Can Eating Meat Cause Disease?

Are food animals diseased?

Bernell Baldwin, Ph.D., is associate professor of applied physiology at Loma Linda University School of Health, Loma Linda, California.


Marjorie Baldwin, M.D., is assistant professor of preventive care at Loma Linda University School of Health, Loma Linda, California.

ARE FOOD animals diseased—in the 1970's?

Are the current U.S.D.A. inspection methods adequate to prevent marketing of diseased flesh food? Are they enforced?

Is there evidence that meat eating is a significant cause of disease today?

Does eating flesh food shorten life? Important questions, indeed—and especially for those who really want to be temples for the Holy Spirit.

MINISTRY wanted a fair, objective, 1976 answer. So we made several visits to a slaughterhouse within driving distance of Loma Linda University and, with permission of the manager, investigated and took pictures as we wished. We examined cattle before, during, and after slaughter, talked with the government inspector (a very capable veterinarian), then came home and checked out some of the latest professional literature in related areas, as well as some older, but still valid, stand-bys. Here is what we learned:

This particular slaughterhouse processes cattle originating in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, and California. The animals are brought in large cattle trucks and discharged into fenced holding pens, where they are kept for up to three days. They are fed, and water is avail able. Some of the cows were still fresh udders heavy with milk, often dripping. Inflamed teats and udders, probably indicating mastitis, were in evidence. During our first visit we looked over several of these holding pens fairly carefully. There were two cows with eye growths that the veterinarian diagnosed as "epithelioma of the eye"—a very common cancer in cattle. One young steer had a distorted face, with a prominent bulge above his nose. Actinomycosis, thought Dr. Inspector. A number had swollen, apparently painful joints, probably arthritis.

On another visit about two dozen cattle in one pen had "B" branded on their cheeks. Dr. Inspector explained that these had reacted positively to a test for brucellosis, or undulant fever. Two cows, obviously sick, were lying just outside the closest pen. One had obvious mastitis. We took its temperature—104.4 degrees F. Our informant said that if the temperature manifested a down ward trend, this cow could be used for food. If not, she would be condemned. The other was bleeding from the uterus.

From the closest holding area, the animals walk single file up a narrow fenced ramp at the end of which they pass behind a curtain and are struck in the head. Frequently, sensing disaster ahead, an animal will attempt to turn around. Finding the trail too narrow, it will attempt to back down sometimes in panic. A long, slender, flexible, electrified prod in the hands of a skillful operator assists in bovine cooperation. We saw the prod inserted into the rec tum for special persuasion. These methods cannot but fill the body with stress hormones.

Once felled by a puncturing blow to the head, the cow, now inside the cooled building, is quickly strung up by the legs, and the neck is slit. Blood from all animals gushes into a below-floor-level tank and is then channeled to a waiting truck that carries it away to be processed. When drained of blood, the cow is serially processed by butchers in assembly-line style. Head and feet are removed; the skin is slit and removed; abdominal organs are emptied into a cart; head, liver, tongue, and feet are hung on respective racks with dozens of others; and the carcass is swung along on an overhead transport system (Fig. 1). It may then go to a refrigerated room to age for a day or two, thence to be boned, or packed, and shipped.

At every step a sharp-eyed inspector is on the job to ensure that the steps in dismemberment are taken in proper order, to keep the meat as clean as possible, and to check for signs of disease that would require condemning all or part of the carcass.

A telephone call to a processing plant in Los Angeles revealed that the offal from this packing house—including bones, entrails, condemned carcasses and organs, fetuses, and blood (but not the skin), along with retail meat market rejects, is chopped in a drum, then fed continuously via a screw mechanism into cookers, where the temperature reaches 275 degrees Fahrenheit. It re mains in the heat processor two to two-and-a-half hours and leaves as either tallow or cracklings. After cleaning and refining, the tallow is shipped to the Orient, where it is used in soap making. The dehydrated cracklings, called "meat meal," are used as a blending agent in poultry and cattle feed, and in some dog food.

