Volume 94, Issue 36

Thursday, November 2, 2000


Do you know what you are eating?

Chemicals in animals questioned

Chemicals in animals questioned

By Tola Afolabi
Gazette Staff

A major reason for vegetarianism is the belief that other living creatures are not meant to be eaten.

However, more people are turning to vegetarianism as concern has also been raised about the health effects of chemical usage in raising farm animals.

The use of antibiotics to aid growth is an unhealthy practice, said Stephanie Brown, advisor on animals raised for food for Animal Alliance, an animal protection organization.

"Animals are fed antibiotics to grow faster. These antibiotics can produce a residue. I don't think it's a healthy thing to eat."

However, Leslie Ballentine, executive director of the Ontario Farm Animal Council, said antibiotics, when used, are for medicinal purposes.

"It's not used at all in some sectors. It's not used as a growth [promoting agent]. [Antibiotics] are used primarily as preventive medicine," she said, adding the aid in growth is a secondary advantage.

Western microbiology and immunology professor, Sara Galsworthy, said she did not agree antibiotics are not used to promote growth. "Personally, I think it's the other way around," she said, explaining antibiotic use is primarily for economic reasons.

Charmaine Verspeek, of Verspeek Dairy Farms in Winchester, Ontario, said she uses antibiotics only when a cow is sick. "Mostly we don't usually use antibiotics to help growth. We use feed to help growth."

Antibiotic residue, although a significant concern, is minor when compared to the more serious issue of development of antibiotic resistance. "I worry very much about antibiotics used in feed and as far as I'm concerned there should be a moratorium put on that," Galsworthy said.

Antibiotics are given to cows on a fairly constant basis and excreted by the animal into the environment, where they enter human food and water supply.

"This is a very significant cause for the upswing in resistance to antibiotics," Galsworthy said, explaining both vegetarians and meat eaters are at risk of consuming the antibiotics.

Ballentine maintained all antibiotics are carefully regulated. "All antibiotics in North America have to go through a vigorous approval process," she said. "There's all sorts of things our food is tested for."

Verspeek agreed, saying each milk batch is sampled by an inspector to see if it is fit for consumption. "You have to write down what day you treat [the cow] and keep track of it," she said. "There's no way anything will slip by [the inspector]. If your sample is bad, you're in big trouble."

Another concern is castration and hormone implants in bulls, Brown said. "[After castration, bulls] get a hormone in their ear to get them to grow faster. It's a pathetic situation to see," she said, adding the hormones given would otherwise be naturally produced in an uncastrated bull.

However, Ballentine said castration is essential for the safety of the farmer and other animals. "[Castrated bulls] become less aggressive. It also prevents indiscriminate breeding. You don't want a bull breeding its sister," she said.

The implant releases hormones slowly, evening out the peaks and valleys of the natural levels. "It [also] dictates how feed is converted into muscle, which is meat," Ballentine said, adding plant derived implants are safe and have been used for 40 years.

"Cabbage is extremely high in hormones. Beer is extremely high in hormones. A serving of beef has less hormones," Ballentine said. "There's absolutely no scientific evidence anywhere that it causes trouble to the animals or to the people who are eating the products."

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