Everyone wants to do what’s best for their kids, but many well-meaning parents don’t know that meat can contain dangerous toxins and that feeding meat to their children increases the odds that their kids will become obese and develop life-threatening diseases.
The vast majority of meat and fish in supermarkets today contains one or more of the following types of contaminants: antibiotics, hormones, heavy metals, or other toxins. These contaminants are bad enough for adults, but they can be especially harmful to children whose bodies are still growing and developing.
Cattle raised on U.S. factory farms are dosed with hormones and other animals are fed large amounts of antibiotics in order to make them grow more quickly and to keep them alive in filthy, severely crowded conditions that would otherwise kill them. Feeding the drug-tainted flesh of these animals to our kids is risky—children’s small bodies are especially vulnerable to antibiotic and hormone residues.
The risk to children is so great that many other countries have banned the use of antibiotics and hormones in animals who are raised and killed for food. In 1998, for example, the European Union outlawed the use of growth-promoting antibiotics in farmed animals. In the U.S., however, most farmers continue to administer powerful growth-stimulating steroids to cattle and antibiotics to all animals raised for food, and it is very likely that our children are ingesting these drugs every time they take a bite of chicken, pork, fish, or beef.
Confidential industry reports to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration show that beef contains high levels of hormones and that these hormones are especially dangerous to children. The Cancer Prevention Coalition warns, “No dietary levels of hormones are safe, and a dime-sized piece of meat contains billions of millions of [hormone] molecules.”
The negative consequences of feeding meat to children were clearly shown in the early 1980s when thousands of children in Puerto Rico experienced premature sexual growth and developed painful ovarian cysts. The culprit was meat from cattle who had been treated with growth-promoting sex hormones. Meat-based diets may also be to blame for the early sexual development of young girls in the U.S.: Nearly half of all African-American girls and about 15 percent of Caucasian girls now enter puberty when they are just 8 years old.
Feeding meat to children exposes them to powerful drugs that have not been prescribed by their pediatricians. Roughly 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. each year are given to animals on factory farms. On factory farms across America today, the antibiotics that we depend on to treat human illnesses are being used to promote growth in animals and keep them alive in horrific conditions.
The fact that people are exposed to these drugs whenever they consume meat is not the only cause for concern: The American Medical Association and other health groups warn that the overuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. In other words, the abuse of powerful pharmaceuticals has spurred the evolution of countless new strains of antibiotic-resistant “super-bacteria.” This means that when you get sick, the drugs that your doctor prescribes may no longer work.
Children are particularly vulnerable to antibiotic-resistant bacteria because their immune systems are not fully developed. As new antibiotic-resistant bacteria spread into the meat supply, we can no longer count on antibiotics to fight common childhood illnesses.
While the hormones and antibiotics in meat may slowly sicken your children, the bacteria found in animal products can strike quickly and unexpectedly. If your children consume bacteria-contaminated meat, it will at best make your children sick; at worst, it can kill them.
If you’re giving animal flesh to your children, you’re potentially exposing them to pathogens such as E. coli, listeria, and campylobacter. Meat recalls and news stories about children who have died after eating contaminated animal flesh are now commonplace. Much of the meat from the 10 billion cows, pigs, and birds who are slaughtered for food in the U.S. every year is contaminated with fecal bacteria. Children are especially vulnerable to bacterial infections from meat because their immune systems often aren’t strong enough to muster a defense.
The Spread of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
Our intestinal tracts are home to healthy bacteria that help us digest our food, but eating meat that is tainted with antibiotic-resistant bacteria can cause our own “good” bacteria to turn against us. Scientists at the University of Birmingham Medical School in the U.K. found that antibiotic-resistant bacteria from contaminated meat can cause the normal bacteria in our intestines to mutate into harmful strains. These harmful bacteria can survive in our guts and cause illness many years later.
What the Government Doesn’t Tell You
Meat recalls are voluntary and the meat industry is vastly underregulated, so you can’t count on the government to watch out for the safety of your children. According to an investigation conducted by The Philadelphia Inquirer, “The United States’ flawed meat-inspection system, which relies heavily on self-policing by the industry, discourages aggressive enforcement by government inspectors and often fails to protect consumers until it is too late.”
There have been countless cases of children who died after eating contaminated meat, and their grieving parents often find themselves pitted against an industry that apparently cares more about profits than consumer safety. Suzanne Kiner, whose 9-year-old daughter endured three strokes, 10,000 seizures, and a 189-day hospital stay after she ate a hamburger contaminated with E. coli, says, “You just want to tell the meat producers and the Department of Agriculture to shape up. The industry needs to make wiser decisions—not ones solely based on chasing the corporate dollar.”
You would never feed your child a meal laced with mercury, PCBs, lead, arsenic, pesticides, or industrial-strength fire retardants. But if you’re serving tuna, salmon, or fish sticks to your family, you could be dishing up all these toxins—and more. The U.S. government has already issued advisories warning parents about the many dangers that fish flesh poses to children.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 600,000 of the children born in 2000 are at risk for developing learning difficulties because their pregnant or nursing mothers were exposed to mercury through the consumption of fish. Fish flesh is a veritable toxic-waste dump, and feeding fish to children can have tragic results.
Today, 9 million American children over the age of 6 are overweight, and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. We all know that excess weight takes a toll on our physical health, but overweight children also face the psychological trauma of being teased and excluded by their peers. The physical burden and emotional stress of being the “fat kid” can have devastating effects on your child’s well-being.
Fortunately, feeding children a balanced vegetarian diet can help them maintain a healthy weight and feel and look their best.
Research shows that meat consumption may also adversely affect children’s mental abilities in both the short and the long term and indicates that a meat-free diet can give children an academic edge in their grade-school years. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that while American children have an average IQ of 99, the average IQ of vegetarian children is 116.
Dr. Antonia Demas, a world-renowned researcher and president of the Food Studies Institute, is a longtime advocate of a meat-free diet for children. Dr. Demas’ “Food Is Elementary” nutritional program now provides healthy, plant-based foods to kids in 60 schools in 12 states.
Officials at one school district in Florida that implemented the program were astounded by the positive changes that they saw in students who eliminated meat from their diets.
According to an article published in The Miami Herald, some students at Bay Point School, a public school for troubled youth, saw substantial increases in their grades after they went vegetarian—one student’s GPA jumped from a 1.6 to a 3.4! Speaking about his new meat-free diet, another student said, “I’d look at a rib, and I’d look at a vegetable, and I’d think, ‘Why is my mind picking the vegetable?’”
Mary Louise Cole, the founder of Bay Point School, agrees that vegetarian diets have increased the physical and mental stamina of her students. She says, “They seem to have a lot more energy—they don’t have the down times.”
The students also saw dramatic improvements in their athletic performances after they cut meat out of their diets. Gabriel Saintvil, a senior at the school, was astonished by the improvement in his athletic ability. He says, “I used to get tired when I ran laps or lifted weights. Now I get endurance and keep on doing it.” Several students even spoke about the positive impacts of their new meat-free diets at the school’s graduation ceremony.
Dr. Demas’ nutritional program demonstrates what vegetarian parents have long known: Kids often speed to the head of the class when they eliminate meat from their diets.
Make a difference for your kids and yourself today! Take PETA’s Pledge to Be Vegan for 30 Days and try a vegetarian diet for yourself and your family for one month. We can provide all the tips and recipes that you’ll need to get started.