According to The American Farmer (January, 1974), suitable feed for beef and cattle and sheep can be made as silage, using 70 per cent crop wastes, either chopped cornstalks or oat straw, and 30 per cent cattle or poultry manure.

Are Food Animals Diseased in 1976?

Over a period of the past eight years, an average of 2 per cent of carcasses going through this slaughterhouse were condemned in toto. There has been no record kept of all partial condemnations —such as heads, single quarters, or single organs. On one of our recent visits we noted that of approximately 165 animals killed, four carcasses were condemned. At a market value of $300 per carcass, the financial loss to the packing house owner can run in excess of $130,000 per year.

We wanted to know why animals were condemned. Over the same eight-year period, the commonest causes were: malignant lymphoma (a cancer of the lymph glands), epithelioma (a cancer of the eye), pneumonia, pericarditis (inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart), eosinophilic myositis (a nonspecific disease of muscle), pyemia (blood poisoning with multiple abscesses), metritis (inflammation of the womb), septicemia (blood poisoning), liposarcoma (cancer of fat). Various parasitic diseases such as cysticercosis, flukes, tapeworms, and echinococcus are fairly common. These usually do not require condemnation. However, if immature or mature forms involve heart or liver, these organs are condemned.

According to the Atlas of Meat In spection Pathology, Agriculture Hand book No. 367, issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, May, 1972, the basic problem in meat inspection is "not essentially that of diagnosing pathological conditions for the purpose of disease control, but rather that of evaluating the fitness of the carcass for food and of assuring the public of protection against animal diseases that might be transmissable to man. Thus, the types of lesions found by meat inspectors vary considerably from those that might be routinely encountered during post mortem examinations performed in a veterinary practice or in the pathology department of a veterinary college." Page 1. The Atlas admittedly cannot include all problems noted in meat inspection, but it attempts to include those most frequently sent in for laboratory diagnosis by meat inspectors, either be cause of their professional interest or problems of diagnosis.

It lists both benign and malignant tumors. Among the latter are cancers of the skin, eye (Fig. 2), intestine, uterus, vagina, liver (Fig. 3), bile ducts, gall bladder, heart (Fig. 4), pericardium, lungs, pleura (lining of the lungs), lymph nodes, peritoneum (lining of the abdominal cavity), stomach, kidney, ovary, bone, cartilage, fat, blood vessels, muscle (both smooth and striated), and adrenal gland. During a two-year survey (1953- 1954) in the Denver area, 4.6 per cent of cattle tumors and 26 per cent of sheep tumors collected were of one kind of malignancy called adenocarcinoma.

That's not all. We won't tax you with recitals of long scientific names, but the Atlas lists fifteen chronic infectious diseases caused by bacteria, eight chronic parasitic diseases, plus twenty miscellaneous diseases that are frequently submitted for diagnostic clarification.

We are not saying that all these dis eases are known to be transmissable to man. We are merely indicating the types of disease most frequently seen. Certainly tuberculosis, anthrax, brucellosis, and other diseases are much less frequent now than before testing or vaccination was required by law.

Some idea of the prevalence of disease may be gained from the fact that "approximately 8 per cent of all animals slaughtered for food have lesions which require partial or entire condemnation of the carcass. This means that 8,000 per 100,000 carcasses are condemned in whole or in part." 1

Are Current Methods of Inspection Adequate?

If all meat inspectors can be typified by our friend, these people do make very honest attempts to see that no flesh is permitted to be marketed contrary to the stipulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Inspection includes antemortem and post-mortem examinations of each animal slaughtered and pro vision for condemnation of diseased or otherwise unfit carcasses and parts in accordance with established principles of meat hygiene. Essentially these principles are that meat is considered unfit if:

"1. It is derived from an animal suffering from an abnormal physiological state.

"2. It contains organisms or toxins dangerous to the consumer.

