The Unsavory Truth of Rising Food Fraud and Contamination
When you buy processed meat, whether from your local grocer or a restaurant, what are you really getting?
That’s a very valid question these days, as one meat-related scandal after another has been revealed. Most recently, at least 16 people in the US have been sickened from salmonella-tainted ground beef, and in the UK, many got sick to their stomach when it was discovered beef burgers contained horsemeat.
New DNA sequencing technology now allows regulatory agencies to inexpensively make this determination.
From the standpoints of health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability, there’s really only one type of meat I recommend: organically raised, grass-fed or pastured. This applies to all types of meat, from fowl to beef, and related animal products such as eggs and dairy.
Tesco Apologizes for Selling Burgers Containing Horsemeat
On January 17, BBC News1 reported that the supermarket chain Tesco had placed full-page ads in several national newspapers, apologizing for selling hamburgers found to contain nearly 30 percent horse meat. A majority of tested beef burgers also contained pig meat, as did over 30 other processed beef products, including cottage pie, beef curry pie, and lasagna.
“The supermarket giant said it and its supplier had let customers down and promised to find out ‘what happened,'” BBC writes. “So here’s our promise. We will find out exactly what happened and, when we do, we’ll come back and tell you. And we will work harder than ever with all our suppliers to make sure this never happens again.”
While horse meat does not pose a health risk per se, many are disgusted by the thought of eating horse, much like you’d shun cat or dog meat. The discrepancy was discovered by Irish food inspectors. Horse meat was also found in burgers sold by Iceland, Lidi, Aldi and Dunnes. The stores have reportedly removed all products from the meat supplier in question.
Burger King in the UK has also issued a statement saying it has replaced the meat supplier. According to Reuters:2
“‘This is a voluntary and precautionary measure,’ Burger King, famed for its flame-grilled burgers, said. ‘We are working diligently to identify suppliers that can produce 100 percent pure Irish and British beef products that meet our high-quality standards.'”
According to Reuters, the source of the contamination is thought to be “a beef based product bought from two third-party suppliers outside of Ireland.” This highlights one of the most basic problems with mass-produced meat products.
The final product is a jumble-toss of meat and scraps from multiple sources, making the risk of contamination of huge amounts of meat very high – whether the contamination is a type of meat that doesn’t belong, or contamination with a pathogen. It also makes tracing the contamination back to its source all the more difficult.
Overall, it’s important to realize that the more steps your food goes through before it reaches your plate, the greater your chances of contamination becomes. If you are able to get your food locally, directly from the field or after harvest, such as directly from a farmer or farmer’s market, you knock out numerous routes that could expose your food to contamination.
Several Sick After Eating Contaminated Ground Beef
Case in point… In the United States, federal health officials recently reported that at least 16 people in five states were sickened by ground beef contaminated with salmonella.3 About half of them required hospitalization, but none have died so far. Seven of those afflicted ate Kibbeh – a raw ground beef dish – at an unnamed Detroit restaurant.
Again, the contamination was scattered around a very large area: Michigan, Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention4 (CDC), the outbreak is linked to a recent recall of more than 1,000 pounds of ground beef from Gab Halal Foods and Jouni Meats, both based in Michigan.
Each year, an estimated one in six Americans become ill from consuming contaminated food. Sometimes this results in a 24-hour bout of diarrhea and vomiting that clears up on its own, but in other cases foodborne pathogens can lead to organ failure, paralysis, neurological impairment, blindness, stillbirths and even death.
While the majority of food contaminations are linked to imported foods, the mere fact that a food is manufactured on U.S. soil does not guarantee its safety. Most of the meat sold in U.S. grocery stores and restaurants comes from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which can house tens of thousands of animals (and in the case of chickens, 100,000) under one roof, in nightmarish, unsanitary, disease-ridden conditions. It’s under these conditions that foodborne pathogens flourish, and indeed studies have shown that the larger the farm, the greater the chances of contamination.
