By Dr. Mercola
Meat—and beef in particular—is a mainstay of the traditional American dinner. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it is filled with harmful additives of one form or another, and is raised in such a way that it contributes to the degeneration of health...
This is no minor concern, as most of the animals are also fed genetically engineered feed that is loaded with the potent herbicide glyphosate that winds up in your body.
I am so convinced of the cumulative harms of consuming meat from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) that the ONLY type of meat I recommend eating (and the only meat I will eat myself) is organically-raised, grass-fed or pastured meats and animal byproducts.
This applies to all types of meat: beef, pork, and poultry, including turkey. In a recent article published by the Cornucopia Institute,1 investigative health reporter Martha Rosenberg discusses the questionable yet widespread use of ractopamine in American animal farming.
According to Rosenberg, the controversial drug is used in as many as 80 percent of all American pig and cattle operations. It’s also used in turkey farming.
FDA Sued for Withholding Records Pertaining to Ractopamine Safety
Ractopamine is a beta agonist drug that increases protein synthesis, thereby making the animal more muscular. This reduces the fat content of the meat and increases the profit per animal. The drug, which is also used in asthma medication, was initially recruited for use in livestock when researchers discovered that it made mice more muscular.
Interestingly enough, stubborn weight gain is also common complaint among asthma patients using Advair (a beta-agonist drug)—so much so that the manufacturer has added weight gain to the post-marketing side effects. Other adverse reactions to beta-agonist drugs include increased heart rate, insomnia, headaches, and tremors.
Beta-agonist drugs, as a class, have been used in US cattle production since 2003. The drug is administered in the days leading up to slaughter, and as much as 20 percent of it can remain in the meat you buy.
This is disconcerting when you consider that the drug label warns: "Not for use in humans,” and “individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure.”
While other drugs require a clearance period of around two weeks to help ensure the compounds are flushed from the meat prior to slaughter (and therefore reduce residues leftover for human consumption), there is no clearance period for ractopamine.
In an effort to get this dangerous additive out of American meat products, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) recently sued the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for withholding records pertaining to ractopamine’s safety. As reported by Rosenberg:2
“According to the lawsuit, in response to the groups’ requests for information “documenting, analyzing, or otherwise discussing the physiological, psychological, and/or behavioral effects” of ractopamine, the FDA has only produced 464 pages out of 100,000 pages that exist.
Worse, all 464 pages have already been released as part of a reporter’s FOIA...
CFS and ALDF have spent over 18 months meeting with the FDA and seeking information about the effects of ractopamine on “target animal or human liver form and function, kidney form and function, thyroid form and function” as well as urethral and prostate effects and “tumor development.” The lawsuit says the CFS has “exhausted administrative remedies” and that the FDA has “unlawfully withheld” the materials.”
Why is Ractopamine Banned in 160 Countries?
Ractopamine is banned from food production in at least 160 countries around the world, including countries across Europe, Russia, mainland China and Republic of China (Taiwan), due to its suspected health effects. Since 1998, more than 1,700 people have reportedly been "poisoned" from eating pigs fed the drug. If imported meat is found to contain traces of the drug, it is turned away, while fines and imprisonment result for its use in banned countries.
While Americans are largely unaware that the drug is even used, many other nations seem to be far better informed. Fear that the ractopamine ban might be lifted brought thousands of demonstrators onto the streets in Taiwan last year, demanding that the ban remain in place.
In February of this year, Russia issued a ban on US meat imports,3 warning it would remain in place until the US agrees to certify that the meat is ractopamine-free. As reported by Pravda,4 Russia is the fourth largest importer of US meats, purchasing about $500 million-worth of beef and pork annually. At present, the US does not even test for the presence of this drug in meats sold, even though animal research has linked ractopamine to:
- Reductions in reproductive function
- Birth defects (Canadian researchers5 found that, in rats, the drug produced a variety of birth defects, including cleft palate, protruding tongue, short limbs, missing or fused digits, open eyelids, jaw abnormalities, limb abnormalities, and enlarged heart)
- Increase of mastitis in dairy herds
- Increased disability and death
In both pigs and cattle, FDA reports6 links the drug to: excessive hunger, anorexia, bloat, respiratory- and hoof problems, lameness, stiffness, stress and aggression, and—again—death. In fact, of all reported side effects, death topped the list as the most reported problem associated with ractopamine...