"3. It contains morbid or neoplastic [tumor] tissue.

"Under these principles, metastatic tumors [spreading cancers] are considered evidence of a generalized condition and the entire carcass is condemned. Carcasses affected with localized neoplasms [tumors] may be passed after removal of the neoplastic parts [parts involved in the tumor], unless there is evidence that the general health has been impaired by the size, position, or nature of the neoplasm." 1

Adequacy of inspection depends on the acuity and integrity of the inspector and the adequacy of "established principles of meat hygiene." Certainly the conditions they specify make meat unfit. But no inspector, however careful and efficient he may be, can detect whether a cancer that appears localized to only one part has indeed spread to distant body sites, or if an animal is harboring a dis ease process that was not apparent at time of slaughter but would have been obvious at a later time.

Badly diseased animals are some times sent to irregular slaughterhouses, thus avoiding official inspection.

Is Meat Eating a Significant Cause of Disease Today?

Parasites frequently present in food animals are as dangerous to man as they ever were. The cautions sounded for many years and frequently unheeded, that all animal flesh should be thoroughly cooked, is still valid. Animals commonly used for food still harbor tapeworms, and anyone eating raw or rare beef that contained just one live bladderworm (cysticerci) can be infected. 2 Other tapeworms, including those of some fresh-water fish, and roundworms, including hookworms, are still common.

Tuberculosis, brucellosis, and anthrax, though not major problems in the United States at the present, still exist, and are kept at a low level by constant surveillance.

And what about the possibility of people acquiring cancer from flesh foods? Here we enter a most intriguing area, in which not all the answers are avail able at the present. But the evidence is growing. Let's examine it.

1. Population studies have found a direct relationship between intake of animal proteins and deaths from intestinal cancer. For example, there are five and one-half times as many deaths from intestinal cancer in the U.S. as there are in Colombia. The U.S. consumes three times as much animal protein.3

2. Heavy beef-consuming countries have the highest bowel-cancer rates. Cattle-raising Scots have the highest rate in the world. They eat less meat than their English neighbors but consume 20 per cent more beef and have 19 per cent more bowel cancer.4

3. A diet high in animal protein and animal fat correlates with a high incidence of colon cancer. 5

4. Cancer is found in both food animals and those not ordinarily used as food. 1, 6, 7

5. In the laboratory, human tissue cultures can develop cancer from animal viruses. 7, 8

6. Animals can get cancer from vi ruses of human origin.9 10 Therefore, there may be an ecological relationship between animal and human cancer.

7. It is characteristic of viruses that after viral particles enter cells they may "go underground" by being hidden in code form in the DNA, the blueprints of heredity in the headquarters of the cells (nuclei). Later, these invaded cells can give birth to malignant cells without any obvious virus particles being present. The dreadful damage is already done. The DNA has been ruined. Whether the virus can be seen or not is beside the point. The cells are now cancerous, even though the villain is not visible.

8. Meat chemicals can change the chemical composition of the membrane surrounding the cell. 11 12 Meat, then, can change the cell's first line of defense.

9. Meat chemicals can also weaken the resistance to disease in general and to cancer in particular by altering the defense systems of the body, the immune mechanisms.7 When cells become accustomed to nonbody molecules, they tend to accept them. It follows that a meat diet, particularly in very young children, is most dangerous because it can build up immunological tolerance. Thereafter, the cells are open to viral invasion from that same source. This has been proved in animals, but not as yet in man.

Though specific chemicals, hormonal intolerance, use of tobacco, genetics, strong X-rays, and other factors can also cause cancer, the unique role of meat may well be that it is so frequently and widely used.

Cholesterol Also a Problem

But now for a moment let us suppose that all food animals, from fish and fowl through cattle and sheep to hogs, were entirely free of disease and constituted no such threat to man. What is inherent in the very nature of flesh itself that disbars it from the "most acceptable" list for human nutrition?

