What’s In Your Beef?

Do your ears perk up when you hear the words of that famous fast food commercial: “Where’s the beef?” More pertinent may be: “What’s in the beef?” If you value your health, you’d better know about the chemicals and pathogens that too often infiltrate meat. Because what’s inside that bun can have serious consequences for your well-being.

Recalls of beef seem to be an almost constant ingredient in the evening news. Last month, for instance, an outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium was discovered in freshly ground beef sold in Hannaford, a grocery store chain headquartered in Maine. Before all the beef could be recalled, 14 people in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York were sickened by the meat. Seven people required hospitalization.

Antibiotic Problem

As the head bookkeeper for a large beef boning house, I was privy to numerous incidents that allowed microorganisms to breed in meat that was sold to consumers. Adding to the problem is the fact that livestock consume antibiotics that are designed to make them put on extra weight. But an unintended side effect of these antibiotics is that they foster the growth of so-called “superbugs,” microorganisms that are resistant to antibiotics. If you become infected with a superbug, it can be deadly if no antibiotic can be found that can control the infection.

Antibiotics that are permitted for use in food animals include bacitracin, bambermycins, chlortetracycline, lasalocid, lincomycin, monensin, penicillin, salinomycin, tylosin and virginiamycin.

One Small Step

On Jan. 4, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine issued an order prohibiting certain extra-label uses of the cephalosporin class of antimicrobial drugs (not including cephapirin) for most food-producing animals, including cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys. This was done out of concern that these antibiotics are contributing to the development of cephalosporin-resistant strains of certain bacterial pathogens. Since these drugs are used to fight pneumonia, skin and tissue infections, pelvic inflammatory disease and other conditions, it’s important to limit their use in food animals.


A few weeks before slaughter, animals are often given veterinary steroids which are also designed to make them gain weight. This includes a drug called Finaplix (Trenbolone acetate), an androgen that beefs up a cow’s size. When residues of these substances remain in the livestock, they can be present in meat made from those animals. Consequently, meat eaters may be scarfing down steroids with each meal that contains hamburger, steak or roast beef.

Other animals similarly receive these types of drugs. For instance, pigs get rounds of antibiotics that help them increase their weight by up to 9 percent. Avoparcin, an antibiotic, has been used to induce growth in chickens and pigs. Unfortunately, researchers have found that those animals produced more antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And since Avoparcin is similar to the drug vancomycin (a very important antibiotic in human pharmacology), microorganisms that resist this class of pharmaceuticals can produce serious consequences. In addition, goats farmed as food animals receive antibiotics to enhance their meat.

In addition to the difficulties resulting from the use of all these drugs, chicken feed may contain arsenic and copper to boost the production of poultry meat.

Fortunately, there are safer ways to increase animal size with less of a danger to human health. These include acidifiers, enzymes, oligosaccharides and directly fed probiotics. However, giving cattle oligosaccharides which are simple sugars, may increase the growth of E. coli in cows.

Natural Design

Nature designed cattle and animals with hooves to be grass-fed and browsers. Meat producers, however, have switched the diets of these animals from grass to corn and soy laced with antibiotics and other drugs. In all likelihood, that process has reprogrammed the animals’ guts to produce allergy-producing reactions within their digestive tracts.

In addition, when these animals take in glysophate residues from GMO soy and Bacillus thuringiensis from bt-corn (a form of GMO corn), these chemicals probably interfere with the animal’s capability to produce prebiotics. Without prebiotics, natural substances that promote beneficial bacteria in the large intestine, harmful bacteria may reproduce in the animals, leading to the current spate of E.coli found in today’s beef.

The producers of our meat have excessively interfered with nature’s original design of the animals we consume.

Taking Action

As a consumer, you can make an effort to purchase organic meat. Animals raised organically have not received hormones and antibiotics to fatten them. And organically produced milk and cheeses come from cows that are have not been injected under their tails daily with the milk-producing recombinant bovine growth hormone, rBGH. Consider consuming lamb which is relatively free of chemical residues. (This is especially true of Icelandic or New Zealand lamb.)

If you buy organic meats, you are purchasing beef that has been pasture-raised or fed organic grass. There are numerous farmers who employ sustainable agriculture methods to bring delicious and healthful meat to your dining table.

Search the Internet for “pasture raised beef brand names,” and you will find a wide range of palatable choices.

And the next time you’re in the supermarket, talk with the manager and encourage him to carry a line of grass-fed meat products. As a consumer, you possess the power of the purse. The way you spend your food dollar makes a difference in how your food is produced.

Make your shopping mantra, “What’s in the beef?” and soon the answer may be more reassuring than alarming.

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