Coffee ... Tea ... or Toxins?

From the Fall 2007 issue of Nexus.

 

 Firdaus Walele
Pro Bono Students Canada student volunteer Firdaus Walele

Are the growth hormones regularly administered to farm animals in Canada winding up in your dinner or your morning coffee? Are the antibiotics given to animals responsible for the increasing trend of antibiotic resistance in humans? U of T law student Firdaus Walele spent the past year volunteering at the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP) researching these very issues.

 

Her research was prompted, in part, by a 2006 CIELAP report: There is No "Away" - Pharmaceuticals, Personal Care Products, and Endocrine-Disrupting Substances: Emerging Contaminants Detected in Water (available www.cielap.org).

Antibiotics and hormonal growth promoters are widely used in North American livestock to increase milk production and make young livestock gain weight faster. Canada currently approves six different types of natural and synthetic hormonal growth promoters for use in both cattle and sheep. An added benefit for farmers is that the wait times before slaughter are significantly reduced. Produced both naturally and synthetically, they are administered to the livestock either in the feed, or by insertion of a pellet under the skin of the ear.

This practice is now being challenged in a number of countries around the world for health and environmental reasons. Some countries are even phasing out the use of antibiotics as growth promoters altogether. For example, in 2006, the European Union banned their use, resulting in the complete phasing out of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes used in the EU.

Walele practiced employment law in South Africa before coming to Canada in 2006 to attend U of T law school. She immediately got involved in volunteer work through the law school's Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC), where CIELAP's work caught her attention. "My work at CIELAP was really interesting," says Walele. "Environmental issues are becoming more and more of a challenge in today's world, and I was able to research a subject that not many people are aware of."

CIELAP continues to highlight the issue in order to encourage the Canadian government to follow the EU lead in banning growth hormones and non-therapeutic antibiotic use in livestock. In addition to research and advocacy, CIELAP has an outreach program aimed at creating environmental awareness for citizens, as well as a youth leadership program that encourages young students to accept the challenge of creating a sustainable environment. "We all have a responsibility in maintaining the health and well-being of animals and the environment," says Walele. "By supporting groups like CIELAP we can help educate the public, evaluate the potential risks and hazards to our environment, and hopefully make a difference," she says.