Poisonous pigs and poultry

Deadly chemicals turn up in China and Stateside

March 22, 2011

As Tom Philpott reported recently on Grist, toxic chemicals have been turning up in Chinese pork and American chicken. The Asian pigs are being given clenbuterol, a growth enhancer that can kill humans when ingested. American poultry, meanwhile, are given arsenic, while American pigs are given ractopamine, a growth enhancer that, interestingly, is banned in China.

And that’s not counting all the unnecessary antibiotics routinely given to American livestock to keep them from falling ill — which in turn encourages the spread of antibiotic-resistant diseases such as MRSA. Philpott speculated on the possible future legal consequences of this literal feedback loop:

Now that the U.S. regulatory establishment has demonstrated that a) it knows routine antibiotic use is a public-health menace, and b) it has no intention of reining it in anytime soon, I wonder if it’s opening the federal government to lawsuits from people who get sick or lose loved ones to antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Philpott suspects that the feds aren’t doing much about the sick state of the country’s livestock industry for one very simple reason: “Doing the right thing to protect public health would mean destroying the meat industry.”

Instead, he cheered on Louise Slaughter, the Congresswoman fighting a lonely battle to reform the livestock situation, who’s still trying to get a bill passed that would cut back on antibiotic abuse. Whatever Slaughter does, however, might be too little, too late, as Philpott also noted the impending factory-farmification of China, thanks to Chinese investment in the American livestock business.

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