Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'll have the filet mignon, with a side of penicillin, please.

I've been trying to do some research on allergic reactions to residual antibiotics in meat and dairy products. I know for a fact that it happens, but for some reason I can't find any real scientific studies on it. Or, maybe correct that - any that I don't have to pay over $30 to get. (Side rant - why does a certain segment of the scientific community keep its research on monetary lockdown? There are so, SO many papers I want to get that I'd have to pay an arm and a leg for. Aarg.)

Anyway, I'm having to collect the info in bits and pieces - as is the status quo when it comes to food industry practices. I'm planning to put together a full blown article on it for my next issue of Vegetable Vegetable Mineral. But I just wanted to share this little tidbit, and discuss it for a minute.

The following is a quote from a page of PBS's excellent Frontline series. Read, and be terrified with me:
The meat industry doesn't publicize its use of antibiotics, so accurate information on the amount of antibiotics given to food animals is hard to come by. Stuart B. Levy, M.D., who has studied the subject for years, estimates that there are 15-17 million pounds of antibiotics used sub-therapeutically in the United States each year. Antibiotics are given to animals for therapeutic reasons, but that use isn't as controversial because few argue that sick animals should not be treated.
This echoes a statement I've found all over: namely, that we don't actually have any idea of the actual quantity of antibiotics being given to livestock animals. Uh... does that strike anyone else as a problem? See, cuz I'm thinking that we have, like, regulatory agencies that are supposed to be tracking what's in our food supply. We've been knowing for at least eight years or so that this kind of administration of drugs to "food animals" is enabling the evolution of some really frighteningly resistant bacterial strains.

It's beyond question that nothing even approaching one out of even every thousand animals slaughtered for food is tested for such things - and when they are tested, it's done by the people selling them, not by a regulatory agency. Couldn't the factory farms at least be forced to keep records of the drugs they administer? (Because people, the small family farmer is not the issue here. That scale of farm doesn't need this kind of antibiotic dumping.) Of course such record wouldn't be accurate, but it would be a start... or something...

Oh, and um, did I forget to mention that there are many, many people in this world with deadly antibiotic allergies? Because what is also without question is that these drugs are still in the meat when it gets to the grocery. Umyeah.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and call this whole thing a problem.

Of course what I keep coming upon is articles about how without the antibiotics, herds would be "decimated" by infection. Sure they would. But only because they're being kept in deplorable conditions, way too close together, nowhere near the grassy hillside portrayed on the truck that will later ship their slabbed carcases to the grocery store on nice neat white styrofoam platters... People seem to have forgotten that this kind of antibiotic dosage has only been "necessary" for about fifty years.

We have awfully short memories.

I'm also finding the articles that talk about how discontinuing the antibiotic use would drive up the cost of meat. Funny how other things that are difficult to produce and completely unnecessary to have are also somewhat expensive, and yet no one questions why. Bottom line? Maybe meat should be a lot more expensive, and maybe we should be "producing" a lot less of it...

Yes, I am the frustration.

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