Ractopamine is also known to affect the human cardiovascular system, and is thought to be responsible for hyperactivity. It may also cause chromosomal abnormalities and behavioral changes. According to the Russian news source Pravda,7 the drug may cause food poisoning, and Center for Food Safety (CFS) states that8 “[d]ata from the European Food Safety Authority indicates that ractopamine causes elevated heart rates and heart-pounding sensations in humans.”
“Two cousin drugs of ractopamine, clenbuterol and zilpaterol, cause such adrenalin effects in humans they are banned by the Olympics,” Roesenberg writes.9 “Cyclist Alberto Contador failed a Tour de France anti-doping test in 2010 for levels of clenbuterol which he said he got from eating meat. Clenbuterol has been banned or restricted in meat after human toxicities. “The use of highly active beta-agonists as growth promoters is not appropriate because of the potential hazard for human and animal health,” wrote the journal Talanta.10”
Zilmax—An Even More Dangerous Beta Agonist Drug Used in Livestock?
Zilmax (Zilpaterol) is another beta-agonist drug used in cattle to increase weight by as much as 30 pounds of lean meat per cow. The drug recently got a slew of bad press when, in the beginning of August, Tyson Foods Inc declared it would no longer buy Zilmax-fed cattle for slaughter, due to concerns over behavioral problems in some of the cattle.11 Zilmax is already banned for use in horses due to severe side effects, including muscle tremors and rapid heart rates that can last as long as two weeks after stopping the drug.12 It’s not a major stretch to imagine similar problems might occur in cattle... Zilmax is actually about 125 times more potent than ractopamine, and according to a 2008 veterinary report,13 this may be why side effects were overlooked in connection with ractopamine studies.
Merck, the manufacturer of Zilmax, has no plans on discontinuing the product however. After responding to Tyson’s decision by stating it would halt US and Canadian sales of Zilmax pending research and review, the company recently told Reuters14 that it is in fact pushing to bring the drug back to market, both in the US and Canada. The company says it stands behind the safety of the drug and is working on developing a quality control program to “ensure its proper use.”
The problem though is that even with proper use you’re likely to end up with drug-laced meat. According to Randox Food Diagnostics,15 which has created tests for Zilmax residue in beef, use of beta-agonists prior to slaughter is of particular concern “as this poses a risk to the consumer and may result in consumer toxicity.” (Remember, Zilmax is about 125 times more potent than ractopamine, making this drug an even greater concern in the large scope of things.) Research findings to this effect include:
- A 2003 study in Analytica Chimica Acta:16 Residue behaviour of Zilmax in urine, plasma, muscle, liver, kidney and retina of cattle and pig was assessed. Two heifers and 16 pigs were treated with Zilmax and slaughtered after withdrawal times varying from 1 to 10 days. The drug was detectable at each point of time examined in all matrices except plasma after a withdrawal period of 10 days. It’s worth noting that in the US, the recommended market window is three to 10 days after discontinuing Zilmax17
- A 2006 study18 on residues of Zilmax in sheep found detectable levels in liver and muscle tissues up to nine days after discontinuation of the drug
Do Beta-Agonists in Meat Pose Human Health Hazards?
According to an article published in the Journal of Animal Science in 1998,19 there’s data on “human intoxication following consumption of liver or meat from cattle treated with beta-agonists.” The authors write:
“The use of highly active beta-agonists as growth promoters is not appropriate because of the potential hazard for human and animal health, as was recently concluded at the scientific Conference on Growth Promotion in Meat Production (Nov. 1995, Brussels).”
