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E. Coli O145 Ban Opposed by Meat Industry

One child is dead and 13 others sickened across six states in an ongoing outbreak of E. coli O145. Another child—a first-grader in Massachusetts—also died recently, but that was due to a different strain of E. coli, O157. After the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak in 1993, E. coli O157 was declared an adulterant, meaning it became illegal to sell meat testing positive for the deadly pathogen. It still, however, remained perfectly legal to sell meat contaminated with the other “Big Six” toxin-producing E. coli strains: O26, O111, O103, O121, O45 and O145. These strains are collectively sickening twice as many Americans as O157. For years, food safety and consumer organizations have fought to ban the sale of meat soiled with these other deadly strains against meat industry objections.

In the 1990s, the American Meat Institute opposed the original ban on the sale of raw meat contaminated with E. coli O157 despite the devastating effect this pathogen could have on vulnerable populations, especially children. Here’s how one mother described what E. coli O157:H7 did to her three-year-old daughter Brianna:

“The pain during the first 80 hours was horrific, with intense abdominal cramping every 10 to 12 minutes. Her intestines swelled to three times their normal size and she was placed on a ventilator. Emergency surgery became essential and her colon was removed. After further surgery, doctors decided to leave the incision open, from sternum to pubis, to allow Brianna’s swollen organs room to expand and prevent them from ripping her skin. Her heart was so swollen it was like a sponge and bled from every pore. Her liver and pancreas shut down and she was gripped by thousands of convulsions, which caused blood clots in her eyes. We were told she was brain dead.”

The ban passed in 1994 despite meat industry opposition, and now the number of Americans dying from E. coli O157 is half of what it used to be. Unfortunately this lesson was lost on the American Meat Institute, which continued to fight tooth and nail against similar regulations targeting the other Big Six strains. This week they lost. Meat known to test positive for any of these potentially deadly fecal pathogens can no longer be legally sold as of June 4, 2012. Too late for Maelan Elizabeth Graffagnini, though—the 21-month old victim of E. coli O145 whose funeral was held the same day.

The immediate source of the current outbreak has yet to be identified, but the original source is always the same: feces. How contaminated is the American meat supply with fecal matter? Find out in my NutritionFacts.org video pick for the day featured above.

What about the hundreds of thousands of Americans that die from non-intestinal E. coli infections? Please feel free to check out my 3-min. video Chicken Out of UTIs.

The meat industry argues that they should be allowed to sell unsafe meat because it only poses a risk if it’s not properly cooked or handled. Ironically, they’re also opposed to safe handling labeling. See my 3-min. video Food Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

Image credit: Microbe World / Flickr

Related:
Mad Fish Disease
Pork Tapeworms in the Brain
MRSA Superbugs in U.S. Retail Meat

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

90 comments

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7:03PM PDT on Aug 18, 2012

Nothing surprises me anymore. Back in the Renissance times people got sick all of the time, so nothing really changes for the better. The Black Plague, and other diseases. People will die one way or another. You just must be careful of what you buy, and eat.

2:44PM PDT on Aug 18, 2012

thanks

8:23AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Sadly, recalls have occurred for veggies too, which is why I love to grow my organic ones on my small but feisty balcony. No toxins here, just put an umbrella up for low flying pigeons--but since the lady below has removed her bird feeder which attracts only pigeons (they bully away the small colourful birds) as using bird feeders violates policy...since it leads to pigeon bullies, then flocks, then a lot of pigeon bomb shells from above...management found the feeder and now no more pigeons dropping toxic bombs on the cars below or balconies!

If one does not wish to eat meat...don't do it, no one forces meat down your throat. As far as meat producers or the meat mafia as one calls them - no excuse for shoddy products be it cars, meat, towels that are full of strings after the first wash - the public wants a product that is clean, environmentally friendly, of good quality...organic certainly helps prevent a lot of the mess the meat factory farming outlets give us...same goes for veggies...no pesticides, toxins. But even with our veggies we are not always safe as veggies like spinach have been recalled and sickened people over the years.

Meat is healthy in small deck of card sized portions, organically produced. One can avoid meat if that is your lifestyle but for the rest of us who eat it...we want and expect safety in every product be it meat or cars! No shoddy or irresponsible products accepted!

