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Antibiotics and Drugs in our meat

Updated on November 30, 2016


How much do we really know about the food we eat?

The First Issue is Not about antibiotics in your meat.
The issue about the use of low doses of antibiotics in animals is actually not about the drugs or the residues of drugs being in the food we eat. The issue is about the harm caused by drug resistant bacteria getting into the environment. Much of Europe has already banned the use of low dose antibiotics while the US remains as a holdout, saying the costs will rise if we stop drugging our animals. Perhaps the Europeans are a little more clever than we are; they don’t seem to be going hungry. There is a greater possibility however, of hormones or hormone residue being found in your meat and milk but to date the evidence is scanty as to the presence or any effects caused by the hormones. Growth hormones are given to cattle by inserting a pellet of the hormone into the ear of the animal; the ears are later discarded when the animal is butchered.

“The term "antibiotic" was coined by Selman Waksman in 1942 to describe any substance produced by a microorganism that is antagonistic to the growth of other microorganisms in high dilution.”

So, you think the meat you buy in your grocery is safe? See what the New York Times has to say in this article:

The FDA & Antibiotics In Animal Feed

The University of Iowa

The University of Iowa has discovered a new strain of “MRSA”, this is the acronym for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This is another super-bug which is infecting people and animals on farms that use antibiotics. When U of I investigated farms that didn’t use antibiotics they found, (You already know what I’m going to say) ZERO cases of the new strain of MRSA; none in people and none in animals.

What's in Your Hot Dog

Factory Farming and Animal Cruelty

Crowding is the reason for antibiotics in chickens Profit is the reason for crowding
Crowding is the reason for antibiotics in chickens Profit is the reason for crowding
Profits are the goal
Profits are the goal

Big Agribusiness

People are getting sick with drug resistant bugs and in some cases people are dying. In a Pilgrim’s Pride hatchery in Iowa 37 people came down with MRSA infections and they sued the plant. No words on how the suit was decided but those things are usually kept quiet. Okay, so what? That’s a few farms in one state. Agriculture is big business in Iowa. Archer Daniels Midland, Ajinomoto, Cargill, Inc., Diamond V Mills, Garst Seed Company, Heartland Pork Enterprises, Hy-Vee, Monsanto Company, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, and Quaker Oats all have a presence in Iowa. Hogs are Iowa's leading source of livestock income followed by beef cattle. More hogs are raised in Iowa than in any other state. Iowa is a leader in milk production; also producing chickens and eggs as well as lesser amounts of turkeys, and sheep. What happens in Iowa shows up on your dinner plate.

Abused Animals Need Antibiotics

These are laying hens!
These are laying hens!
You'd need antibiotics too
You'd need antibiotics too

Frankenbirds and Antibiotics

Over the last 20 years, the use of antibiotics in animals has increased dramatically. Drug resistant infections killed about 70,000 Americans last year alone. Scientists say this is caused by the overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock as well. Antibiotics are fed to healthy animals to promote growth and prevent disease. There are no injections involved, the antibiotics are added to the animals feed so all of the animals on a farm are dosed. This is akin to sprinkling drugs on the kid’s cereal, just in case they might get an infection. Let us know how it works out, if you try that. What this does to the animals, aside from preventing infections, it helps the animal to grow larger than is normal, good for profits, not so good for us. Have you noticed the size of chickens in the grocery store? If you are old enough, you will remember a time when chickens were a fraction of the size that they are now. These Frankenbirds are the result of being fed antibiotics. In that U of I study, 70 % of hogs and 64% of the workers on the farms which used antibiotics showed evidence of the new strain of MRSA on the skin.

Maybe these dead swine didn't get enough antibiotics
Maybe these dead swine didn't get enough antibiotics

How Much Antibiotics are Used?

The amount of antibiotics used by the meat industry is a tightly guarded secret but researcher Stuart B. Levy, M.D., estimates that there are 15-17 million pounds of antibiotics used sub-therapeutically in the United States each year. Sub-therapeutically means that they are feeding low doses of antibiotics to the animals on a daily basis. At this point the industry cannot even tell us with certainty why the antibiotics work but it is believed that the drugs reduce the flora in animal’s intestines thus allowing the critter to absorb more of the nourishment in the food. This also refers to the fact that cattle are not designed to digest the grain which we feed them in order to fatten them up on the feedlots. MRSA is not the only drug resistant bacteria we have to be concerned with, reports came out in the 1990s about the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of Salmonella , Campylobacter and E. coli O157:H7.

According to this article on Wired 80% of the antibiotics sold in America are used on farm animals

Fox Whistleblowers - Monsanto Bovine Growth Hormone

Looks Better Like This, no Suffering Here

FDA inspection
FDA inspection

60 to 100% Get Antibiotics

Approximately 100 percent of chickens (Organic chicken) and turkeys, 90 percent of swine and veal calves, and 60 percent of beef cattle receive diets containing antibiotic drugs during some part of their lives (Manchanda 1994) The feed additives that are being used include antibiotics; such as sulfonamides, nitrofurans, arsenical compounds, anthelmintics, and coccidiostats; and other pharmaceutical agents such as ionophores, melengesterol acetate, antioxidants, mold inhibitors, probiotics, and nonantibacterial growth promoters (Richard Carneval, AHI, personal communication 1996) The unmentioned fact about all of this antibiotic use is the need. Factory farms crowd animals into spaces that are far too small and when the animals are literally cheek to jowl disease spreads quickly. In the US we torture most of the animals we raise for food in order to make bigger profits.

