Looks like the USDA’s chickens have finally come home to roost.
Nearly half (47%) of all samples of meat and poultry taken from supermarkets across the US reveal contamination from Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
Staph is bad enough (causing food poisoning and skin infections), but nearly half of the staph bacteria discovered on these meat products is a nasty antibiotic-resistant type known as MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
Currently doctors are powerless to stop or easily treat it.
The reason MRSA is so difficult is because it has morphed beyond antibiotics’ ability to defeat it. This is why it’s referred to as a “superbug.”
MRSA is responsible for nearly 100,000 life-threatening infections a year (usually of the bloodstream or urinary tract) and 16,000-18,000 deaths (often from treatment-resistant pneumonia).
This represents more annual fatalities than AIDS causes!
Many of these MRSA infections are contracted in the hospital—one of the main reasons why hospitals are dangerous places for healthy people.
“An infection that just won’t go away”
MRSA preys upon people with compromised immune systems (such as hospital in-patients), babies, and the elderly.
Infected patients generally spend triple the average length of time in the hospital … are charged three times as much due to the intensive care required … and have five times the risk of a death.
So this is what’s currently breeding on supermarket meat and poultry – and your chance of bringing home a MRSA-infected product is one-in-four.
And here’s something even scarier: MRSA is spread by contact. So not only do meat products carry it, but the bacteria can be spread by the store employees (the butchers, stockers, and checkout clerks) … the carts that circulate throughout the shopping population … and your very own kitchen (unless you’re ultra-vigilant).
If you dine out, you can add restaurant employees to this list.
So who do we have to “thank” for this deadly new danger in our food supply?
For more than half a century it has sanctioned disgusting factory farming conditions for livestock referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). I’ve written about this inhumane practice in the past with regard to cattle raising and egg production .
Feedlot livestock are housed in filthy, overcrowded conditions that are ideal for spreading disease. To prevent this, CAFO operators routinely mix antibiotics in the animals’ feed.
This feed is almost always carbohydrate-rich grain because it rapidly fattens the animals (just like it fattens us – but that’s another story). Grain-feeding creates serious problems for cattle whose digestive systems are made for grazing grasses.
When you feed cattle a diet of grain, it creates acidosis in the stomach (rumen) resulting in ulcers. Food bacteria then migrate through these ulcerations and infect the animal’s liver. “Preventive doses” of antibiotics are fed to control this.
Antibiotics also act as a growth-stimulant, causing animals to grow larger and faster, which represents increased profit for the producer.
Livestock antibiotics (used for purposes other than treating disease) represents the largest use of these drugs (by far!) – about 25 million pounds annually, according to the Organic Consumers Association. This compares to the 3 million pounds of antibiotics administered to people in the US annually to treat diseases.
This, along with our use of growth-hormones, is the main reason why Japan and the European Union have banned the importation of US beef and animal products.
For several decades the scientific community has urgently warned the USDA that unrestricted use of agricultural antibiotics would eventually breed a new generation of deadly superbugs, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
The government has had plenty of time to reform the CAFO system to avoid a public health crisis, but lobbyists have been able to convince the USDA to expand the status quo.
Time and again, the economic interests of large, corporate farmers have been placed ahead of the public’s health and safety. (Indeed, billions of tax dollars are paid to CAFO operators every year in the form of farm subsidies.)
At this very moment MRSA-contaminated meat products are sitting in supermarkets and, as of this writing, nothing of consequence is being done to recall these tainted products – or to alert the public.
And it wasn’t FDA inspectors who uncovered the problem.
Rather, the non-profit Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGRI) discovered the problem through a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts as part of The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming.
If I were you, I’d think very carefully before purchasing any conventional meat or poultry products – either fresh or frozen – now or in the near future. And that goes for food products containing uncooked meat, such as sausage or prepared meals.
I, for one, am also taking a break from restaurants until there’s a thorough investigation and the coast is clear.
That’s because restaurant workers are notoriously absent-minded when it comes to kitchen hygiene. Salad veggies sliced on a contaminated cutting board or handled after touching tainted raw meat could make you very sick.
