Monthly Archives: March 2012

Healthy Living Healthy Meat Toxin Alert!

Industrial Meat & Pink Slime = More Recalls, Drug Resistance
The dismal and horrifying reality of meat production in our culture is something most of us are removed from, both physically and mentally, as we sit down to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Factory farms or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) produce high food volumes to feed a growing population, but at the cost of animal, human, and environmental health. The result of housing animals and birds in these facilities is pollution to the surrounding area, growth of pathogenic bacteria, and heavy use of antibiotics to “prevent” disease.

Just visiting one of these facilities and enduring the malodorous smell coming from concentrated cesspools of manure and the strong ammonia used to “contain” it, and the hydrogen sulfide gasses emanating from the area would forever affect the way you see and eat meat.

Meat recalls due to tainted meat are an unfortunate but frequent occurrence in the food supply, and have been on the news radar for the last number of years.  The most recent news reports of problems with commercial meat have appeared from pink slime in the public schools, grocery store chains, restaurants, and other places have the consumer and health publics up in arms.

Adding another element of contention to meat consumption are recent flawed findings that eating meat will decrease our life spans from the Harvard School of Public Health.

It’s no wonder fear and confusion about meat are in the minds of consumers.

In agricultural, political and government realms, there has been a lot of discussion about the need for improvements in the food safety sector. Large food producers aren’t motivated to make improvements due to the cost involved, so factory meat will always continue to yield problematic results for those who consume it. The nature of how it is produced all by itself is disease-inducing, and unless those methods and approaches to meat production and processing change, the hope of safe food ever coming from those sources is nothing but a fairy tale.

This reality greatly undermines the mantra of food safety officials, politicians, decision-makers, and health officials who have proclaimed with unwavering conviction: “The U.S. has one of the safest food systems in the world.”

It is situations like this which prompted the creation of one of the most insidious acts humanity has ever known: The Food Safety and Modernization Act, signed into law by President Obama in January of 2011.  This law supposedly puts the focus on “prevention” of the problem.  But what it will eventually do is strip away rights and abilities of smaller farmers, who are more likely to produce sustainable food, to make a living and produce the kind of safe products we want to consume. Smaller farmers have a much more difficult time meeting the requirements and satisfying fees that large-scale producers can, and these changes could be very bad for them indeed.

Tyson Fresh Meats, one of the largest subsidiaries of Tyson Foods, Inc. has the following changes planned for within the next year:

“The Dakota City project, which is already under way, is scheduled to be completed in mid-2013. It includes construction of a new beef slaughter floor that will incorporate the latest sanitation and production systems.

The company is also making improvements to the Dakota City plant’s beef carcass cooler, rendering and box handling operations, as well as employee lockers and cafeteria. Changes in the plant’s box handling system will involve the installation of additional conveyors and other equipment that will enable the facility to more efficiently handle the product mix.”

Every time you hear about a large corporation violating a law or regulation or having to recall product, those companies are never put out of business.  Generally they are fined and go on their way since they are able to absorb the cost of these fees without issue.

And, none of the improvements on the agenda call for making alterations to the way the meat is produced and raised; specifically, where the animals are raised, what feed they are given, the elimination of hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals which cause the meat to become unfit for consumption in the first place. Everything is centered around the actual processing of the meat after it has been slaughtered – and many of those proposed changes will still employ dangerous methods. Until food manufacturers realize this and make changes accordingly, nothing will change.

Pink slime

“Pink slime” has been in the news for weeks, and schools are now being given the choice to “opt out”.  Last week, news reports showed that various supermarket chains have chosen to stop buying this “meat” from producers. These are steps in the right direction, but it shouldn’t stop there. If more businesses selling meat would refuse to buy factory-farmed meat and support local, sustainable farmers, our economy would begin to move in the right direction and recalls would start to cease.

“Pink slime” is the substance dubbed by the media from a company named BPI, which uses ammonia mixed with ground up meat scraps and connective tissue (normally used in dog food or even discarded) and then mixed with ground beef to ensure the elimination of pathogenic bacteria.  These parts and connective tissue are not harmful because of what they are, but because they originate from factory-farm animals raised in the worst conditions and as such, are at risk for contamination from pathogenic bacteria such as certain strains of E. coli or Salmonella.

A news report from The Atlantic asks a very important question: “Is pink slime really any worse than pink cylinders like hot dogs, or yellow nuggets of mechanically separated poultry? Probably not.”

The answer denotes not only the stark reality that is the processed meat (and food) industry, but the fact that just because this recent event has been brought to our attention doesn’t mean that these issues are anything new.

But it confirms something loud and clear: Consumption of all processed and factory meats carries a high risk of illness and or death. 

