Thursday, 2 October 2008

The making of

The topic of unconscious or 'well, it's not gonna kill me, is it?' acquisition of hazardous substances through food has been around for a while. Most of us eat fertilizers and pesticides on our fruit and vegetables, pop a few genetically modified bits in-between and then just do hormones and antibiotics in the steak. To focus on meat, why are hormones and antibiotics used so widely in the production of meat, should we be careful about consuming them, and if so, how can we avoid them in our food?

As much as I don't want to get activist here, but I can't help posting this video from Pleix. It may not be new, but it's quite to the point...

Sex hormones are often used in animal diets because they are an easy way to increase the animals' production of muscles and fat without having to give them more feed. Although the amount of hormones acquired through meat consumption cannot be measured in an accurate manner, as by the end of the processing one cannot tell the difference between the animals' natural and artificial hormones, there is a lot to think about when it comes to having those extra amounts of hormones floating in our bodies. Oestrogen has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and to fertility problems in men. Progesterone has been shown to increase the development of ovarian, breast and uterine tumours in laboratory animals. And testosterone has been linked to prostate cancer in men. There have also been concerns about the acceleration of breast development among children in countries that allow hormone use in dairy production. Another concern is that hormones administered to animals could be passed with their feces and as a result have an effect on water and plants. Hormone use in meat production has been banned in the EU and does not allow imports of such meat into the area.

Like hormones, antibiotics make animals gain weight and therefore increase the meat industry's profits. They are commonly administered sub-therapeutically to increase the weight of the animals and also to preven the diseases that the conditions of factory farming can bring on. Some antibiotics administered to animals are also used to treat human illnesses. Long-term usage of such antibiotics can effectively make the bacteria within the animals immune to the antibiotics. If a person ingests such bacteria with the meat and gets ill, the bacteria will continue being antibiotic-resistant. Another larger-scale concern here is the arms race between bacteria and drug innovation that can lead to us having around diseases that we cannot treat appropriately. So far the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in meat has been banned in several countries in the EU and imports of such meat are not allowed into the UK.

The UK seems a fairly safe zone for both hormones and antibiotics in meat, but the US continues a much more robust use of these substances in their meat production. I guess the safest bet is to buying organic or going vegetarian.

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