Best known is cholesterol. It is present as such in all foods of animal origin and absent from all plant foods. Reliable scientific experiments have shown that the more cholesterol a person eats, the more cholesterol there is in his blood. 13 A person with a blood cholesterol of 260 milligrams per 100 milliliters has four times the risk of heart attack as one whose blood level is only 200. 14

Of foods that contribute to an increase in cholesterol level, beef and pork top the list, not only because of their content of saturated fat but because they contain cholesterol as well.

Cholesterol, however, is only part of the problem, and perhaps not the major part. Less known is the role of animal blood in disease production in man. Blood-clotting chemicals are found in meat. This is why one meal of meat can increase the number of platelets and make them more sticky. 15 Platelets are trigger cells for blood clotting.

Meat and the Brain

Then there are the false transmitters a meat diet feeds the brain. Transmitters are nerve chemicals that carry messages across the tiny gap between the transmitting tip of one nerve cell and the receiving spot of another. Some chemicals from a meat diet absorbed into the blood from the digestive tract can act as transmitters or imbalance brain chemistry. 16 These stimulants may enhance activity in the lower centers 17 that represent such functions as eating, drinking, sex, hostility, anger, and rage. 17

Tyramine, a false transmitter formed in the intestines, especially when one eats a high-protein diet, can elevate blood pressure and upset the chemical balance of the lower centers of the brain. 16 Another chemical that may be involved in a meat diet is xanthine. This is one of many by-products from the digestion of meat and high-protein diets. In the laboratory it can reduce the ability of the brain to make acetylcholine, a true transmitter of the cortex or highest level of the brain. 18 This may help ex plain how meat stimulates the lower brain and depresses the cortex. No wonder the Bible says, speaking of the quail incident, "He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul" (Psalm 106:15). This text is centuries ahead of neurochemistry.

Leaving the brain, let's look at the ad renal glands. Russian research shows that in laboratory conditions one meal of meat causes significantly more of some stress hormones (the 17-hydroxycorticosteroids) to appear in the blood stream of dogs. 19 This same mechanism can probably help explain a hormone induced sense of well-being and of strength people often experience after eating meat. There is clear chemical evidence that smoked or charcoal-broiled meats contain benzopyrene, a well-known carcinogen.7 This helps explain why smoked fish and barbecued meat are dangerous. Also the nitrites that are frequently added to meat for coloring or preservation form a newly discovered group of carcinogens called nitrosamines in the stomach. 7 Both of these chemicals are also found in tobacco smoke. Obviously, no one will be giving one each of fifty identical newborn twins a vegetarian diet and the other identical fifty babies a meat diet for fifty to seventy-five years or more, keeping them under identical conditions for that time, and then seeing which group dies earlier—which would be the ideal scientific experiment to answer this question. But the Scriptures record one of the longest nutritional experiments in history, the result of a widespread change of eating habits, which does shed some light here. Before the Noachian deluge, on a vegetarian diet the life-span aver aged more than 900 years, according to Genesis 5, with the two recorded exceptions of Enoch (who was translated to heaven and never died) and Lamech (who died too young)—at 777 years! After the Flood and the adoption of a flesh diet (Genesis 9:3, 4) the life-span dropped precipitously to around 200 years by the time of Abraham.

Ongoing research at Loma Linda University, in California, is designed to attempt to learn why Seventh-day Adventist men over age 35 in that State live an average of six to seven years longer than other California men.20 Could this be a reflection, in part at least, of the diet of those who eat no meat?

Surely the means of shortening life are present in animal flesh—increased cholesterol, saturated fat, increased blood clotting, unbalancing of brain chemistry, disease-carrying parasites, and viruses that cause animal and possibly human cancer.

