How we treat animals can sometimes have public health implications. Who can forget the Humane Society of the United States investigation in which dairy cows too sick and crippled to walk were bulldozed by forklifts and dragged with chains to slaughter by a leading supplier of beef to the federal school lunch program? The investigation triggered the largest meat recall in U.S. history for violations of regulations meant to keep the public safe from mad cow disease. In response, California passed a law to strengthen protection of downed farm animals from abuse, but it was largely nullified by the Supreme Court last month at the behest of the pork industry, who would stand to lose the most if downed animals were removed from the food supply.
Last week, a new undercover investigation of leading pork producers—including a supplier of Walmart—uncovered institutionalized abuses, including the confinement of pregnant pigs in “gestation crates,” virtually immobilizing them their entire lives. What impact might this have on human health? In collaboration with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, a prestigious body that included a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, concluded that industrialized animal agriculture posed “unacceptable” public health risks and specifically called for an end to gestation crates, noting that “practices that restrict natural motion, such as sow gestation crates, induce high levels of stress in the animals and threaten their health, which in turn may threaten our health.”
The Commission also called for an end to “battery cages” for egg-laying hens. In addition to increasing Salmonella risk, these barren wire cages may increase the risk of colibacillosis, a bacterial infection in poultry linked to human bladder infections. More in my NutritionFacts.org video pick today that’s featured above.
Half of retail poultry samples were found contaminated with strains of E. coli linked to human urinary tract infections. How contaminated is the American meat supply with fecal matter overall? See what the USDA found in my NutritionFacts.org video Fecal Bacteria Survey.
On January 1, 2012, all 27 nations of the European Union banned the use of barren battery cages for egg-laying hens. And January 1, 2013, the EU will also ban the lifelong confinement of pregnant pigs in gestation crates. Please consider sending a message to U.S. pork producers to follow suit for the health and welfare of both the animals and consumers.
Michael Greger, M.D.
Image credit: MarxFoods.com / Flickr