The inside scoop on American feedlot beef
From the Daily Mail (London)June 12 1999


BSE led to the vilification and ruin of Britain's beef farmers. But what
they did pales beside the horrors of American farmers' pursuit of profit.


AMID the heat and dirt of a cattle ranch in the far north of Montana last
week a grotesque and painful struggle was taking place. This remote
region, a place of tough, pragmatic people, has become a testing ground
for cattle farming methods which are so brutal they shock even the beef
barons of America's Mid West. On this particular ranch, thousands of
cattle had been corralled into a series of steel pens, called feedlots,
around 200 to each. There was no shade, no shelter and no grass on the
ground, only dust. On one side of each feedlot was a trough containing
herbicide-soaked grain.

All of the cattle were enormous--the result of the grain diet and a series
of steroid hormone implants inserted under the skin behind their ears. At
least one of the hormones is feared to cause cancer in humans.

Because the cattle were carrying so much weight, and because their
digestive systems are designed for grass not grain, some of the cattle's
internal organs had fallen out. And because it would be too expensive to
call a vet out to treat these problems a couple of sweating, panting farm
hands in cowboy hats were going from cow to cow prising their organs back
inside and stitching up the cows.

As Howard Lyman, a rancher, explains: 'You get paid by the pound, after
all. And cattle don't win any prizes for keeping their figures.' [Lyman is
a whistle-blowing ex cattle farmer seen in British TV documentaries and
involved in the Opra Winfree (sp?) hamburger cause celebre. JW]

'I spent countless hours stuffing 25lb of cow back inside the animal and
then sewing the wound, the whole force of a 600lb heifer straining against

Already this year Europe and the United States have gone to the brink of
an all-out trade war over bananas and crossed swords over the issue of the
labelling of GM foods. Now the new battleground is hormones in beef.

Next Tuesday the European Union will impose a new ban on all imports of
American beef, believing that even stocks labelled steroid-free are
frequently full of hormones.

The Americans plan to retaliate by imposing 125 million POUNDS-worth of
import duties on European products as diverse as pears, chewing gum and

AS the trans-Atlantic dispute threatens to degenerate into all-out trade
war, the Daily Mail has investigated the many bizarre and potentially
dangerous ways in which American farmers are fooling around with nature.

WHAT we discovered will make any British consumer think twice before they
bite into another American steak or burger.

At roughly the same time that the two Montana cowboys were going about
their unedifying task, a herd of dairy cows 900 miles to the east in Cedar
Falls, Iowa, was undergoing its fortnightly injection of a genetically
engineered growth hormone called Bovine somatropin (BST) Some research
claims the hormone has been blamed for wiping out almost 20 pc of some
herds. The cows' immune systems become impaired, increasing their
vulnerability to severe bladder and udder infections.

It is also claimed that BST also weakens their skeletons by draining
calcium from their bones. Many cows which survive are unable to stand
because their bones are too weak.

BST, which manufacturer Monsanto insists is safe, is another drug that has
been linked to cancer in humans. However, it boosts milk production by up
to a quarter. And when the cows have been pushed to the limits of their
endurance, the farm hands follow up the hormone jabs with large doses of
antibiotics to try to ward off infection.

The statistics are indeed terrifying. At least one in six farmers injects
his cows with genetically engineered growth hormone. Around 90 pc of the
29 billion lb of beef consumed by Americans each year comes from cattle
which have been fattened by hormone implants. For pork, the figure is
almost 100 pc.

'There are some really terrifying things happening in the American food
industry', says Ronnie Cummins, director of the country's Pure Food
Campaign. 'But there has been very little research carried out here into
the effects of hormones and even less reporting on television or in

'One reason why the U.S. does not want hormonal beef to be labelled as
such if it goes on sale in European supermarkets is that people over there
wouldn't buy it. But the second is that people here would start asking,
"Well, why don't we have the same labels?" And they really can't afford
for that to happen.'

The American meat industry today is a far cry from the Wild West days when
cattle were allowed to roam free on the range.

Calves are allowed to run with their mothers for six to 11 months and then
herded into feedlots. There are now 42,000 feedlot ranches in the major
cattlegrowing states and around half the country's 100 million cattle are
confined within them.

Some farmers using feedlots have begun research trials adding cardboard,
newspaper and sawdust to the feeding programmes to reduce costs. Other
factory farms add manure from the chicken houses and pigpens making the
United States the only Western nation where it is legal to feed raw manure
to cattle.

Farmers are even reported to have experimented with cement dust, which is
said to have produced a 30pc faster weight gain.

Furthermore, American farmers have been merrily feeding a panoply of
pharmaceuticals to heir cattle since the Fifties.

Today they routinely use six types. Three are 'natural' sex hormones:
testosterone, progesterone and oestradiol-17 beta. Three are synthetic sex
hormones: trembolone acetate, zeranol and melengestrol acetate. Like the
steroids used by a bodybuilder, these substances increase both muscle and
fat growth, making, each cow heavier and increasing its value by around 50
POUNDS. They also make the animals grow faster, so the farmer can take
them to market far more quickly.