When you stop to think of it, there are really only two reasons most people eat flesh. The primary one is, no doubt, custom and preference. People like meat and are accustomed to its place in their diet. Some literally crave it. Seldom does anyone realize that meat without blood is unpalatable, and that some of the flavor chemicals are harmful. But tastes and preferences can be changed, especially when so much is at stake. A number of the plant proteins available commercially are so similar in flavor to many meats that most meat-conditioned palates can be pleasantly satisfied.

The second reason meat is eaten is for its protein content. It is easy, however, to obtain more than adequate protein, in both quantity and quality, on a diet of grains, fruits, and nuts, vegetables and legumes, such as peas, beans, lentils, and the like.

Surely, as one weighs the pros and cons, especially in the 1970's, and sees the earth and its inhabitants "waxing old like a garment," he finds that the best diet for spiritual, mental, and physical excellence is that originally given by our wonderful Creator.

" 'Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food' " (Genesis 1:29, R.S.V.).


1 Hans Meier, consulting editor, Epizootiology of Cancer in Animals (1963), Annals of N. Y. Acad. Sci. 108:872-879. In chapter: P. J. Brandly and G. Migaki, "Types of Tumors Found by Federal Meat Inspectors in an Eight Year Survey," pp. 872-879.

2 Animal Diseases, The Yearbook of Agriculture (1956), U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, B.C., p. 22.

3 O. Gregor, R. Toman, and F. Prusova, "Gastrointestinal Cancer and Nutrition," Gut 10:1031-1034, 1969.

4 "Beef and Bowel Cancer," Newsweek, Feb. 18, 1974, pp. 80, 83.

5 "Diet and Colon Cancer," an interview with Ernest L. Wynder. Ca-Journal for Clinicians 23:151-154, 1973.

6 J. F. Holland, and E. Frei, Cancer Medicine (Philadelphia: Lea and Febiger, 1973).

7 D. Schottenfeld, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Current Concepts (Springfield, 111.: Charles C. Thomas, 1975), p. 574.

8 S. L. Robbins, Pathologic Basis of Disease (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company, 1974), chapters: "Neoplasia," pp. 106-143; "Clinical Aspects of Neoplasia," pp. 144-165.

9 R. Suss, V. Kinzel, and J. D. Scribner, Cancer Experiments and Concepts (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1973), p. 158.

10 Holland and Frei, op. cit., chapter, "Virology," pp. 18, 29.

11 R. M. Dowben, ed., Biological Membranes (Boston: Little, Brown &, Company, 1969). In chapter 1, "Composition and Structure of Membranes," by R. M. Dowben, p. 6.

12 J. B. Blankenship, personal communication.

13 H. I. Russek and B. L. Zohman, eds., Coronary Heart Disease (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1971). In chapter, "The Diet and Plasma Lipids in the Etiology of Coronary Heart Disease," by A. Keys, p. 59.

14 Ibid., p. 64.

15 C. H. Best and N. B. Taylor, The Physiological Basis of Medical Practice, 6th ed. (Baltimore: The Williams and Wilkins Company, 1955), p. 102.

16 J. R. Cooper, F. E. Bloom, and R. H. Roth, The Biochemical Basis of Neuropharmacology, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 141.

17 B. E. Baldwin, unpublished observation.

18 C. Torda, H. G. Wolff, "Effect of Tobacco Virus, Some Decomposition Products of Nucleoproteins, and Related Compounds on Acetylcholine Synthesis," Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med. 58:108-110, 1945.

19 E. G. Gromova, "Changes in the 17-Hydroxycorticosteroid Plasma Level During Digestion in Dogs." Fed. Proc. (Translation supplement), 23 (II):T397-8, 1964.

20 F. R. Lemon and J. W. Kuzma, "A Biologic Cost of Smoking: Decreased Life Expectancy." Archives of Environmental Health, 18:950-955, 1969.

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Bernell Baldwin, Ph.D., is associate professor of applied physiology at Loma Linda University School of Health, Loma Linda, California.


Marjorie Baldwin, M.D., is assistant professor of preventive care at Loma Linda University School of Health, Loma Linda, California.

November 1976

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