The FDA has been taking a lot of well deserved criticism recently and the tea baggers are leading a movement to de-fund the agency entirely. If that were to happen, business will be in sole control of drugs and food. How long will it take the “free market” to determine if a drug is bad, and what will be the effects? If a drug kills you, the drug company eventually will lose sales. That’s how the free market works but how many people will have to get sick or die to get the word out about a bad drug? No rational person can accept that as a good plan, the FDA needs reform but we need the FDA.

What Does Runoff From a Farm, Contaminate?



The USDA regularly inspects meat, poultry and egg products for the presence or residue of antibiotics that exceed “tolerance” levels. These inspections rarely find food that exceeds the ‘Safe tolerance” levels as set by the bureaucrats That should be good news for someone who is confidant in the numbers set by the FDA and USDA, but, if you worry about the corruption of government agencies, well… buy organic! Then just hope for the best. To be certified organic, U.S. meat must come from animals raised without antibiotics, note and look for Certified Organic, if it’s not certified it means nothing.

Drug resistant bacteria

Runoff from factory farms which use antibiotics is another issue. Drug resistant bacteria have evolved (Sorry to the flat Earthers, there is too much evidence to ignore evolution) as a reaction to antibiotics, the bugs that survive go on to replicate and form colonies which are resistant to drugs. They escape into the environment in the runoff from the farm. The crop of spinach from one farm was contaminated from farm runoff a couple of years ago. This was not contamination with drug resistant bacteria but it was a lesson in how plants grow. The bacteria were e-Coli and it was absorbed into the leaves of the spinach through the roots, no amount of washing would eliminate the germs in the spinach, only cooking made it safe. All was well after a recall but it points out the danger of farm runoff. In my own career, we had several hundred salads already prepared on the day when the news came out. The salads had spinach in them and we couldn’t tell if it was from the compromised farm. We discarded all of the salads and had to sanitize any surfaces that came in contact with the spinach and then start making salads fast! All of this was due to runoff from a farm that was a thousand miles away.

Antibiotics That We Consume in our Meat.

The FDA maintains "tolerance limits" that regulate the amount of antibiotic residue allowed in the meat we consume. All well and good but the FDA research has been funded and run by the very industry they regulate. And of course, the complete data is not available to the public for independent review.

Recent research has determined why animals gain weight when fed low doses of antibiotics. Antibiotics alter the flora of bacteria in the gut of farm animals. "Why? "Microbes in our gut are able to digest certain carbohydrates that we're not able to," says NYU researcher and study coauthor Ilseung Cho. Antibiotics seem to increase those bugs' ability to break down carbs—and ultimately convert them to body fat". This is the process that fattens up farm animals in feedlots before they make it to your table at dinner.

Are we fattening ourselves up with antibiotics?

The question currently that needs to be researched is whether the tiny amount of antibiotics we consume in our meat is altering the bacteria in our gut. Are we fattening ourselves the same way we fatten farm animals? This is another reason to promote organic meats and avoid mass produced farm animal meats.


Created by the US Dept. of the Interior for a 1997 pesticide use map
Created by the US Dept. of the Interior for a 1997 pesticide use map | Source
An abandoned experiment
An abandoned experiment | Source
By feeding poultry litter (Chicken poop) we increase the possible spread of mad cow disease
By feeding poultry litter (Chicken poop) we increase the possible spread of mad cow disease | Source
This Poultry Litter will be used as fertilizer not to feed cows
This Poultry Litter will be used as fertilizer not to feed cows | Source
Arsenic | Source

What Drugs Are in Our Meat?

Antibiotics are far from the only cause for concern with the meat we eat. Zilmax is one of a group of weight-gain drug supplements called beta-agonists that have only recently become widely used. Over 25 million cattle have been fed Zilmax since it was approved in the U.S. Beta-agonists were originally designed to alleviate asthma in humans. Beta-agonists are mixed into cattle feed during the final weeks before slaughter to promote weight gain. Zilmax can add as much as 2% to an animal's final weight. Pharmaceutical companies also offer a rival to Zilmax called Optaflexx, which can add as much as 20 pounds of lean muscle to a steer. These drugs are used in roughly 70% of U.S. cattle sold to slaughterhouses.

In recent news (August/2013) Tyson foods the largest producer of U.S. beef, noticed that cows fed Zilmax had trouble moving. "I've seen cattle walking down a truck ramp tippy-toed," industry expert Temple Grandin told the paper. (WSJ). Tyson has since said it would stop accepting Zilmax-fed cows for slaughter, and Merck & Co, the pharmaceutical company behind Zilmax, announced it would suspend U.S. and Canadian sales of the drug.

