A Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and a Side of Toxins

Copper, arsenic, dioxinpolybrominated diphenyl ethers, lindane, penicillin, Flunixin, Sulfadimethoxine, Florfenicol, Sulfamethazine, Ivermectin…some of these may sound familiar, some may sounds vaguely like something you learned about in biology class some years back. But nothing sounds like something you’d expect to find on your dinner plate. And yet they’re there. They snuck in, as uninvited guests. But you cannot see them, and they are certainly not included on the label. In fact, they are most likely not even tested to determine the level of invasion. And if in the off-chance they have been tested, it’s further likely that would have been “por gusto” because there are either no set limits for “acceptable levels” of these toxins, or there are simply no repercussions for anyone along the food supply chain for violating a set tolerance level. These toxins are residues, from substance being either intentionally or unintentionally introduced to the animal, that linger in the meat to be consumed by us.

Beef feedlot – packed together, standing knee-deep in their own excrement, fed twice a day an unnatural diet…this is your average steak and burger. (Photo from the Fresno Beehive’s K. Hegre.)

The oft-cited example of the shortcomings of the system as it is currently set up in the U.S. is from 2008, when Mexico rejected a shipment of U.S. beef because it exceeded the legal tolerance set by the Mexican government. The meat was returned to the U.S. and sold here, since we have no set tolerances for copper resides in meat. This news got out, and caused a minor scandal, and people demanded answers. The USDA set to work investigating the matter, and in 2010, released a report detailing the level to which veterinary drugs, pesticides, and heavy metal residues could be found in the U.S. meat supply. The results were not encouraging. They found that the FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service – a branch of the USDA I might add) had no set tolerance levels for dozens of heavy metals and some drugs. And if they did have set limits, it appeared not to matter because in a 9-month period in 2007-2008, the inspectors tested four cow carcasses that were over the acceptable limit for certain veterinary drugs, yet did not demand (or even politely request) a recall on that meat. The primary problem of these drug and heavy metal residues is that, unlike E.Coli 0157:H7, they are not killed by thorough cooking. They remain in the meat and accumulate in your body.

Pesticides are consumed by the cattle as part of their feed; pesticide residues from the corn, soybean, and other materials create quite the chemical cocktail that the animals eat every day until they are slaughtered. Heavy metals end up in the animals also through their daily grub, and potentially their drinking water as well. Since heavy metals do not break down, they bioaccumulate – the higher up the food chain, the higher the concentration of heavy metals in that animal. In nature, cows are herbivores – not very high on the food chain. The industrial system has turned them into omnivores, and in their feed they’ll find a blend of not just pesticide-laced corn and soy, but a well-blended mixture of other animal parts such as hooves, diseased animals, feathers, manure, blood – feeling a bit nauseous? Fear not, cow  brains can no longer be fed back to cows due to the spreading of Mad Cow disease. But other parts of the cow are fair game. This revolting mixture wreaks havoc on the poor cattle’s stomachs (all four of them), as they were designed to digest grass. That’s it. Grass. Corn and soybeans are not grasses. And obviously neither is anything else in their diet. Remember the movie, Supersize Me? When you give someone food their body is not genetically designed to digest, bad things happen. People get sick, and cows do too. So they are given drugs to help make them better – or at least live long enough to reach about 1200 pounds.

Drug residues are in the meat because the animals are kept in horrid conditions and fed a terrible diet. Since food and shelter are fundamental for every animal, it’s not surprising they become sick frequently. So they are given antibiotics or other medication to try to make them well. If it seems the animal is not improving, they are shipped immediately to slaughter before they become “too sick” to be killed for human consumption. So these animals are killed with the drugs still swimming in their system. Milk cows given antibiotics and other drugs are not allowed to have their milk sold for human consumption until after a certain waiting period to let the drugs clear their system – the drugs come right out in their milk. So these factory farmers comply, but instead of wasting the milk, the milk is fed to veal calves (no law against that). The milk is most commonly used for “bob veal” calves, whose lifespans may last a few days to a few weeks before being slaughtered. Their entire short lives might be sustained only by drinking this contaminated milk. And yet these are likely marketed proudly as “milk-fed” veal and sold at a premium (which gives you pause to consider just what the other baby cows are being fed).

Although her ultimate fate will find her on a dinner plate, this cow will have a happy healthy life. (From Seneca Breeze Farm, NY.)

If you want to avoid these unwelcome additions to your burger or steak, seek out a local beef grower. Find out what their practices are, what the cows are fed, where they live, and where they are slaughtered. Grass fed would be the best, most natural, option. Yes, it will be more expensive, and maybe that means you won’t have red meat every night, but that too is OK. Not only do countless studies show the health benefits of limited red meat consumption, the environmental benefits of eating less meat are innumerable as well. The production of one pound of beef needs 12,000 gallons of water; animal waste is a major source of pollution in our waterways – harming both fisheries and human drinking water sources; beef production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption; and decomposing waste (that doesn’t runoff into the waterways) releases harmful gases and unpleasant odors. It can be simply stated: industrial meat production is awful. But there are better options!

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. http://pearljamactivism.com says:

    Where exactly did you actually pick up the suggestions to write ““A Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and a Side of Toxins
    Locavore del Mundo”? Thanks a lot -Margaret

    1. I was reading a news article about the whole “Pink Slime” issue, and it occurred to me to investigate a bit deeper!

  2. “A Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and a Side of Toxins
    Locavore del Mundo” ended up being certainly engaging and enlightening!
    Within todays universe that is really difficult to deliver.
    Many thanks, Tyler

  3. “A Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and a Side of Toxins Locavore del Mundo”
    definitely got me personally addicted with ur site! Iwill certainly wind
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