Lack of Regulation Allows Sale of Tainted Meat

You could be consuming pesticides, antibiotics, and heavy metals with your hamburger, according to a USA Today report. A new federal audit has revealed that beef containing dangerous pesticides, veterinary antibiotics, and heavy metals is making its way into consumer’s hands because limits and tests for these contaminants have not been set by federal agencies, said USA Today.

A program created to test beef for chemical residues “is not accomplishing its mission of monitoring the food supply for … dangerous substances, which has resulted in meat with these substances being distributed in commerce,” said the audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Inspector General, quoted USA Today. The audit pointed out that the effect this <"">contaminated meat is having on consumers is an issue of “growing concern.”

The cattle testing program is managed by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the group that tests meat for food borne pathogens such as the dangerous and deadly Salmonella and E. coli, said USA Today. The issue is that the so-called residue program is dependent on help from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), wrote USA Today. The EPA sets “tolerance” levels for pesticide and pollutant exposures for the human population while the FDA sets similar levels for antibiotics and other drugs. According to the audit, the agencies’ limits “for many potentially harmful substances … can impair FSIS’ enforcement activities.”

And, when a lot of beef with increased pesticide or antibiotic levels is discovered by the inspection service, because there are no legal limits on the levels, there is often no recourse but to allow the meat to continue on its path to U.S. consumers, noted USA Today. For example, a U.S. beef shipment rejected in 2008 by Mexican authorities because the beef contained copper levels that exceed Mexico’s standards was able to be sold in the U.S. because the beef producer could not be blocked from such resale in this country, according to the audit, said USA Today.

“It’s unacceptable. These are substances that can have a real impact on public health,” said Tony Corbo, a lobbyist for the public interest group Food and Water Watch, quoted USA Today. “This administration is making a big deal about promoting exports, and you have Mexico rejecting our beef because of excessive residue levels. It’s pretty embarrassing,” added Corbo.

According to USA Today, contamination can occur in a variety of ways, including inadvertently, such as when cows drink contaminated water or through antibiotic residues and farmers feeding calves with milk from cows treated with the drugs, which contributes to antibiotic disease strains.

A large number of infections are due to drug-resistant bacteria, such as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), for example. About 100,000 cases of invasive MRSA occur annually in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), killing about 20,000 people annually, said Science Daily. According to 2005 CDC figures, nearly 19,000 people died in the U.S. from MRSA infections; 94,000 were seriously sickened.

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