Doctors Sue Over Poop in Meat

“Warning, may contain poop” doesn’t sound super appetizing, but that’s kind of the point: A physicians’ advocacy organization says the USDA should disclose that packaged meat may contain fecal material, in the interest of protecting public health.

The USDA says such a warning is not necessary, since visible fecal contamination must be removed before meat is sold, and meat is also routinely swabbed and tested for pathogens as it works its way through the supply chain in order to ensure it’s safe for human consumption.

But the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) says the USDA’s measures are not enough. In fact, the organization said that back in 2013, when it filed a petition asking the agency to consider feces an “adulterant” for regulatory purposes. Like other government entities, the USDA is required to respond to petitions in a timely manner, but there’s no formal definition of timely, and six years later, the group is circling back to ask about the holdup.

The USDA is definitely right when it says that visible fecal contamination will cause meat to be rejected by inspectors. At the slaughterhouse, meat spoiled with feces can be trimmed away and the remainder can be swabbed with antimicrobials to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. However, that doesn’t address feces that aren’t readily visible upon inspection. The USDA claims it’s thought of this as well with the inspection process, taking care to keep contaminated meat out of the food supply.

Meat producers also say the existing system is sufficient, noting they do not want to make consumers sick, and that organisms like E. coli are naturally present in the environment, making it very difficult to control for them or definitively trace the cause of an illness. They also stress a zero-tolerance policy on the supply line for compromised meat, noting that suspect meat must be pulled from sale. If testing uncovers adulterants, it may need to be destroyed or specially processed to make it safe for human and/or animal consumption.

But PCRM says when it randomly sampled meat at grocery stores, it found systemic evidence of contamination.

That may not come as a huge surprise, given that some incredibly gross stuff is allowed in meat. And the USDA has relaxed safety requirements in slaughterhouses and on the production line, allowing meat processing to move more quickly and putting more regulatory responsibility into the hands of the companies handling the meat. The number of inspectors from the USDA is on the decline, making it harder for the agency to address food safety concerns across a range of industries, including in meat inspection.

That leaves consumers vulnerable.

While guidelines on cooking and handling meat stress steps designed to reduce the risk of spreading bacteria, including thoroughly cooking meat to kill any microorganisms that might be present despite the inspection process, this shouldn’t be left to consumers alone to deal with.

Contaminated meat has caused outbreaks recently, highlighting that the inspection process and infection controls at home are breaking down, to the detriment of consumers. Immunocompromised people in particular are at risk of serious illness.

PCRM has an agenda: They promote eating a plant-based diet for human and environmental health, and clearly getting scary labels on meat may encourage consumers to think about alternative protein sources. But they’re also not wrong in this case. Consumers should know exactly what they’re buying, so they can make informed choices about whether they want to eat it.

Related at Care2

Photo credit: Pilin_Petunyia/Getty Images

105 comments

Carole R
Carole Ryesterday

Disgusting.

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Jeramie D
Jeramie D2 days ago

So glad I don't eat meat.

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danii p
danii p3 days ago

tyfs

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danii p
danii p3 days ago

tyfs

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danii p
danii p3 days ago

tyfs

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beba h
beba h5 days ago

Stop eating meat. Problem solved.

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Tanya W
Tanya W6 days ago

Thank you for sharing this.

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Tanya W
Tanya W6 days ago

Noted

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Diane E
Diane E8 days ago

Yuk. Disgusting! Don't eat it!

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joan silaco
joan silaco11 days ago

tufs

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