Reasons to be vegetarian! There’s Junk in Your Joint | ” You won’t quote my name will you?” The question came from a vet I was interviewing. Like many other people I have spoken for this researching. He was genuinely worried that his livelihood might be threatened. if he was seen to speak out publicly against some of our more questionable food production practices.
I have found that this self imposed conspiracy of silence, although subtle functions very effectively. Probably much more so than any Official Secrets Act. Nevertheless, there sometimes comes a point when people can no longer turn a blind eye to what they basically know to be wrong. And this vet was I thought, ready to speak quite frankly to me.
Reasons to be vegetarian!
Another vet had suggested that I might profitably talk to him about the black market that I knew existed in antibiotics intended for use on meat animals After I promised him anonimity, he startled me immediately with an admission he clearly found embarrassing:
I hardly eat any meat these days especially not in restaurants In my opinion, it’s not a wholesome product any more at least much of it isn’t. There are too many areas where the consumer is completely at the mercy of the producer, and I don’t trust many of the producers or slaughterers I know.
They’ll do anything they can to make a fast buck, and there’s no effective means of policing
them Vets like me are pretty well powerless the Ministry doesnt have enough money or manpower to enforce the regulations and most of the legislation doesn’t have any teeth in any case.
Food poisoning and antibiotics,
You wanted to talk to me about food poisoning and antibiotics, well that’s a good illustration. We hear a lot about food poisoning cases these days, and in just about every case there’s meat or poultry as the root cause.
Now who get’s the blame when patients in hospital die from it? It’s almost always the cook whos blamed for not cooking the beef long enough or for leaving it out in the open. But that’s
only partly true, because if the meat wasn’t grossly infected with salmonella organisms to start with, there’d be no problem.
And an increasing number of virulent strains are becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics About four out of every five chickens sold in supermarkets are infected with salmonella. I don’t see how anyone can really consider that acceptable.
Reasons to be vegetarian! Cross-infect other food
Do you know how easy it is to cross-infect other food in the kitchen? Well, say the housewife slices into the chicken, and then uses the same knife to slice some bread. She’s just spread the
infection. Or she puts the chicken down on a work-surfaceand then later places some other food on the same spot where the chicken stood.
Again, she’s transferred the infection. If she pretended to herself that she was handling a lump of raw sewage in a food environment, and took all the necessary precautions then that
would be just about adequate.
That’s a disgusting thought I said, ‘But let’s get back to antibiotics Exactly how and why are they used on animals intended for human consumption?
Cow gets sick!
Alright: he answered. There are three categories of use, but the distinctions are frequently blurred. First, there’s therapeutic use. That means if a cow gets sick, just like a human, I’ll give her something to clear it up.
Second, there’s prophylactic, which means that in the case I’ve just mentioned I’d probably give the rest of the herd something to prevent them from catching it too.
And third there’s the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. It gets mixed in their feed, and they’re taking it in all the time whether or not they’re sick. I don’t usually get involved in that:
‘Why not? I asked. Don’t you control the drugs that the animals in your care receive, rather like a doctor does for humans?
He gave a sardonic smile ‘It’s not the same thing at all. For one thing, there’s no applicable law.
Reasons to be vegetarian! Salmonella infections
About twenty-five per cent of human salmonella infections are now resistant to drug therapy. This isn’t confined to just one drug. They’re multiple resistant. This percentage is steadily increasing all the time. Astonishingly half the antibiotics now commercially produced
are fed to food animals largely for disease prevention or growth promotion.
They tracked 312 people who were infected with drug-resistant salmonella. Subsequently, thirteen of them died from it. This is a mortality rate of four per cent twenty-one times higher than the death-rate from old-fashioned, non-resistant salmonella
They tracked one outbreak of salmonella poisoning in Minneapolis and found that the factor that all the patients had in common was that they had eaten hamburger from a herd of cattle that had been given “sub-therapeutic” doses of chlortetracycline.
The “trigger” that precipitated the outbreak was when each patient took a penicillin-derived drug. Then in a way that still isn’t completelyunderstood. Something happened to upset the delicate internal balance of micro-organisms in their bodies. Suddenly, the drug resistant salmonella was dormant no longer and rapidly flared up
to cause a massive infection. Out of ten cases one person died.
They concluded the study by stating that antimicrobial-resistant organisms of animal origin cause serious human illness. We emphasise the need for more prudent used of antimicrobials in humans and animals.