I purchase my meat and poultry directly from a local grower here in New Mexico. I know him and his family, visit his operation occasionally to check out the growing conditions, and also inspect the small processing plant where his animals are butchered.
You can do this too. To locate farmers in your area who raise and sell organic, hormone-free, pasture-raised animal products, go to www.eatwild.com. (In Canada, visit www.eatwild.com/products/canada.)
If you can’t take this route, make sure the animal products you buy are labeled “hormone-free, grass-fed, and free-range.” If possible, choose products that come from local purveyors.
Critics love to ridicule this strategy as an elite, fussy, lefty-liberal way to bring home the bacon. But once the news gets out about deadly MRSA contamination, they’ll be climbing all over each other to get their hands on some of these “elitist” products, too.
The reasons to choose pasture-raised animal products are plentiful…
Feedlot beef contains more calories — up to 400 calories per cup – while grass-fed beef has only half that amount (just a few more calories than chicken).
Grass-fed meat is “cleaner”, having been allowed to graze in the sunshine on fresh grass, wild herbs, plus worms and insects.
Feedlot cattle, on the other hand, is fed grains, animal fat, sugar, “chicken waste” (you don’t want to know!), growth hormones, and antibiotics – while being housed in filthy conditions where they stand in their own excrement.
Grass-fed, free-range beef is chock-full of healthful fats, such as omega-3s, an essential fatty acid (EFA) that lowers inflammation and is beneficial for cardiovascular health, proper blood sugar metabolism, and lower cancer risk. (Omega-3 content of free-range beef often rivals that of certain fish!)
Range-raised animal products also contain another healthful fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Ohio State University researchers found that diabetics who added CLA to their diets lost weight and lowered their blood sugar levels. (Grass-fed cattle produce meat and dairy products containing up to 500% times more CLA than animals fed a grain diet.)
Finally, pasture-raised beef is 400% higher in vitamin E than grain-fed beef. Vitamin E, as you know, is the granddaddy of the antioxidants because it protects against free radicals and their oxidative damage to your body and it’s DNA.
Along with Staphylococcus aureus, a 1998 study published in Science also found that feedlot cattle harbored 6.3 million cells of E-Coli (the bacteria responsible for food poisoning) per gram of meat, whereas grass-fed cattle had a scant 20,000.
According to USDA accounts, 70% of all food-borne illnesses can be traced to tainted meat. And each year, 5,000 people die from these illnesses; while 76 million people are hit with a food-borne illness.
Oh yes, Congress and the USDA are well aware of this.
But their solution isn’t to hire more inspectors or to force CAFOs to clean up their act. Instead, they’re proposing a nationwide program to irradiate all animal products and then douse them in bacteria-killing chemicals. I’m not kidding.
The chance of staph infection is lessened by cooking meat and poultry thoroughly, but that means you have to love well-done steaks and dried-out chicken.
This also means raw beef carpaccio is a no-no (unless you’re sure of the beef’s source).
Kitchen hygiene should be scrupulous. Never place or cut veggies near meat. Wash your hands frequently after handling animal products. Keep counters and cutting boards nearly sterile. And store meat and poultry on the lowest level of your fridge so it can’t leak on other foods.
Of course, if all this is too scary or too much trouble, you could always become a temporary vegetarian until the danger has past. Beans, eggs, cheese, and whole grains are excellent protein sources. And think of the money you’ll save.
No matter what your survival strategy turns out to be, we should all get “mad as hell” at the USDA for dragging its feet on CAFO reform. These are human lives (yours and your loved ones) it is trifling with.
While you’re at it, add the FDA to the list for failing to regulate the use of antibiotics. (In Europe, it is impossible to get a prescription for these drugs when ill. If you need them, you’re hospitalized and doctors see that you take the entire regimen before you’re released. Result? Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are rare and not a problem.)
It is long past the time that our government put the health and welfare of it citizens ahead of corporate profits.
Maybe, just maybe, if we all raise a big enough stink about this latest deadly health threat, our law-makers will finally do something meaningful.
What do you think? I invite you to go to our Facebook page to share your concerns and propose some constructive suggestions.
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