Does Meat Contain Pesticides?

#EcoAdvice from our expert

Dear Dr. Donley,

I know pesticides are used on plants and vegetables that we eat, but are they also used on animals? Are there pesticides in hamburger meat, for instance?

Signed,

I’ll Have the Works . . . Minus Onions and Pesticides

Dear Fellow Onion-hater,

Cows, pigs, chickens and sheep can all be directly dosed with pesticides to prevent pest infestation in the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that exist on factory farms. But perhaps more important is the extent to which animals are exposed to crop pesticides through their food.

Pesticide residues are found in meat and animal byproducts, including, disturbingly, long-banned pesticides like DDT. These pesticides mostly come from the food that animals eat and end up getting stored in their fat, accumulating over time.

Unfortunately government agencies charged with ensuring the safety of our food are not taking adequate action. The Office of Inspector General found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration did not do enough to protect the public from pesticides, veterinary drugs and heavy metals in meat, prompting the obligatory “How many governmental agencies does it take to screw in a light bulb?” joke.

The Environmental Working Group estimates that a whopping 167 million pounds of pesticides are used each year just to grow food for animals in the United States. For glyphosate, the most commonly used pesticide in the world, residues allowed in animal feed can be more than 100 times that allowed on grains consumed directly by humans, and the amount of glyphosate allowed in red meat is more than 20 times that for most plant crops.

So we are essentially dousing animal food, typically genetically engineered corn and soy, with so much pesticide that the animals feeding on it can have higher levels in their tissue — what ultimately becomes a burger or steak — than plants grown for your supermarket produce department. Unreal.

For these and many more reasons, reducing your meat consumption is a great way to support more sustainable agricultural practices. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to make an impact, any amount of reduction is a step in the right direction. The important part is not to get discouraged — make an achievable goal and stick with it.

You can take the pledge to reduce your meat consumption by one-third and learn about other ways you can effect change at http://www.takeextinctionoffyourplate.com/

Stay Wild,

Dr. Donley

Dr. Nathan Donley is a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity who answers questions about how environmental toxins affect people, wildlife and the environment. Send him your questions at AskDrDonley@biologicaldiversity.org

Read the previous Ask Dr. Donley installment “Am I at Risk for Phthalate Exposure?”