Getting ready to grill? Choose your beef sources carefully. A 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that many dangerous substances, including pesticides, veterinary medicines, dioxin, and heavy metals like arsenic, are winding up in the nation's beef supply because government agencies haven't worked together to set limits. The report makes clear that coordination between the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is lacking, making it difficult to recall beef contaminated with these harmful substances. "They're all pointing their fingers at one another," says Tony Corbo, spokesman for the nonprofit watchdog group Food & Water Watch.
The audit report, released by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service's (FSIS's) Office of Inspector General, found that common contaminants that can make their way into beef are not currently restricted in meat, even though contamination could harm human health. For instance, FSIS says the following medicines, feed supplements, and other contaminants could harm human health when people eat tainted beef.
1. Flunixin, a veterinary drug that can cause kidney damage, stomach and colon ulcers, and blood in the stool of humans.
2. Penicillin, a drug that can cause life-threatening reactions in people who are allergic to it.
3. Ivermectin, an animal wormer that can cause neurological damage in humans.
4. Arsenic, a known carcinogen that is allowed in some non-organic animal feeding operations. (It is commonly fed to chickens, and chicken litter, or feces, is sometimes fed to feedlot cattle—the majority of supermarket and fast-food beef in this country comes from feedlot operations.)
5. Copper, an essential element we need for our survival, is harmful when too much accumulates in our bodies. And it is being found in beef we eat, although U.S. agencies haven't been protecting consumers from it, even though some third-world countries manage to do so. In 2008, Mexican authorities rejected U.S. beef because it contained copper in excess of Mexico's tolerance levels. Because the U.S. doesn't have a set threshold for copper in beef, the meat was sent to U.S. stores, and ultimately, purchased by consumers.