8:23AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Industries that sell dangerous products be it tainted meat or other items must never get away with selling any tainted product, it is like a car manufacturer saying they should be permitted to sell vehicles that they know will be recalled. Meat manufacturers have no immunity from having responsibility to the consumer.

Vegetarians are not immune from food poisoning, don't ever forget when purchasing bags of salad one can get food poisoning that way, it does happen! Spinach, lettuce...under recalls and many foods can be tainted, the source is not always animal related!

Big business often feels that it can skimp on safety, putting the profit margin ahead of all else!

4:34PM PDT on Jul 19, 2012

Lynda H. - I've been trying to send you an email via Care2 for about three days. I requested you as a friend but still I"m having problems. If you get this, email me at bryanclarey@ymail.com.
Thanks!

8:23AM PDT on Jul 5, 2012

I'm on my way Paul, I'm on my way :) not 100% just yet.

8:15AM PDT on Jul 5, 2012

Go vegan?

9:05PM PDT on Jun 24, 2012

True, animal rights activists are for the end of animal suffering and using their data wouldn't be advantageous for me in research. However, animal rights groups sometimes use unbiased research studies to promote their ideology and if I ever were to get my information from one of them I'd have to look at the study they're referencing and make sure it's legitimate. The waste isn't the only problem with CAFOs. I read about a town in Arkansas that had (or has) a proliferation of poultry farms and an unprecedented number of children with cancer. It turned out that poultry CAFOs pretty much surrounded the local elementary schools and tests of the AC filters in the school and homes showed an above average amount of carcinogenic materials from the air pollution the CAFOs were expelling. One family sued the poultry company but lost because they weren't able to prove the CAFOs caused the cancer. I believe this was in the 1990's but I'm a little fuzzy on the details. It's something I'm definitely going to explore in my dissertation. I can imagine that this type of thing is happening in more than just one state. Or country for that matter. 70% of US poultry farmers use roxarsone (an arsenic based feed) to promote growth and thwart disease. A recent study was done here that found arsenic in every chicken sample from fast food restaurants and almost all samples from supermarkets. It's starting to get out of hand (if it wasn't already).

Bryan

12:59AM PDT on Jun 22, 2012

Bryan, I really don’t know if there is a solution for the huge volume of animal waste created by CAFOs. The manure is toxic with hormones, antibiotics and GMO feed, as far as I’ve been told. We are losing soil fertility because of artificial fertilizers and other chemicals, and this source of natural, pure fertilizer is being polluted and sent down the river. I commend you for trying to find some answers in this issue.

I don’t have a problem with CAFO owners wanting to make money: we all want to make money, if we are honest with ourselves and others. I think most people draw the line at greed, and businesses that cause suffering to animals or people, or serious damage to the environment. The small farm generally looks after the environment and the animals in their care: they have to. Sick animals and dead soil will not feed their families next year. Sadly, they don’t often earn a fair income for back-breaking, endless labor. I can understand the financial motivation behind intensive farming, but it seems to be the wrong direction, on every level.

Information about CAFOs provided by CAFOs would have to be biased, of course, and therefore could not be trusted. On that same criterion, you wouldn’t include information provided by animal rights groups, would you? Their information would be biased to the other extreme, as their ultimate goal is to end all animal agriculture.

7:35PM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

I completely agree with you. The waste is a huge problem that seems impossible to come up with a solution for. The Chesapeake Bay next to the DelMarVa Peninsula is one of the most polluted waterways in the US because of CAFOs and fertilizer runoff. I do see more support for fixing this problem in the last few years but it seems awfully hard to imagine a total fix (at least in the near future).

As far as using agribusiness and the companies that use CAFOs, (which is almost all commercial animal husbandry in the US, as sources, the only numbers I used for them were where their operations were geographically. Numbers for the amount of animals produced by county and the actual number of animals raised were taken from Food and Water Watch and their website factoryfarmmap.org. General statistics for waste disposal came from journal articles and US gov and Non-gov organizations, as well as books by authors writing on the subject. I think this information coming from a CAFO owner may not be the most unbiased but that's just my personal opinion.

I'll be watching to see what happens with the Farm Bill here although I'm not entirely optimistic about it. We already know that the Egg Standards Bill and the labeling of gmo foods has already been struck down and will not be included in the bill. This already has set the tone for what the government wants to accomplish with this Farm Bill!

Bryan

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