And so, like a raging river of water from a broken dam, meat recalls and reports showing how dangerous conventional meats are, continue.

Drug-resistant bacteria

Last year, a flood of reports came out showing that 1 in 4 packages of meat was tainted with pathogenic bacteria.  Researchers found when testing a variety of raw beef, pork, turkey and chicken in grocery stores in various U.S. locations, nearly half – or 47% were found to test positive for a multi-drug antibiotic-resistant bacterium.

Cattle on CAFOs receive a regular diet of the following: grains, corn, soy, manure and other animal waste (including feathers, hair, skin, and blood), meat from diseased animals, plastics, chalk, and by-products from food, beverage, and candy factories, and silage.  According to Sustainable Table:

“Under current US agriculture policy, the government provides large subsidies to farmers that produce grains, particularly corn and soybeans. Livestock producers like to use corn and soy as a base for their animal feed, because these protein-rich grains fatten up their animals, and because they’re incredibly cheap as a result of the government subsidies. Livestock consumes 47% of the soy and 60% of the corn produced in the US.ii

It’s been estimated that factory farms get a discount of 7-10% on their operating costs because of the subsidies that the government provides for corn and soy.iii Although these cheap feed grains mean that meat and dairy prices are lower for consumers, they also result in lower nutritional content. In general, grain-fed meat, eggs and dairy are lower in omega-3 fatty acids (the “good” fat), and Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA (CLA’s help to fight against cancer and cardiovascular disease), with higher levels of fat than products from animals raised on grass.iv”

The unnatural feed is not only missing vital nutritional components, it also makes the cattle sick. To combat this, they are routinely given subtherapeutic or preventative doses of antibiotics to “prevent” the generation of and spread of disease. Ironically, since antibiotics effectively destroy all bacteria, this wipes out the good bacteria too. The result? A weakened immune system of the organism receiving the antibiotics, and animals bodies’ are then susceptible to pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. Bacteria find ways to survive in the face of drugs which seek to wipe them out, and they become stronger and resistant to those drugs.

Researchers testing raw turkey, pork, beef, and chicken purchased at grocery stores in five different cities across the U.S. found that roughly 1 in 4 four of those samples tested positive for a multidrug antibiotic-resistant “superbug” bacterium: “We found that 47% of the samples were contaminated with Staph aureus, and more than half of those strains were multidrug resistant, or resistant to three or more antibiotics.”said Lance B. Price, PhD, director of the Center of Food Microbiology and Environmental Health at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Flagstaff, AZ.

The other finding that came out of this research is that MRSA was found in about 2% of the meat samples. MRSA is a resistant-type of Staph (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a pathogenic bacteria). The bacteria usually enters a person’s body through a sore, cut, breathing tube, or catheter and often causes an infection, and can be fatal.

In a study from University of Iowa College of Public Health in Iowa City, epidemiologist Tara Smith discovered that even pork labeled “antibiotic-free” still contained MRSA bacteria:

“For the new study, published this month in PLoS ONE, she and colleagues bought a variety of pork products—395 packages in all—from 36 different stores in two big pig farming states, Iowa and Minnesota, and one of the most densely populated, New Jersey.

In the laboratory, the team mixed meat samples “vigorously” with a bacterial growth medium and allowed any microbes present to grow. MRSA, which appears as mauve-colored colonies on agar plates, was genetically typed and tested for antibiotic susceptibility.

The researchers found that 64.8% of the samples were positive for staph bacteria and 6.6% were positive for MRSA. Rates of contamination were similar for conventionally raised pigs (19 of 300 samples) and those labeled antibiotic-free (seven of 95 samples). Results of genetic typing identified several well-known strains, including the so-called livestock-associated MRSA (ST398) as well as common human strains; all were found in conventional and antibiotic-free meat. (The label “antibiotic-free” is not regulated, and the products were not “certified organic.”)”

Health officials claim that because these bacteria are commonly found on human hands and human nasal passages, this bacteria is likely originating from the skin and body surfaces of meat processing plant workers. But, we are also told that to avoid harmful bacteria from meat we should cook it thoroughly during preparation. So which is it – does the bacteria primarily originate from animals or humans? Health authorities seem very unclear about this. And, do you really want to eat something that you have to cook all of the nutrients out of just to make it “safe”, and does cooking it really make it “fit” to consume?

The American Meat Institute has this to say about antibiotic use and its connection to drug-resistance: 

“There is a misconception that somehow consuming meat from animals treated with antibiotics will cause humans to become resistant to those antibiotics. This is simply not the case. When antibiotics are used in livestock and poultry production, strict withdrawal periods must be followed before the animals are processed for foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) monitors meat and poultry to ensure that in the unlikely event that antibiotic residues are present, they do not exceed the tolerance levels deemed unsafe by FDA and USDA.