In Europe, authorities have banned many chemicals that the US still permits. Europe has a long history of dictators and kings while we Americans have freedom. We have the freedom to sprinkle toxins over our food supply; it's good for business and very profitable.

Neonicotinoid pesticides, European Commission has placed a two-year moratorium on most uses of Neonicotinoid pesticides on the suspicion that they're contributing to the global crisis in honeybee health. We still spray liberally on crops like corn, wheat and cotton.
Atrazine has been linked to a range of reproductive problems at extremely low doses in both amphibians and people, and it commonly leaches and into people's drinking water. Banned in Europe, up for review in the US in 2013
Arsenic makes animals grow faster and turns their meat a rosy pink. It enters feed in organic form, which isn't harmful to humans. Trouble is, in animals guts, it quickly goes inorganic, and thus becomes poisonous. European Union, Japan, and many other countries never approved arsenic as safe for animal feed. Pfizer "voluntarily" stopped marketing the arsenical feed additive Roxarsone back in 2011. But there are still several arsenicals on the market.
Poultry litter in Cow Feed. Wait, you mean that we feed chicken poop to cows? Yes, According to Consumers Union, the stuff "consists primarily of manure, feathers, spilled feed, and bedding material that accumulate on the floors of the buildings that house chickens and turkeys." Europe banned all forms of animal protein in cow feed back in 2001. In the US, cattle consume about 2 billion pounds of poultry litter annually. Part of the feed we serve to chickens is made from the bones from cattle, when this is fed to cattle we turn cows into cannibals and increase the possible spread of Mad Cow disease.
Chlorine washes for poultry. The USDA is busy implementing new rules for faster production runs in poultry plants. Carcasses are being washed with antimicrobial chemicals, including bleach to decontaminate the feces left on the carcasses. The EU not only bans the practice, but also refuses to accept US poultry that has been treated with antimicrobial sprays.
Antibiotics, meat sold in US supermarkets is rife with antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to the abundant use of sub therapeutic doses of antibiotics to promote muscle growth and keep the animals alive while they are fed grains which would otherwise make them sick. In Europe, all antibiotics used in human medicines are banned on farms
Paylean Optaflexx and Zilmax. Are the beta agonists used in meat production. Traces of these pharmaceuticals routinely end up in our meat—and their effects on humans are little-studied. Europe not only bars its own producers from using these chemicals, it also refuses to allow imports of meat from animals treated with it—as do China and Russia. The Obama administration is trying to force other nations to accept our treated pork.

There is Some Cause for Hope

In June 2001, the American Medical Association adopted a resolution opposing all subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals. The FDA, EU and WHO are selectively banning such use, blocking the drugs that are used in both animals and humans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and animal health organizations have developed guidelines to limit low-level use. Major private buyers of livestock products such as the McDonald’s Corporation are requiring suppliers to stop using antibiotics as growth-promoters that are also given to humans.

The growing level of drug-resistant bacteria has led to the banning of sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in meat animals in many countries in the European Union and Canada. In the United States, however, such use is still legal.


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    • Sembj profile image


      8 years ago

      An awesome hub - it is amazing that the food we now eat is so removed from farming principles that stood the test of centuries. Our desire for cheap food makes us partly culpable but there is a lot of blame to go around. Large corporations serve themselves and their shareholders - usually they only find principles if they're useful for their PR. It is what business does. That's why we need government to make sure that we are eating decent food and that businesses/farms are not creating all of the problems you've listed.

      Even our vegetables have suffered at the hands of agribusiness. Many veggies no longer contain the vitamins they once did!

      Important and good information that needs to get around - thanks.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Faye, yes, the more I look into this stuff the more I am dismayed, especially when I realize that Europe has already dealt with the issue.It looks like here we need dead bodies to deal with big businesses.

    • profile image

      Fay Paxton 

      8 years ago

      Chef, apparently you are not simply a brilliant, informative writer, but you're psychic as well...

      I can't believe I was just having a discussion about this very thing yesterday. I was complaining that chicken breast look more like utters...huge! I was guessing!!

      If you read my hub about "American Lab Rats", you have some idea how I feel about this. I think I better get me some lettuce and a carrot and call it a day.

      voted up/useful and awesome as always.

    • chefsref profile imageAUTHOR

      Lee Raynor 

      8 years ago from Citra Florida

      Hi Jillian, thanx for the link, that's just one more bit of evidence why we need to catch up with the rest of civilization. On a positive not the Dutch found that when they stopped using antibiotics in their animals the bacteria slowly reverted to non-drug-resistant varieties.

    • amillar profile image


      8 years ago from Scotland, UK

      Well, I wouldn’t mind having you as my chef. I certainly don’t trust the drugs companies. I bet they have the politicians in their pockets as usual.

      Up and useful this hub.

    • Jillian Barclay profile image

      Donna Lichtenfels 

      8 years ago from California, USA

      Hi, Chef Lee,

      Knew I was going to be disturbed by this one. I have had MRSA, and it was not pleasant(geez, what haven't I had?). You might be interested in this :

      People in this country are so backward. Penicillin was being used for 30 years in Europe before it was approved in the US, so I always allow us 30 years for us to catch up on everything...

      You are one smart man!


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