Before it was approved for use in American livestock, scientists worried that illegal use of beta agonists could result in increased cardiovascular risk for consumers.20 Today we don’t have to worry about eating illegally treated meat, since these drugs are approved and widely used, but should we be concerned about cardiovascular health risks from non-organic meat products? I feel it would be foolhardy not to...
Glyphosate Contamination—Another Hidden Hazard in CAFO Meats
The true toxicity of glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup—is becoming devastatingly clear, and it has far-reaching ramifications for the entire food system. Research published last year21 showed that Roundup is toxic to human DNA even when diluted to concentrations 450-fold lower than used in agricultural applications, and ethoxylated adjuvants in glyphosate-based herbicides have been found to be “active principles of human cell toxicity.” Cell damage and even cell death can occur at the residual levels found on Roundup-treated food crops, and the chemical has also been found to have estrogenic prT.
The reason I bring this up here is because factory farmed animals are fed a diet primarily made up of grains like corn and soy—and whether those grains are genetically engineered or not, they’re likely to be contaminated with glyphosate. Once an animal has been raised on glyphosate-contaminated feed, its meat is bound to be of inferior quality. More so than any other contamination hazard, I believe glyphosate-contamination may be one of the most pressing concerns when it comes to eating CAFO meats and animal byproducts. Besides the potential for bioaccumulation of glyphosate, the chemical has a distinct adverse effect on the animal’s gut bacteria, and hence its overall health.
Monsanto has steadfastly claimed that Roundup is harmless to animals and humans because the mechanism of action it uses (which allows it to kill weeds), called the shikimate pathway, is absent in all animals. However, the shikimate pathway IS present in bacteria, and that’s the key to understanding how it causes such widespread systemic harm in both animals and humans.
Groundbreaking research published this past June suggests glyphosate may actually be the most important factor in the development of a wide variety of chronic diseases, specifically because your gut bacteria are a key component of glyphosate’s mechanism of harm. The same applies to animals that eat feed contaminated with this agricultural chemical. If the animal is chronically ill, how beneficial can you expect its meat to be for your own health?
How to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Potentially Harmful Foods
If you live in the US, it’s important to realize that antibiotics, pesticides, genetically engineered ingredients, herbicides like glyphosate, hormones, and countless other drugs—such as beta agonists discussed above—are allowed in your food. Most people make the mistake of thinking that “beef is beef,” or that one slab of pork is no different from another, not understanding the vast differences between factory farmed, so-called CAFO, meats, and meats from organically-raised pastured animals.
While pastured, grass-fed meats and animal products are typically nutritionally superior, it’s perhaps what these meats DON’T contain that can have the greatest impact on your and your family’s health—especially your children, since we’re then talking about the cumulative effect over a lifetime, including the developmental stages.
Organically-raised animals are not permitted to be given growth-promoting drugs, hormones, or antibiotics. They also aren’t fed genetically engineered ingredients. Cattle, for example, eat a natural diet of grass, not genetically engineered corn contaminated with pesticides... In short, organic foods are FAR “cleaner” in terms of additives and contaminations, and that applies across the board, from fruits and vegetables to animal products.
It all boils down to this: if you want to optimize your health, you must return to the basics of healthy food choices. If you want to avoid these questionable drugs and other potentially harmful ingredients permitted in the US food supply, then ditching processed foods is your best option. Put your focus on WHOLE organic foods -- foods that have not been processed or altered from their original state -- food that has been grown or raised as nature intended, without the use of chemical additives, drugs, hormones, pesticides and fertilizers. This is the answer to a vast majority of our current health crises.
It is not nearly as daunting a task as it may seem to find a local farmer that can supply your family with healthy, humanely raised animal products and produce. At LocalHarvest.org,22 for instance, you can enter your zip code and find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, all with the click of a button. Once you make the switch from supermarket to local farmer, the choice will seem natural, and you can have peace of mind that the food you’re feeding your family is as safe as it will probably ever get.
For a step-by-step guide to make this a reality in your own life, whether you live in the US or elsewhere, simply follow the advice in my optimized nutrition plan, starting with the beginner plan first.