How CAFO Chicken Farms May Contaminate Other Foods
In one study, more than 23 percent of CAFOs with caged hens tested positive for Salmonella, while just over 4 percent of organic flocks tested positive. The highest prevalence of Salmonella occurred in the largest flocks (30,000 birds or more), which contained over four times the average level of salmonella found in smaller flocks. Organic flocks are typically much smaller than the massive commercial flocks where bacteria flourish, which is part of the reason why eggs (and other products, like meat) from truly organic, free-range sources are FAR less likely to contain dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella.
What many don’t realize is that not only are you at greater risk of getting sickened from CAFO chicken meat, contaminated chicken litter from these farms can also spread disease throughout the food chain…
Yes, even lettuce and other vegetables have occasionally been found to contain Salmonella, courtesy of contaminated fertilizer. Chicken litter and feathers are also commonly used in other livestock feed, further increasing chances of spreading contamination around from one mass-produced food source to another.5
If you buy your meat at your supermarket, even if it’s U.S. raised, you should know that you are directly supporting a food system that typically promotes widespread contamination. And you can bet that as long as there are people willing to buy cheap, contaminated meat, the industry will continue to produce it. Consumer Reports tests6 have indicated that 83 percent of fresh, whole broiler chickens bought at supermarkets nationwide harbor Campylobacter or Salmonella. This is clearly unacceptable, and if you start to demand more — meat that is raised in a healthy, humane way, free from toxins and disease — producers will have no choice but to listen.
Study Shows Roundup Creates Botulism Breeding Ground in Poultry
CAFO chickens can also be heavily exposed to glyphosate when fed genetically engineered feed, and according to recent research,7 glyphosate residues will preferentially kill beneficial species of microorganisms in the GI tract, leaving pathogenic species that can cause harm.
What does this mean for you and me?
The essential implication is that poultry fed GE corn or soy would fall victim to dysbiosis, meaning unhealthy changes in their gut flora that threaten the health of the birds, as well as anyone consuming them. The beneficial bacteria in the poultry gut, such as Enterococcus, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, are killed off, allowing the pathogenic or disease causing bacteria to flourish. Varieties such as Salmonella and Clostridium are very dangerous pathogens for humans. Clostridia bacteria are some of the deadliest, with strains including C. tetani (tetanus) and C. botulinum (botulism).
Chickens bred in CAFOs are already routinely fed antibiotics, arsenic, and even antidepressants, all of which have serious adverse health consequences. But this German study8 suggests CAFO chickens exposed to glyphosate may become breeding grounds for Botulism, Salmonella and other major pathogenic organisms.
According to a new report by the CDC9 detailing the most common sources of foodborne illness reported between 1998 and 2008, the majority – 19 percent – of food poisoning deaths were linked to contaminated poultry.10
The implications of this become even clearer when you consider the recently released findings of a decade-long feeding study that showed GE feed can cause significant changes in the digestive system, immune system, and major organs (including liver, kidneys, pancreas, genitals and others) of rats, mice, pigs and salmon. If it’s doing all of that to animals and fish, what’s it doing to you? Clearly, the conventional agribusiness food system has emerged as a major threat to your health.
Food Fraud at All Time High…
According to a recent report by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), a whopping 800 new records of food fraud have been added to its ever expanding database.11 You can both search the USP database and report fraud directly, at www.foodfraud.org. It seems quite clear at this point that food fraud is on the rise, and while many have started reading food labels, those labels are increasingly found to be less than truthful.12 According to the USP’s press release:13
“The first iteration of the database compiled 1,300 records of food fraud published between 1980 and 2010. The update increases the total number of records by 60 percent – and consists mostly of newer information published in 2011 and 2012 in both scholarly journals and general media.
Initial analyses of the database by USP food scientists was published in the April 5, 2012, Journal of Food Science. This research revealed that milk, vegetable oils and spices were among the top categories where food fraud occurred as documented in published reports. Analyses of new information by USP scientists show similar trends for 2011 and 2012, and add seafood (fish, shrimp), clouding agents and lemon juice as categories vulnerable to food fraud.