“What’s the picture in Britain?. I asked,
“No different. The drug companies and other financially-interested organisations, employ vets like me to provide prescriptions to farmers and they do what they’re told to do we know that salmonella resistance is growing. Have you heard of typhoid fever. Well, that’s caused by a strain of salmonella It’s treated with chloramphenicol, but over ten per cent of salmonella organisms are now resistant to it. The whole thing just goes round and round.
Reasons to be vegetarian! Chicken issues!
Because animal excrement is now processed to make feedstuff for other animals, we’re just reinfecting more and more animals all the time. Chickens are now being fed their own excrement to about fifty per cent of their total intake of food, it’s very economical. But it means that contaminants, such as drugs, hormones, pesticides
and antibiotics are getting more and more concentrated each time they go through. And we know that anything between a quarter and a half of all feedstuff is contaminated. But what can we do about it?
Well, I said, ‘I suppose that’s your problem. Can you give me any information about other potential hazards in this sort of drug misuse?
Resistance is the problem that’s had most publicity. And there’s no doubt that it’s extremely serious. In the past six years, the number of reported cases of salmonella poisoning has doubled, to about 20,000 a year. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because salmonella doesn’t usually get diagnosed, sometimes it can be as
mild as sickness and diarrhoea.
“There could be two other problems with antibiotics. First, there could be a direct toxic effect. Do you know what a “casualty’ animal is? Well, its one that’s sent to the slaughterhouse, although it really shouldn’t go. It may have almost any disease. So the farmer doses it up with a strong antibiotic to keep it on its feet for the next few
hours until it’s slaughtered, and you’ve got a piece of meat that’s pretty well medicated particularly if you happen to get the part of its body that received the injection on your plate. If you’re unlucky.
The toxic effect might include blurring of vision, lung disorders, renal failure, or just depression. But it might not even stop there, because a woman could pass it on to her child in her milk. The second human problem is a hypersensitivity reaction Antibiotics that are added to foodstuffs as “disease preventatives or simply as “growth promoters” are, of course, at sub-therapeutic doses, and over a long period of time. But we know from humar
studies that side effects are more related to length of exposure rather than to high dosage.
Reasons to be vegetarian! Receiving an antibiotic
If a patient is receiving an antibiotic over a long period, they have to be closely monitored, because reactions are notoriously unpredictable and their onset can be very sudden indeed.
The symptoms can include widespread lesions of the skin and fatal hepatitis. But who’d think of associating these
symptoms with meat consumption? It seems like a treadmill we can’t get off I said. What do you think will happen?
You re right he agreed. It’s a vicious circle but we’ve gone too far now to turn back. You see once vets were people who looked after the well-being of animals, both farm and domestic. But now, we just supress the disease until it’s time for the animal to be killed. That’s all the farmer requires of us. Our antibiotics and other drugs
kill off the good organisms as well as the bad. So a calf, for example doesn’t have a chance to acquire natural immunity from her mother, as wild animals da The beneficial intestinal bacteria just can’t grow, and it means that our antibiotics are actually making that calf more vulnerable to disease not less. But we can’t stop now.
Illegal supplies of these drugs
Think what an epidemic wed have if we did it means of course, that the animals that go to make your daily meat aren’t necessarily healthy animals. They just don’t have clinical signs of disease There’s a big difference. What about illegal supplies of these drugs? I asked He smiled. You wouldn’t really think it was necessary, would you?
After all, a farmer can get just about anything he wants now, in any case But there’ll always be a black market. Especially if it’s cheaper. And if they ever get round to banning any of these drugs then that’s sure to stimulate under the counter trade. I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of it:
I could see from his expression that I wasn’t going to get any further with this line of questioning. It was the usual reaction I had had from just about everyone I mentioned the subject to Everyone knew it went on, but no one would point the finger. And in a way I agreed with him. The black market.
Even though it provided possibly dangerous drugs in impure form or high concentrations didn’t really seem so bad when compared to the state of affairs that exists quite legally. The whole thing seemed to be an enormous black market with little practical control and a tremendous potential for abuse. I asked one final question.
Reasons to be vegetarian! Public health
Are there any other drugs that are commonly used and might have the same implications for public health?
Where do you want to be he answered. Theres DDT for one. But im sure thats banned, isnt it? I said, surprised
Norsheep dips he replied. In fact its compulsory. twice a ear. The little out that the DDT derivatives such as Lindane preample persis in the meat and they accumulate in your body.
These is going toreport the producer has to signa certificate saying that they havent been dipped in the preceding six weeks. There are two sorts of slaugherhouses he told me Ones that kill the export market and ones that kill for the home market. The export ones have to be of a much higher standard. Samples
of the meat are analysed for hormones antibiotics and other drug. Resides Evens only a small amount of the meat is sampled.
