Meat is consumed on a massive scale across the world, with billions of animals killed every year. India is both, a large producer and consumer of meat and many other animal products. In fact, with 7.0 million tonnes of meat produced in 2015-16, India ranks 5th in the world. During this government’s tenure meat export has gone up by 25%, so we are probably 4th. With regard to milk, we are at the number one position in the world, having produced 18.5% of the world’s milk in 2015-16.
Since we are producing so much meat, India has become a global centre for meat related products such as cheese, yoghurt, sausages, nuggets etc. While governments think this is a great economic success, it has major repercussions on the environment and public health. The environment repercussions are killing the whole planet – because the business of meat and milk causes global warming. In the meantime, the public health risk, from the large scale production of animal products, is so great that we will probably all look forward to the deaths caused by global warming. Famine, cyclones, tornadoes, tsunamis, lack of water, will probably come as a relief.
Let’s start from the beginning. When the consumption of meat and milk was much less, it was a cottage industry. Village herders kept small groups of animals, drove them into grazing areas (and the forest) and then killed them locally. Now, at this scale of millions of tonnes, meat and milk obviously comes from animals which are being bred industrially. These breeders are not traditional farmers or small scale enterprises that one would imagine. These are massive corporations who have set up shop in almost every part of our country. More and more local producers are either being bought out, or are adopting, the western industrial method of animal production. Most of our meat exporters are in partnership with Middle Eastern or Chinese corporations – either openly or covertly.
The production of meat is increasing every year. In India, the export of beef alone has gone from 0.31 million tons in 1999-2001 to 1.56 million tonnes in 2016. This figure is expected to increase steadily with India, climbing from the position of third largest beef exporter in the world to number one. Government statistics show that the production of pork in India has also increased by 21% between 2015-16 and 2016-17.
As the cattle farming industry grows every year, the techniques to extract the largest possible profit are also becoming more sophisticated. This system follows the basic format of more animals, faster growth and shorter meat-to-market time. Large numbers of animals are bred in one facility, where they are fed grains and pumped with growth promoters before being slaughtered for meat.
This is where the concept of ‘feed conversion efficiency’ (FCE) comes in. This is the amount of input needed to produce a unit of meat. A simple economic logic of input and output – devoid of consideration for either the animal or the consumer.
Based on this logic, cattle farms use a variety of hormones on their animals so that they can grow bigger faster and provide the most possible profit in the least possible time. These hormones are usually of two types – ‘classic’ steroid sex hormones such as oestradiol-17β, testosterone and progesterone, or synthetic hormones. These hormones are either administered to animals orally, or through the use of external implants on their bodies. All this is done with no thought of what will happen to the health of the consumer.
In the 1950s, hormone usage in cattle started gaining popularity in the USA and UK, with DES (diethylstilboestrol) and hexoestrol being administered to cattle. Meat traders realized that these hormones resulted in 10-15% increase in their weight, improvements in feed conversion efficiency (FCE) – meaning, they could feed them less and still get the same weight, and so hormone additions became common very rapidly. India adopted these practices without even looking at the ramifications on the health of people eating this hormone-drenched meat.
Today, a common hormone in use is melengestrol acetate (MGA). This is a type of progesterone that is used as an animal feed additive to improve FCE, increase weight, and suppress oestrus (menstruation) in beef heifers. Research conducted by TJ Smith and KE Nachman, from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future at the John Hopkins University in USA, has shown that rats fed MGA have shown mammary and endometrial hyperplasia – signs of cancer. Today, gynaecologists will tell you that thousands of young girls in India have endometriosis and cysts in their ovaries. Where did these problems come from? Other observational studies of MGA’s effect on wildcats have also shown mammary carcinogenicity. Despite these findings, MGA continues to be used.
Another popular hormone used by the cattle industry is Zeranol, a synthetic non-steroidal oestrogen. It is approved for use as a growth promoter in livestock in the USA and Canada, but is banned in the European Union. Zeranol is known to increase cancer cell proliferation in already existing breast cancer. Consumption of meat coming from Zeranol-implanted cattle is considered a risk factor for breast cancer.
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a synthetic non-steroidal oestrogen still commonly used as a growth promoter in cattle. However, various reports suggest that it has mutagenic, carcinogenic and teratogenic properties. A teratogen is any agent that can disturb the development of an embryo or foetus. Teratogens may cause a birth defect in the child, or even halt the pregnancy outright. It was banned as a growth stimulant for food producing animals in the USA in 1979, and in 1981 in the EU. It is used in India.
Trenbolone acetate (TBA) is another synthetic steroid used to increase the weight and FCE of animals for food. It is either administered alone, or in combination with oestrogen and other chemicals. It has been shown to improve the FCE in castrated cattle by over 25%. Some TBA is converted into 17beta-trenbolone, which has been shown to induce prostate cancer cell proliferation.
These hormones, and others, when administered to animals, stay in their tissues for an extended period of time. Humans then consume these animal tissues as meat, also consuming all these hormones.
You may not want to believe this – and most meat eaters would rather die than stop eating it - but this is the truth of most meat production in our country and the world. The priorities of meat corporations is unambiguous: money comes first.
There are better and safer alternatives to increasing the profit returns in animal factories. Feeding animals well, and keeping them healthy, will improve their weight naturally. However, this brings the profits down and will not show the quick and cheap results as hormones can.
If the companies do not want to adopt better methods, it is our job to make sure that they are forced to do so. The industry is demand-driven by you, so if people show their unwillingness to eat hormone treated meat, the producers will be forced to stop this practice.
This is what happened in the EU, and this is what can happen in India, if people are aware and active enough. In the meantime, start putting pressure on that useless government regulator – the FSSAI.
*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*