American farmers' associations insist these substances are safe, because
they occur naturally in cattle. They also say the testosterone simply
replaces that which is lost when their bulls are castrated to prevent them
attacking each other in the feedlots.

THE use of hormones was banned In Europe in 1988 because EEC officials
feared farmers could not be trusted to use them in low doses. As if to
illustrate how well-founded those fears are, one test on slaughtered
cattle in the U.S. showed that almost half had been illegally treated,
with implants having been inserted not into their ears but into their
muscles, where the hormone is even more effective - and potentially even
more dangerous to anyone eating the flesh. The main criticism of hormonal
beef in Europe, however, was that nobody could be sure how safe it was
until more research was carried out. There is a particular fear that the
consumption of meat treated with large doses of hormones could be harmful
to pre-pubescent children.

The mighty American beef lobby, denied access to such a Significant market
by the 1988 ban, denounced it as .protectionism' and a 'clear restraint of
trade' and persuaded the Clinton administration to lodge a complaint with
the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Arguing that there was no evidence that hormonal beef could be harmful,
the WTO ordered the European Union to lift its ban.

In fact, the alarm had already been sounded by scientists at the
University of Illinois Medical Centre in Chicago. In a deeply-disturbing
report, the school's professor of environmental and occupational medicine,
Samuel Epstein, warned last year that confidential farming industry
reports to the American Food and Drug Administration revealed high
residues of hormones in American beef.

According to some estimates, an eight-year-old boy who ate two hamburgers
made from this meat would, following the meal, have increased his levels
of the female sex hormone by 10pc. According to Dr Epstein, lifelong
exposure to high residues of natural and synthetic sex hormones In meat
poses serious risk of breast and reproductive cancers, which have
increased sharply in the U.S. since 1950. [Note also the marked drop in
sperm count. JW] Hormone residues are also suspected to be causal factors
in premature sexual development in young girls. [There's an answer to a
previous question! JW]

UNTIL recently Dr Epstein found himself to be something of a voice in the
wilderness. But then, last week, the EU's Scientific Committee on
Veterinary Measures published the results of its own long-awaited study on
the use of hormones.

The committee's 139-page report concluded that at least one, called
oestradiol, is a 'complete carcinogen', because it can trigger tumours and
promote their growth. The committee also called for further studies on the
other five hormones.

It is little surprise, therefore, that the deadline set by the WTO for the
European beef ban to be lifted came and went last month and a WTO
arbitration panel is now deciding what sanctions the U.S. can impose upon
Europe in retaliation.

To reinforce its decision to ban U.S. beef, the EU published the results
of tests on the small amount of supposedly hormone-free U.S. beef which is
allowed in. When it discovered traces of hormones in 12 pc - including one
substance which is illegal in the U.S. - it announced a ban on all
American beef.

And it will not end there. Another, equally bloody, trade dispute is
looming over Europe's ban on the genetically engineered growth hormone

The main manufacturer of BST is Monsanto, the American bioengineering
giant behind some of the most disturbing developments in GM food.

Monsanto is adamant that its BST is perfectly safe but milk produced by
cows injected with the substance contains higher levels of growth hormone
IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor One). This hormone is also a suspected

ONE study found a sevenfold increase in breast cancer among pre-menopausal
women who had high levels of IGF-1 in their bodies, while a similar study
discovered a four-fold increase in prostate cancer among men with high
levels of the hormone.

In addition, many cows which are treated with BST develop udder infections
and there are fears that the antibiotics used to treat them could
encourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant microbes which infect humans.

BST has been dogged by controversy from its earliest days when it was
revealed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration official who drew up
labelling guidelines which prevented dairies from advertising their
products as BST-free once worked for the GM food giant.

Monsanto has twice successfully sued American farmers who used BST-free
labels on their products.

The EU ban on BST was initially imposed for just five years and is due to
expire next year. Monsanto, which invested a reported 600 POUNDS million
developing the drug, has been aggressively marketing it around the world
ever since and is certain to urge the U.S. government to complain to the
WTO if the European ban is extended.

The American GM food industry was taken by surprise by the ferocious
reaction of British consumers to plans to sell their products, unlabelled,
in British supermarkets and now the beef industry is girding itself for a
similar battle.

But leaders of both industries are convinced it is only a matter of time
before Brussels buckles under the pressure of sanctions and bans on
imports of European products.

'There is no going back,' says Marshall Martin, an agricultural economist
at Indiana's Purdue University.

He points out that it is impossible to eat a slice of pizza in the United
States today without consuming two or three different GM foodstuffs - and
he is convinced it cannot be long before Europeans are doing the same.

'In a sense we pulled the cork out of the bottle with the discovery of
DNA,' he says.'And the genie can't be put back in.'

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