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Traces of hallucinogens, other banned drugs found in meat tests

Posted October 22, 2018 4:21 p.m. EDT
Updated October 22, 2018 6:33 p.m. EDT

A recent investigation by Consumer Reports found everything from antibiotics to antidepressants in beef, poultry and pork.

It started with data from the government which was taken from nearly 6,000 samples of meat, collected over 11 months from 2015 to 2016.

"What was explosive is immediately seeing these drugs which were never approved for use in food animals," said Michael Hansen, Consumer Reports senior scientist. "Because they're highly hazardous ... still showing up in the food supply. It was stunning."

Food scientists at Consumer Reports found drugs like Chloramphenicol, an antibiotic linked to potentially deadly anemia and Ketamine, a hallucinogenic party drug and antidepressant. Both of them banned or severely restricted drugs, yet trace amounts have shown up in meat samples. And no one, including the USDA or FDA, seems to know exactly how they're getting into the meat supply.

"They should have found out why these things are showing up in dozens and dozens of samples of meat and poultry," said Jean Halloran, Consumer Reports food policy expert. "It can't just be an accident."

According to the chief scientist for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, the drug findings are "unconfirmed screening tests.”

None of this surprises Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, an organic farm in Georgia. He blames decades of industrialized farming and shoppers' demands for cheap food.

"I'm not accusing anybody of anything, but you told me that these prohibited drugs have been found in samples of meat," Harris said. "Then I guess that would be pretty proof positive that somebody somewhere wasn't doing what they're supposed to do."

Since it's unclear what, if any health effects result from eating meat and poultry containing drug residues, Consumer Reports says you don't have to eliminate it from your diet, but perhaps think about reducing the amount you eat or make different choices at the market.

Consumer Reports says organic and grass-fed meat might contain less drug residue or maybe none, since there are stricter regulations on those products. But there's not yet enough information to know for sure.