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6 Nasty Drugs Your Meat Is On

American livestock is pumped full of harmful drugs, making our food dangerous and cruel at the same time.

Most people are aware of Big Pharma, thanks to its advertising, but few are aware of Animal Pharma, the animal drug divisions within drug companies that sell livestock drugs by the ton. Unlike people Pharma, many Animal Pharma drugs do not require a prescription or a veterinarian and the hormones, growth promoters, feed additives and antiparasite and antifungal drugs are loosely regulated and monitored. The USDA tests for residues from the drugs in meat, poultry and egg products but repeat offender farms that release animals with violative drug residues into the human food supply are identified weekly.

Among the drugs found in beef released to the public in a USDA Inspector General report were penicillin, the antibiotics florfenicol, sulfamethazine and sulfadimethoxine, the antiparasite drug ivermectin, the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug flunixin and heavy metals. Some drug-contaminated meat was released into the human food supply and there was no attempt at a recall, says the report.

The highest of all veterinary drug residues are found in bob veal (calves under three days old that weigh only 70 to 100 pounds) says the USDA Inspector General report, because “Farmers are prohibited from selling milk for human consumption from cows that have been medicated with antibiotics (as well as other drugs) until the withdrawal period is over; so instead of just disposing of this tainted milk, producers feed it to their calves. When the calves are slaughtered, the drug residue from the feed or milk remains in their meat, which is then sold to consumers.” Meat from bob calves is put into “value added” veal products like veal sausages and breaded veal patties.

Is there any other food that is so dangerous and cruel at the same time?

There were an astounding 211 drug residue violations from just four plants, says the report, because “individuals who have a history of picking up dairy cows with drugs in their system and dropping them off at the plant” are widely tolerated. For example, Golden Jay Dairy in Tulare, CA had three violations in 2013—all for residues of the antibiotic neomycin in bob veal.

The grassfed beef movement and mad cow scares have made people think more about what "they eat eats," but few ask about the drugs the animal ingested. Unlike bacteria like E. coli, salmonella or listeria, drug and metal residues aren’t neutralized by cooking and some actually break down into more harmful compounds when heated. Here are some drugs that are probably lurking in your meat.

1. Antibiotics

The misuse of antibiotics on industrial farms to maximize profits at the expense of human and animal health has been well covered by news outlets. However, the FDA's December initiative against farm antibiotics was poorly covered. "F.D.A. Restricts Antibiotics Use for Livestock," wrote the New York Times. "The FDA is cracking down on antibiotics on farms," wrote the Washington Post.

In point of fact, the "crackdown" was a watered-down plea for Animal Pharma to self-police and voluntarily change the indications on its antibiotic labels which the FDA would then enforce. Does anyone believe industry would voluntarily give up profits? (FDA's caving to industry on antibiotics is similar to the USDA's Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, HACCP, in slaughterhouses, in which industry devises its own rules and enforcement which the government then ratifies as in "honor system.")

Less than a month after the FDA's faux antibiotic initiative, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council report revealed that 26 of 30 antibiotics approved for use in livestock feed failed the FDA's own safety tests, yet are still in use. "The FDA continues to knowingly allow the use of drugs in animal feed that likely pose a 'high risk' to human health," said Carmen Cordova, a microbiologist and lead author of the report. "That's a breach of their responsibility and the public trust."

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