MODERN MEAT: Antibiotics, Hormones and the Pharmaceutical Farm by Orville Schell
Kirkus Star

MODERN MEAT: Antibiotics, Hormones and the Pharmaceutical Farm

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Despite an occasional flurry of publicity about some chemical, our meat animals are less familiar to the ordinary newspaper-reader than the African elephant. Schell--best-known for periodic observation of China, but also something of a hog farmer--is one of the few to attempt a real overview of current livestock-management practices as they bear on public health. Even those already familiar with the brave new world of animal husbandry will be appalled. Schell investigates: the indiscriminate use of ""subtherapeutic"" antibiotics in animal feeds (probably contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both human and animal hosts); the use of diethylstilbestrol and other hormones; and (more briefly) the USDA meat-inspection programs--plus the industry's search for what could be described as nonfood feeds to simplify the stoking of four-footed machines. The DES section is the longest--and, simply by virtue of the facts, the most lurid. Most horrifying is the discussion of illegal DES use following the 1973 ban on implantations and a drastic increase (apparently induced by agricultural hormones) in the incidence of premature sexual development in Puerto Rico: the little girls affected were in some cases as young as a year old, and many developed ovarian cysts. Equally complex, and also reported in painstaking detail, is the subtherapeutic-antibiotics issue, involving approximately 50 percent of the antibiotics sold in the US. No Federal ban seems to be contemplated, and people in the industry appear bewildered by all the flak. What is most painfully obvious, indeed, is the embattled isolation of the American farmer--along with the lines of mistrust and paranoia that divide different interest-groups and ""experts."" A microbiologist at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine happily talks about his findings on the transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from animals to humans; a U. of Illinois professor of animal science (i.e., livestock management) snarls that he is sick of being asked whether there's anything wrong with the standard use of antibiotics in swine feed. Schell's writing makes up in character for what it sometimes lacks in polish. (He uses ""diminuendo"" and ""convex"" as verbs and frequently grabs for the not-quite-right word.) What lifts this beyond scatter-shot, conspiracy-oriented exposÉs is the fair-mindedness with which he sounds out the concerns of all parties. It belongs beside Mark Kramer's Three Farms (1980) on the shelf of anyone interested in the state of contemporary farming.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1984
Publisher: Random House