USDA Audit Finds Veterinary Drugs, Pesticides and Heavy Metals in US Beef Supply

A recent report on efforts to control harmful "residues" in the US Beef supply has got me even more freaked out about eating a hamburger than I already was. Go here for one of my previous posts on problems with beef.

The audit report assesses the effectiveness of current monitoring for veterinary drugs, pesticides and heavy metals in beef and concludes that our current system is not doing the job.

Here are some choice quotes;

We found, however, that tolerances have not been set for many potentially harmful substances, which can impair FSIS’ enforcement activities. For example, in 2008, when Mexican authorities rejected a shipment of U.S. beef because it contained copper in excess of Mexico’s tolerances, FSIS had no basis to stop distribution of this meat in the United States since FDA has set no tolerance for copper.

Just to be clear, Mexico has a more thorough monitoring system for beef when it comes to heavy metals than we do in the US. The beef that had high levels of copper was rejected by Mexico and then, without a hitch, was slipped into the US food supply, probably ending up in school lunches or fast food hamburgers.

We also found that FSIS does not recall meat adulterated with harmful residue, even when it is aware that the meat has failed its laboratory tests. Between July 12, 2007, and March 11, 2008, FSIS found that four carcasses were adulterated with violative levels of veterinary drugs and that the plants involved had released the meat into the food supply. Although the drugs involved could result in stomach, nerve, or skin problems for consumers, FSIS requested no recall.

Heavy metal, drugs - this is starting to sound like a Metallica concert.

The report explains how some of these residues make their way into the food supply;

Residues are introduced into meat intended for human consumption for a variety of reasons. Some producers provide antibiotics to dairy cows in order to eliminate an infection after a calf is born. If the producer perceives that the cow is not improving, he may sell the animal to a slaughter facility so that he can recoup some of his investment in the animal before it dies. If the producer does not wait long enough for the antibiotic to clear the animal’s system, some of this residue will be retained in the meat that is sold to consumers.

The low grade meat from these death bed dairy cows is usually turned into cheap hamburger.

Meat from bob veal calves also frequently contains residue which may enter their system through medicated feed or from waste milk from cows that are going through a drug withdrawal period. Farmers are prohibited from selling milk for human consumption from cows that have been medicated with antibiotics (as well as other drugs) until the withdrawal period is over; so instead of just disposing of this tainted milk, producers feed it to their calves. When the calves are slaughtered, the drug residue from the feed or milk remains in their meat, which is then sold to consumers.

This is getting too gross for me so I'm going to have to stop here. Go to the link above and read the whole report if you like. Alternet has a nice summary of the report findings here. I'll just say what I've said before; I will gladly pay twice as much for grass fed beef at the farmers' market that is produced by farmers that I know and trust. This also means that I eat less beef, which is probably a good thing.