The industry has a strong record of compliance in this area. Most informed scientists and public health professionals acknowledge that the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans is overwhelmingly an issue related to human antibiotic use.”

And yet the USDA confirmed in early 2011 that 80 percent of antibiotics in use are in animal agriculture, which is about 4 times the amount used in humans to treat disease.

Drug-resistance microbes are prevalent in soils according to a recent report on Food Safety News: 

“Mounting scientific evidence shows that animal antibiotics are contributing to a rise in drug-resistant bacterial diseases among humans. But a new study out of Poland has found high levels of these antibiotic-proof pathogens in the natural environment as well. And yet again, animal antibiotics seem to be the culprit.”

So despite the insistent claims from health and agriculture officials that consuming meat from animals administered antibiotics doesn’t cause resistance, we know better because:

Industrial meat causes sickness and death

There are countless stories of people who have consumed tainted meat, some whose lives were forever changed.

2001: One of the most heartbreaking stories is about a little boy named Kevin Kowalcyk, who died at the age of 2 years and 8 months…due to consumption of factory farmed meat during a family vacation. From the time he became sick to the day he died, 12 days passed. During that span of time Kevin was incredibly sick and suffered greatly, and so did his family.

The meat company that produced the ground beef which made Kevin ill had actually failed tests multiple times that were supposed to detect E. coli and Salmonella. During a long investigation and inquiry, Kevin’s family requested that records about the meat to match up to recall dates be submitted for examination. The company was “unable” to locate these records, and was protected by the USDA. Even after filing a lawsuit, the Kowalcyks were unable to obtain the answers they needed. Since then, his family has dedicated themselves to campaigning against foodborne illness in unsafe food.

2007: Stephanie Smith, a children’s dance instructor in her early twenties, ate a hamburger from her parent’s house and was hospitalized soon after with severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Her kidneys shut down and she had multiple seizures during the days that followed. Doctors resorted to putting her in a coma for 9 weeks. She is now permanently paralyzed from the waist down – all due to pathogenic E. coli in the meat she ate.

Summer 2011: Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey. This incident killed one person and made more than 70 others ill from Salmonella poisoning. The USDA-FSIS released a public health alert reminding consumers to cook all meat thoroughly before eating.

September 2011: Tyson Fresh Meats recalled over 130,000 pounds of ground beef for potential E. coli 0157:H7 contamination in 14 states.

December of 2011: Tyson had another recall – this time, 41 thousand pounds ground beef from 16 states, from contamination of E. coli O157:H7.  Last week, Hannaford Stores, a Scarborough, Maine-based grocery chain, recalled an unspecified amount of fresh ground beef products that may be contaminated with a multidrug resistant strain of Salmonella Typhimurium.

There are countless other food recalls, this list is but a drop in the bucket. There are also food recalls which don’t involve meat, but involve produce or other foods from commercial farms. But these are related to factory meat farms…why? Because many of these foods receive contamination from runoff water from the meat facilities:

Pick a recall, any recall: where does the meat come from? Industrial, commercial sources. You may see big-name “organic” and “natural” meats sold in the grocery store on recall lists.  If you spot these recalls, read the reports and find out the details. You’ll likely learn that the recall was from a big name producer and involved large quantities of meats. These producers are not the same, and should not be confused with smaller, local, and sustainable producers. The reason why is because there are many larger corporations who have latched onto the terms “organic”, “natural”, and even “grassfed”, but are in fact still using some of the same practices as other large industrial companies. Animals are still on feedlots or enclosed buildings, just like with other conventional facilities, and are still eating corn, soy, and grain.

The only requirements for USDA organic are that no hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, or pesticides/herbicides are used. In the case of cattle which are ruminants, consuming soy, corn, and grain can cause health issues, and isn’t much different than the way conventional cattle are raised that are not organic. This will eventually lead to more sickness and meat recalls.

The solution: sustainable meat

Why not just stop buying meat from commercial producers and avoid the inevitable risks associated with eating these animal products? You will be hard pressed to find local, sustainable meats on recall lists or making people sick. In all the years my family has consumed local meat from sustainable, grassfed producers, we have yet to become sick. We’ve been eating this kind of meat for at least a decade – along with other real, traditional food. Besides the amazing difference in the flavor and texture of real meat, the other prominent change I’ve observed is the vast improvement of our collective health.

The farmers who raise the meat we eat care about animal and land stewardship. They also care about the health of the people who are eating the products they produce. Anytime I want, I can go out to these farms and visit the premises, and I know what I’ll find is a far-cry from the disease infested facilities I described in the beginning of this post. I love this interview on Our Natural Life’s podcast series (with Jon and Cathy Payne) with Kimberly Hartke of Hartke is Online! discussing the importance of eating sustainable meat and other foods, and how it is possible to produce our food in this way.

