The Vegaquarian Way, Part II

We started with the environment. Next up, human health.

Despite the recent media attention, it seems that very few people are aware of the risks that stem from the use of sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics in livestock. The basic idea is this: livestock are kept in CAFOs for fattening on the cheap before slaughter. During that time, they are given antibiotics at low levels, called sub-therapeutic because they aren’t given after an animal is diagnosed with a disease. Rather, the antibiotics are given to prevent disease that the living conditions of the livestock would otherwise produce. The antibiotics also produce a fatter animal,  which is a method for increasing profit. Let’s break that down. CAFO environments are so appalling from a health perspective, that without the application of medicine, animals would be ill simply as a result of their human-designed and operated living conditions.

Even if you’re not an animal lover, you should read on. My reasons for mostly abstaining from meat don’t originate in ethical territory, though I do care deeply about that too. I’d like to say, for the record, that I don’t object to the consumption of animal products by humans. My objection is to the way we go about the creation of these products. My main concern here is the impact this kind of animal husbandry has on me, and the millions of other American consumers.

When human beings ingest products derived from animal subjected to these methods, it affects the microbial makeup of our gut. It’s kind of like when your doctor gives you a course of antibiotics, 10 pill, say, and emphatically insists that you take all 10, and don’t stop just because you feel better. Why’s that? Because if you don’t finish, you risk not quite killing off the bacteria that made you sick, and even worse, allowing the most resilient, the most robust of the bugs, to endure. Down the road, if you’re sick again with another infection, and your doc prescribes the same antibiotics, your body may not respond, because you’ve got this semi-immune strain in your gut.

So that’s why you have to finish a course of antibiotics. It’s a similar phenomenon when it comes to eating animals treated with sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics. If you’re exposed to these antibiotics routinely and haphazardly, your body won’t be able to as decisively decimate its bacterial foe when the need arises.

Several strains of drug-resistant bacteria are currently leading to the deaths of 1000s of people all over the US every year. A recent report by NPR cites a CDC estimate of about 23,000 American deaths per year from drug resistant bacteria. Many experts contend that the common animal husbandry (if you can call it that) techniques I discussed above are behind some of these deaths. If you want more details, the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming is an excellent resource. I’m also sharing some other links at the bottom of the post.

That about covers my concern about exposure to antibiotics as a result of eating factory-farmed meat. There’s another problem, though: hormones. Animals are also injected with hormones to promote growth, and these hormones enter the system of the consumer. You’ve probably heard about worries that routine ingestion of hormones in this manner may be playing a role in the trend of earlier puberty in kids. I’m not interested in taking a risk when it comes to chemicals that may change my body’s hormonal regulation.

The fact that antibiotics and hormones are administered, despite the public health risk, rather than simply providing a clean environment for livestock is to me, repugnant. And frankly unpalatable. It’s an easy fix– and yet– most major operations have failed to respond. I choose not to consume these products to protect myself, and also to “vote with my fork” and spend my dollars on food that doesn’t violate my health or my principles.

So instead, I feasted on this today


And it was damn good. Recipe tomorrow.

NPR on Antibiotic resistance

Hopkins Study on Drug Resistant Bacteria

Marion Nestle on Antibiotic Use and Drug Resistance


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