Tue, Mar 27, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Public right to question pork, poultry safety levels

By Liou Pei-pai 劉培柏

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) announced that a certain company was suspected of covering up illegal behavior through legal means. The company allegedly sold -industrial-grade copper sulfate containing high levels of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium as an additive to feed producers.

The news that meat from the swine and chickens given this feed could endanger the health of humans caused a new panic among consumers.

Domestic livestock and chicken feed often contains 6g to 8g of copper sulfate per kilogram. It is used as a source of copper ions to regulate physiological function and helps eliminate toxic peroxides from the creation of new blood cells and some cofactors with active enzymes. It is a necessary biochemical nutrition trace element.

There are even livestock and poultry farmers who believe that adding copper sulfate to their feed removes harmful microbes from the intestines and prevents diarrhea, as well as promoting feather and hair growth.

Single-stomached animals such as pigs and chickens have a high tolerance to copper sulfates. Although it is not easily absorbed by the intestine, once absorbed, the residue stays in the body. In other words, if too much -industrial-grade copper sulfate is added to the feed, it is consumers who could be harmed.

Often when people ingest livestock and poultry products with high levels of copper residue, they have a reaction. A light reaction could include nausea or vomiting, while a stronger reaction might be impaired liver or kidney function. That is why some academics are opposed to adding copper sulfate to animal feed.

Industrial-grade copper sulfate contains high levels of heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, and should not be used as a feed additive. Although not immediately harmful to animals whose meat is used for human consumption, the residue accumulates in the flesh, bones and organs of the animal. People who regularly eat meat from these animals, with its heavy-metal toxins, are likely to suffer, to varying degrees, from impaired nerve function or reduced ability to create new blood cells, and would be fortunate to escape with no subsequent health problems whatsoever.

Harmful additives in animal feed have caused international incidents in the past, the most notable perhaps being in 1999, in what the Belgian press dubbed “Chickengate.” A major oil-and-fat recycling company in Belgium accidentally used discarded motor oil containers to heat oil supplied to animal feed suppliers, producing highly toxic dioxins which contaminated the oil, which was then added to animal feed sold not only in Belgium, but also exported to France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Ultimately, it was used by at least 7,000 companies in those countries. This resulted in contaminated meat, eggs and milk, the sale of which was banned, leading to huge losses in the industry. This food safety crisis stunned Western Europe and led to the resignations of the Belgian ministers of agriculture and health, as well as the country’s prime minister.

We now know the use of industrial-grade copper sulfate in animal feed was first discovered in December last year. Unfortunately, officials have yet to announce which feed suppliers used it. Neither do we know how long they have been adding it to their feed, where the contaminated feed has gone, or how many pigs or chickens have been fed with it.

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