In order to maximise their profits, modern farmers often use drugs and hormones to keep their animals ‘healthy’. The drugs help to reduce the financial loss of animals dying. Since animals are often kept in over crowded conditions the need for artificial help is often considerable. In addition drugs are frequently used to improve the weight and appearance of animals intended for sale as meat.
Modern, intensive farming techniques mean that animals are usually kept in very cramped and uncomfortable conditions. To keep animals calm tranquillisers are used. And to reduce the risk of infection antibiotics are used. A few years ago antibiotics were used simply to treat sick animals and to prevent illness spreading. There can, of course, be no argument against this. It would be obviously wrong not to treat animals who were ill. But these days antibiotics are quite commonly used in a very different— and indefensible—way. In order to prevent infections developing and to encourage a faster than average growth rate antibiotics are routinely added to animal feeds. Nearly half of all the antibiotics currently being manufactured go into animal feeds. Young animals are taken from their mothers at such an early age that they have no chance to acquire any natural immunity by drinking their mothers’ milk and so they are much more susceptible to disease. It is not at all uncommon for young animals to be kept on antibiotics for the whole of their lives.
There are several dangers with this over-use of antibiotics. First, drug resistant bacteria are already developing. The overuse of antibiotics in farming means that when doctors try to use
Those drugs to treat sick human patients the drugs simply don’t work—the bacteria have become so accustomed to the antibiotics that they are not killed by them. The number of drugs available to doctors has, in this way, been dramatically reduced in recent years. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that when humans eat the meat from animals fed on antibiotics they swallow both the remnants of the antibiotics and the bacteria which have acquired antibiotic resistance. By giving their animals antibiotics modern farmers are endangering the health and indeed the lives of their customers.
People who eat meat are also at risk from the hormones which are used by farmers. Growth hormones are popular because if you give an animal a growth hormone it will grow faster and achieve a heavier weight sooner. In some parts of the world meat which has been prepared with the aid of hormones has officially been banned. However, these bans usually prove to be more technical than realistic and the profits to be made by using hormones to increase the speed at which animals grow means that farmers are secretly often still giving hormones to their animals. The people who eat meat from animals which have been reared with the aid of hormones eventually end up consuming those hormones too. No one knows what effect the hormone residues will have on human consumers of meat.
One of the hormones traditionally used by farmers is diethyl-stilboestrol. This hormone is popular because it helps to increase the rate at which both sheep and cattle develop. But diethylstilboestrol is a potentially dangerous substance.
Shortly after the second world war it was given to pregnant women who seemed likely to have miscarriages. In the 1970s it was then revealed that the daughters of women who had been given the hormone were prone to develop cancer of the vagina. This was the first time in history that a link had been established between a drug given to one generation and a disease developing in the next generation. Officially farmers are not supposed to use diethylstilboestrol. But farmers do a lot of things which are they are not officially supposed to do and just as drug
Use among athletes is commonplace, so the use of this hormone on farms around the world is common. Doctors have reported that babies and young girls have started to develop breasts—and ‘ even started to produce milk of their own—after being fed on milk that has come from cows which have been given hormones. In Italy women noticed that their babies had started developing breasts: this bizarre occurrence was blamed on the use of hormones in meat, after it was found that the women had given their babies baby food manufactured from animals which had been boosted with diethylstilboestrol.
In America the use of hormones is so common that 80% of the cattle reared have been artificially enhanced with the aid of hormones. A single, very cheap hormone pellet can help make an animal put on an extra 22kg of lean meat—while consuming less food than an animal which has not been given a hormone pellet.
The use of hormones in Europe is illegal but I know of fifteen illegal growth hormones available on the black market in European countries. It seems reasonable to assume that some farmers probably know of the existence of these illegal growth hormones too.
Tranquillisers, hormones and antibiotics are not the only chemicals or drugs which are given to animals—and which are likely to find their way into the bodies of those who eat meat. Farmers use a variety of other chemicals in order to maximise their profits. One chemical is given to animals to kill fly eggs in their manure. The aim is to reduce the number of flies in overcrowded animal sheds but I don’t think anyone knows how dangerous this chemical could be to the human consumers of meat taken from these animals. A substance called a prostaglandin is sometimes injected into animals in order to bring them into ‘season’ at a convenient time.
To all this we must add the fact that animals do produce their own natural hormones—and modern farming techniques often mean that the existence of these hormones may be particularly high. For example, when they are frightened animals produce the hormone adrenalin. Since slaughterhouses are pretty
Terrifying places there can be little doubt that just before they die animals usually have a lot of adrenalin circulating in their bodies. Just what effect does all that adrenalin have on humans? Your guess is as good as anyone else’s.