In a recent test of pork chop and ground-pork samples from six U.S. cities, Consumer Reports found low levels of ractopamine in almost one-fifth of the 240 pork products analyzed, as well as a range of other nasties – including several strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Ractopamine is a growth promoter drug. It is widely used on intensive livestock farms in the U.S. because it increases the rate of weight gain and carcass leanness in pigs, cattle and turkey. It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of the U.S. pig herd is fed the drug every year. Of course, the drug doesn’t come without its costs.
Paul Roberts, author of The End of Food, recently wrote an opinion piece for the L.A. Times called “The True Cost of Steak” on the effects of factory-farmed meat production. Roberts’ opinion rests heavily on research published in the Pew Report “Putting Meat on the Table”, a monumental testament to the consequences of cheap meat, and what the livestock industry would look like if we were to truly pay the costs of production. This report is a must-read for anyone interested in the current state of meat production and seeking a possible route beyond it. Not surprisingly, the Pew report advocates small-scale pasture-based farming, with an emphasis on the elimination of subtherapeautic antibiotic use. Roberts dances around this controversial issue, but it has been said before: maybe we don’t really need as much meat as we eat? If the livestock industry were to pass the true costs on to consumers (pollution, threatened food safety and antibiotic resistance), we wouldn’t have a choice. Perhaps if we ate less – but better meat, we could in effect have our cake and eat it too.