Scandals and Abuse!
But to the home market, the standards are not so strict. For one thing the inspectors just dont have the time or money. An inspector may only visit a slaughterhouse once a week, and providing things are alright when he calls there wont be any problems so it’s really up to the farmers and the slaughtermen to be good boys Of course
he added with a knowing look they always are at that point, we finished talking The conversation was quite
typical of many that I had with people working inside the meat Industry – on the one hand concem about the many scandals.
And abuses taking place night under their noses and on the other and a feeling of powerlesses to do anything about the situation. Subsequently further conversations with more people working. Inside the industry have revealed even more causes for concern. A few of them follow.
The Allergy Connection
It is known that at axtremely small doses antibiotics can provoke quite severe allergic reactions in some people one case for example of dermatitis due to hypersensitivity to penicilli has been reported in a person after ingesting only 0.03 unit per millilitre of milk containing slight penicillin residue.? We know that cases of allergy – including asthma and eczema – have increased alarmingly over the past few decades, roughly in line with increased antibiotic use.
Among children, especially, the situation is definitely much worse than it used to be. Asthma is three times more common today amongst children than it was when their parents were young. And eczema is six times more common. Whilst the precipitating factors are likely to be complex, it is quite possible that the background medication” they receive through meat and milk could well have something to do with it.
Reasons to be vegetarian! The Scale of the Problem
It is very difficult to accurately assess the amount of residue present in meat offered for sale in this country (or, particularly, in processed meat products). The tiny amount of sampling that is carried out in slaughterhouses really doesn’t allow accurate statistical analysis to be done (except, of course, in slaughterhouses licensed for export – there the standards are much stricter).
But one recent inquiry showed that anything from twenty-six per cent to fifty-eight per
cent of pork meat contained detectable antibiotic residue. The liver and other organs were found to be consistently higher in residues than any other area. Thus, “offal” meat, which was once considered to be nutritionally good and cheap to purchase, should be regarded
with suspicion, because it is in these organs that residues will tend to accumulate. Of course, offal (including brains, rectum, eyes, lips testes, ovaries, feet, lungs, etc) are usually processed into “meat products”, and so it is no longer easy to avoid these parts of the
Cancer Rears its Head – Again
Some anti-microbial agents (not necessarily antibiotics, but used in much the same way to treat infection) also have the capacity to cause cancer or mutations This has been experimentally proven on laboratory animals So what is the sale dose that humans may
The answer is that there is no sale dose As an American research paper on this subject says:
Until the opposite is proven it must be assumed that any chemical that gives rise to tumours in experimental animals would also do so in humans (International Agency for Research on Cancer. 1983).
Another generally accepted postulate is that for a given carcinogen there is no dose so low as to be considered safe in other words any amount of a carcinogen, however minute would lead to tumour development in some individuals in a sufficiently large population after
a sufficiently long latency period.
So some people will develop cancerous tumours. The only question that the authorities have to answer is is the number of people likely to develop tumours sufficiently low to justify the risk? Of course that is a very cynical viewpoint. You may consider that any risk is too much particularly when you bear in mind that we’re taking the risk so that the meat industry can swell their own profits by stimulating unnaturally fast weight gain on their animals.
Reasons to be vegetarian! The Bottom Line
The whole question of antibiotics is not fundamentally about animal health. It’s about high turnover fast restocking times rapid weight gain, disease suppression and all the other factors that are so important to today’s technological meat machine Antibiotics are just one more tool that helps the industry to maximize its profit margins.
The farm vet is no longer a professional person with an independent code of ethics – he’s been roped into the business too either as a consultant to a pharmaceutical company or by forced coercion from his major customers He has become a technologist, whose only task is to keep animals free from the symptoms of disease (note – I did not say healthy) until they can
be profitably slaughtered.
Last reasons to be vegetarian!
More and more vets are feeling unhappy about their new role, but there’s not much they can really do about it if they want to earn their wages As always the consumer’s real interests are right at the bottom of the pile.
There’s only one way they benefit, in fact – and that’s by having an artificially low price
tag on the meat they buy. For there’s no doubt about it – if meat were to be produced in an ethical way (possibly a contradiction in terms) it would cost many times more.
But what is the real price we’re paying? If we’re saving a few pounds at the supermarket checkout, and paying for it with our health (or that of our children), that – surely – is a terrible price, and simply too much for us to afford. The best way should be vegetarian!