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used on cattle, pigs and poultry. The over-use of antibiotics in animals has greatly contributed to the rise of "superbugs" and antibiotic resistance in humans, which has become a major health crisis. Antibiotics fed to animals are even turning up in plant foods when crops are treated with manure from CAFOs.

Several other chemicals and contaminants have been found in grain-based animal feeds including
  • Artificial flavors
  • Heavy metals 
  • Industrial waste
  • Genetically modified organisms
  • Pesticides

Pesticides in meat have been linked to other health problems including hormone imbalances, weight gain, imbalances in intestinal flora, problems with digestion, and in children, cognitive and behavioral problems.

And according to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, "several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholersterol synthesis, insulin regulartion, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen, and gastrointestinal system."

When we consume meat, milk, or eggs from grain-fed animals, the chemicals in their bodies become chemicals in our bodies. Bacteria may be neutralized by cooking but the other chemicals aren’t and even the USDA warns that these “residues may produce toxic or allergic reactions.”

Avoid grain-fed animal products and choose grass-fed and pasture-raised meats instead. Animals raised on pasture aren't routinely given drugs or grain-based feeds contaminated with chemicals. Because they eat their natural diet, they're naturally healthy and they don't need drugs.

Healthier animals produce healthier products. Compared to grain-fed animal products, those from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals have been found to contain more carotenoids (precursors to vitamin A), vitamin E, antioxidants like glutathione, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a polyunsaturated fat found to protect against cancer.

They also have a more natural fatty acid profile similar to what we see in wild animals including more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and fewer pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats.

Find grass-fed and pasture-raised meats, eggs, and dairy products at your local farmers' market and grocery stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. 


Andersson A.M. and Skakkebaek N.E. 1999. Exposure to exogenous estrogens in food: possible impact on human development and health. European Journal of Endocrinology 140(6):477-85.

Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2012. Antibiotic Resistance in Foodborne Pathogens: Evidence of the Need for a Risk Management Strategy. Available at:

Cimitile M. 2009. Crops Absorb Livestock Antibiotics, Science Shows. Environmental Health News. Available at: (accessed 6 July 2012).

Consumer Reports. 2012. Meat on Drugs. Available at (accessed 6 September 2012).

Daley C.A. et al. 2010. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal 9:10.

Elliott CT et al. 1993. Effective laboratory monitoring for the abuse of the beta-agonist clenbuterol in cattle. The Analyst 118(4):447-8.

Epstein S.S. 1990. The chemical jungle: today's beef industry. International Journal of Health Services 20(2):277-80.

Gilbert N. 2012. Cost of human-animal disease greatest for world's poor. Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2012.10953.

Li Y et al. 2005. A survey of selected heavy metal concentrations in Wisconsin dairy feeds. Journal of Dairy Science 88(8):2911-22.

United States Department of Agriculture. 2010. Food Safety and Inspection Service National Residue Program for Cattle. Available at:

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