Food fraud is a collective term that encompasses the deliberate substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain. A more specific type of fraud, intentional or economically motivated adulteration of food ingredients, has been defined by USP as the fraudulent addition of nonauthentic substances or removal or replacement of authentic substances without the purchaser’s knowledge for economic gain to the seller.
‘While food fraud has been around for centuries, with a handful of notorious cases well documented, we suspect that what we know about the topic is just the tip of the iceberg,’ said Dr. Jeffrey Moore, senior scientific liaison for USP and the database’s creator and lead analyst.”
Are You Buying Unusable Scraps and Fillers, Thinking it’s ‘Good Food’?
Over the past year alone, I’ve discussed a number of food issues that have come to light that would turn the stomach of most people, including:
- Fast food burgers that do not decompose, even after being left out for a decade
- “Pink slime” (an unsavory combination of ground up beef scraps and connective tissues mixed with a solution of ammonia and water) being used in school lunches and processed meats across the US
- Reconstituted meat, and how the use of meat glue cheats you out of your hard-earned money at the grocery store and threatens your health, and most recently
- The truth of what’s really in the famous McRib pork sandwich – a questionable concoction of over 70 different ingredients, the “meat” portion of which is actually “restructured” meat that can include the innards and castoffs from the pig
Buying Local is One of the Best Ways to Avoid Food Contamination
All in all, modern food manufacturing is far from savory once you learn what goes on, and there’s room for fraud at every turn. Quite frankly, I’d be hard-pressed to call much of the processed fare available in stores today food. It’s so far from it, it’s no wonder we have such problems with obesity and poor health. What can you expect when you’re not actually consuming real nutrients?
The solution, of course, is to revert back to real, whole food.
If you value food safety, you’ll want to get your meat, chickens, eggs and dairy from smaller community farms with free-ranging animals, organically fed and locally marketed. This is the way food has been raised and distributed for centuries… And by supporting the small family farms in your area, particularly organic farms that respect the laws of nature and use the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water and habitat to create synergistic, self-supporting, non-polluting, GMO-free ecosystems, you help everyone in your community to eventually have greater access to wholesome food. Because as demand for locally-grown food rises, farmers will heed the call…
If you opt for imported foods, or those from U.S. CAFOs, your food will go through upwards of nine steps before it reaches your dinner plate. Public health agencies like the FDA use the term “field-to-fork continuum” to describe the path any given food takes on the way to your plate, and during any of the following steps, contamination is possible:
- Open field production
- Field packing
- Greenhouse production
- Repacking and other distribution operations
- Fresh-cut/value-added processing
- Food service and retail
If you are able to get your food directly from the farmer, you knock out five potential operations that could expose your food to contamination. The closer you are to the source of your food, the fewer hands it has to pass through and the less time it will sit in storage, the better, and likely safer, it will be for you and your family. Plus, when you know the person who grows your food, you can ask questions about its growing conditions — an impossibility when you buy food from CAFOs or other countries.
If eating locally is new to you, rest assured that you can find a source near you, regardless of whether you’re in a remote or rural area or a big city. Here’s a list of helpful resources:
- For a listing of national farmer’s markets, see this link.
- Another great web site is www.localharvest.org. There you can find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Subscribe to a community supported agriculture program (CSA). Some are seasonal while others are year round programs. Once you subscribe, many will drop affordable, high quality locally-grown produce right at your door step. To find a CSA near you, go to the USDA’s website where you can search by city, state, or zip code.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
- FoodRoutes. Their “Find Good Food” map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA’s, and markets near you.
- For an even more comprehensive list of CSA’s and a host of other sustainable agriculture programs, check out this link to my Sustainable Agriculture page.
With food fraud and contamination of processed foods on the rise, the safest and healthiest food you can get your hands on are those grown right in your backyard – perhaps literally your own yard, or from a local farm. Remember, from the standpoints of health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability, there’s really only one type of meat I recommend: organically raised, grass-fed or pastured. This includes all types of meat: chicken, turkey, pork and beef, and all related animal products, such as eggs and dairy.
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