Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hormones and Antibiotics

In the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle post, I didn't mention my little food experiment in New Zealand. Remember the What we eat post in which I learned that some of my nighttime skin rashes might be caused by tetracycline in livestock feed? I spoke to my immunologist about that and she recalled reading journal articles about people who are deathly allergic to penicillin coming down with hives after eating meat laced with penicillin. I am only moderately allergic to tetracycline and sulfa and okay with penicillin. Perhaps that is why my symptoms, while still unpleasant, are milder.

Penicillin, tetracycline and sulfa are common antibiotics fed to livestock, including farmed fish. If you are allergic to any common antibiotics, you should stay away from "conventionally-raised" livestock. (I wonder why anyone would want to eat antibiotics unnecessarily?)

Barbara Kingsolver wrote that the American food production system is unsustainable. If we were to stop force-feeding the livestock in the factory farms antibiotics, they would all die of disease in a matter of weeks. That fits the definition of unsustainable all right.

Back to the story. On the drive to Akaroa, we marveled at all the livestock we saw. One of our hosts, the one who studied agriculture and land management at university), told us that NZ raises all their farm animals on pasture. They do none of the factory farming you see in the states or in Europe. I asked if antibiotics are used. He replied rarely.

I decided to make the trip a culinary experiment. I ate lamb, beef, chicken and fish without fear. There was no night-time rash. If my skin itched, it was because of sandfly or mosquito bites. I ate a great deal more protein than I normally do at home. I did no exercise other than daily stretching and walking in the service of sightseeing. When I returned home to my scale, it showed that I gained less than a pound, but my body fat decreased by more than a percentage point. I think I will be visiting the hormone-free and antibiotic-free meat counter at Whole Foods more regularly.


  1. Each year we buy 1/2 (or 1/4) of a cow. It is grassfed, organic and no antibiotics from a local organic farm. It tastes delicious, is lower fat, and I feel so much better about eating it, and feeding it to my kids. I do better with protein in my system so having this source is really great. If you have the freezer space you might check to see if there is something available in your area.

  2. Grandma Ann of Sitting Knitting did the same thing. I am going to try to go in with her on her next annual purchase. It will be better for us, the environment, and the cow.

  3. Anonymous11:26

    I'm also mildly allergic to sulfa.
    Here in the US I try to buy the organic milk, eggs, chicken and wild fish.
    Ever since I'm getting only the organic kind, I'm catching a tone of colds and flu viruses, since my immune system got used to the antibiotics from the food...
    I hope I'm getting over this 2 months cold soon and be able to keep eating healthy and getting my strenght back.

    I wish I lived in NZ!


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