meat eggs antibiotics factory farming

There a Discount for Bacteria and Pathogens?
salmonella e coli free range

Factory Farms Are Feeding Americans What?

Since we are equals and have equal rights, we’re entitled to equal treatment from government (not to mention an equal share of Earth’s worth). But when the state limits the liability of people in business, that only benefits the ones putting others at risk, not the ones being careful. In effect, politicians take the side of the polluter, not the pollutee. If we abolished limited liability, leveled the playing field, then risky businesses would have to buy pricier insurance. That higher cost might push them away from short-cuts like forcing animals to endure gruesome conditions toward safer ways of producing goods and services. This 2010 article was posted on AlterNet, Jan 13. It's by a New York Times bestselling author who has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Ellen, The View and Good Morning America.

by Kathy Freston

Kathy Freston: Interviewing Dr. Michael Greger, I learned factory farms produce 99% of the meat, dairy, and eggs we eat. Not only are dangerous flu viruses mutating because of these concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), but we are also being exposed to some other very serious bacteria and pathogens.

Michael Greger: E. coli is an intestinal pathogen. It only gets in the food if fecal matter gets in the food. The problem is that because of the number of animals raised today, a billion tons of manure are produced every year in the United States.

Children under 5 years of age are at the highest risk for dangerous complications. While E. coli O157:H7 remains the leading cause of acute kidney failure in US children, fewer than 100,000 Americans get infected every year, and fewer than 100 die. But millions get infected with other types of E. coli that can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs) that can invade the bloodstream and cause an estimated 36,000 deaths annually in the United States.

KF: We only occasionally hear of the very few fatal E. coli cases; is it really a widespread problem?

MG: Of 1,000 food samples from multiple retail markets, researchers found evidence of fecal contamination in 69% of the pork and beef and 92% of the poultry.

Scientists suspect that by eating chicken, women infect their lower intestinal tract with these meat-borne bacteria, which can then creep up into their bladders.

KF: Are there any long-term problems for people who ingest E. coli and have a bad day or two with diarrhea, or is the problem over once out of the system?

MG: Life-long complications of E. coli O157:H7 infection include end-stage kidney disease, permanent brain damage, and insulin-dependent diabetes.

KF: Is factory-farmed meat more likely to get E. coli out into the market, or is all meat (even free range) carrying that potential?

MG: In chickens, these bacteria cause a disease called colibacillosis. Infection risk is directly linked to overcrowding in cages. Affording just a single quart of additional living space to each hen would correspond to a 33% drop in the risk of colibacillosis outbreak.

A study found most store-bought chickens contaminated with Campylobacter, the most common cause of bacterial food poisoning in the United States. Campylobacter can trigger arthritis, heart and blood infections, and a condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome that can leave people permanently disabled and paralyzed. With the virtual elimination of polio, the most common cause of neuromuscular paralysis in the US now comes from eating chicken. Comparing brands, 59% of factory-farmed chickens were contaminated and 57% of chickens raised organically.

KF: What about salmonella? Is it really a big deal, or is it just a matter of an upset stomach?

MG: More than 100,000 Americans -- more than half are children -- are sickened annually by salmonella-infected eggs. Within 12 to 72 hours of infection the fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps start. If the victim is lucky it’s over within a week.

If not, the bacteria can burrow through the intestinal wall and infect the bloodstream, seeding its way to other organs, including the heart, bones and brain. One breakfast omelet can trigger persistent irritable bowel syndrome and reactive arthritis, which can become a debilitating lifelong condition.

Salmonella kills more Americans than any other food-borne illness.

KF: Do we have more salmonella now than we did 25 or 50 years ago? If so, why?

MG: There was a time when our grandparents could drink eggnog and children could eat raw cookie dough without fear. Salmonella only sickened a few hundred Americans every year and Salmonella enteritidis was not found in eggs at all. By the beginning of the 21st century, however, Salmonella enteritidis-contaminated eggs were sickening 182,000 Americans annually.

Most eggs come from hens confined in cages with a floor smaller than a single sheet of letter-sized paper for virtually their entire one- to two-year lifespan. A single shed confines 100,000 hens. The massive volume of contaminated airborne fecal dust in such a facility rapidly accelerates the spread of infection.

Because salmonella can infect the ovaries of hens, eggs from infected birds can have the bacteria inside.

Once egg production wanes, hens may be ground up and fed to other hens. More than half of the feed samples for farmed birds containing slaughter-plant waste were found contaminated with salmonella.

KF: Would free-range meat or eggs make a difference in preventing it?

MG: Cage-free barns have about 40% lower odds of harboring the egg-related strain of salmonella.

KF: Can we get salmonella just from touching something tainted?

MG: Absolutely. The infective dose for salmonella is as few 15-20 bacteria, and a single egg can be infected with hundreds. Eggs emerge from the hen’s vent, which is kind of a joint opening for both her vagina and anus, which explains the level of fecal contamination one can find on eggs.

Person-to-person transmission of salmonella can occur when an infected person's feces, unwashed from his or her hands, contaminates food during preparation or comes into direct contact with another person.

Some strains of salmonella are growing resistant to up to six classes of antibiotics, due in large part to the factory farming practice of feeding millions of pounds of antibiotics to animals every year.

KF: With salmonella and e-coli, are there other dangerous pathogens and bacteria?

Deadly human diseases traced to factory farming practices include swine flu and mad cow disease. Add Strep. suis and the Nipah virus, killing 40% of people infected.

KF: Are pathogens a problem if the food is cooked?

With the exception of prions, the infectious agents responsible for mad cow disease and the human equivalent -- which can survive even incineration at temperatures hot enough to melt lead -- all viral, fungal, and bacterial pathogens in our food supply can be killed by proper cooking.

Why then do tens of millions of Americans come down with food poisoning every year?

Cross-contamination. For example, chicken carcasses are so covered in bacteria that researchers found more fecal bacteria in the kitchen -- on sponges and dishtowels, and in the sink drain -- than they found swabbing the toilet. In a meat-eater’s house it may be safer to lick the rim of the toilet seat than the kitchen countertop.

KF: So what is the overall solution?

End extreme confinement and the non-therapeutic feeding of antibiotics. Declare a moratorium on factory farms and eventually phase them out completely. Improving the lives of farmed animals is critical for the health of humans and animals alike.

JJS: So, become a raging vegetarian? Maybe. But AlterNet, Feb 2 (posted by Brian Merchant, “TreeHugger”) noted: Consumer Reports has just published an investigation revealing that 39% of the packaged salads tested contained "bacteria that are common indicators of poor sanitation and fecal contamination" despite the fact that such bagged salads often display claims of 'prewashed' or 'triple-washed'.

Modern living could be so good … if irresponsible behavior were not enshrined in the corporate charter whose key feature is to limit liability.


Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

Government headed back to defending rights?

Centuries old cures might actually work

WTO suggests abolishing agri-biz subsidies

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