The reality is, if the consumer public continues to support toxic, dangerous corporations producing tainted meat products, we can expect nothing but more of the same. The FDA, CDC, and USDA certainly aren’t worried about shutting down these companies, and as long as consumers ignore news reports about meat recalls and pretend there isn’t a problem, none of those agencies will ever demand that anything change in the industry.

The choice is simple:  

1) Stop supporting large producers who don’t care about the health of the animals, the environment, and its own consumers.

2) Start buying meat and animal products from sustainable farmers in your area who use safe and ethical farming practices

It’s up to you. If you continue to buy garbage, you can expect recalls, drug resistance, and disease to continue. If you buy real meat from honest farmers, this situation will start to change…and the ability of large, bloated corporations who follow no rules but their own and rake in billions and billions of dollars from the sickness and death of our health and environment, will stop.

Since our federal and state regulatory agencies have failed in this task, it is up to the consumers to force our food producers to be accountable for their actions, and demand that they adhere to principles of sustainable farming and food production, or go out of business. 

More information:
1 in 4 meat meat packages tainted with pathogenic bacteria

Questions to ask your farmer: Know what’s in your food!

Huge FDA recall of 10,000 products – Another wakeup call to avoid processed foods

The grassfed meat challenge: Busting myths about meat

Deciphering egg and poultry labels

This post is part of Real Food Forager’s Fat Tuesday Carnival.

Activism Healthy Living Healthy Meat Real Food Toxin Alert!

4 Ways to Avoid GMOs in the Foods You Buy
The extreme conditions in our food supply today call for the application of conscientious awareness and purchasing habits on behalf of the consumer public. Avoiding GMOs is not necessarily easy, but to ensure good health and a clean environment, it’s an absolutely necessity.

Given what’s at stake with regard to current contamination issues of the food supply from the presence of GMOs, I want to focus on ways to make finding sustainable foods as easy as possible, and promoting these buying habits which support more local farmers and producers who use sustainable methods in their food growing practices.

Many farmers have realized the importance of sustainable methods in farming. There are some wonderful organic and sustainable farmers who take careful stewardship of our land. Many farmers and food growers have challenges becoming certified organic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask around and find out which ones are certified organic or who are using “organic practices”.

What’s wrong with GMOs?

GMOs are some of the most common substances now in our food supply. These organisms have been shown to promote the spread of pathogenic bacteria not only in the soil in farming environments, but in our digestive tracts as well. This spread of bacteria has contributed greatly to the degradation of our soil and crop yields, as well as health issues: digestive disorders, autism, cancer, reproductive issues, and auto-immune disorders.

From the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM): “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. Their conclusion: “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation,” from recognized scientific criteria. “The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies.”

Children are especially vulnerable since their bodies are growing and developing, and they are susceptible to the many impacts of eating foods with GMOs in them – liver damage, food allergies, and others. Jeffery Smith from The Institute for Responsible Technology and author of Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, explains why babies and children are more susceptible to the effects of these harmful organisms. “Children consume a large amount of products that may be genetically engineered. They eat a higher percentage of corn in their diet compared to adults, and allergic children often rely on corn as a source of protein.”

Dr. Donald Huber, PhD., professor of plant biology (formerly of Purdue University) is trained in microbiology, plant physiology and pathology, and has a background in genetics. He is a seasoned expert in soil-born diseases and host-parasite relationships, and has researched, written, and spoken about the dangers of GMOs to our environment and our bodies.

Please watch Part I of this informative video interview with Dr. Joseph Mercola interviewing Dr. Huber:

Part II

4 Ways to Avoid GMOs in your food:

Now that you understand the inherent dangers in these organisms, let’s go over 4 ways we as consumers can send powerful messages to farmers and companies using these organisms to produce food.  That means we not only have to educate ourselves, but be mindful about where we put our dollars in buying food and other products that could contain GMOs. Practicing what we preach is critical.

1.  If you must shop at a store, always research where the food or product you want to buy comes from.

This can be tricky to navigate because so much of what is sold in stores is highly processed and suspect, making this the least preferred way to avoid GMOs. If you have no local farmers nearby from which to purchase food, download the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, prepared by the Institute for Responsible Technology.  Get in the habit of asking store employees questions.  If they don’t have the answer, ask the store manager. If he or she doesn’t have the answer, contact the company personally. Many companies which sell products in stores are not sustainable and do used GMO-sourced ingredients.

Never assume a product is GMO-free because it says “natural” or that the meat is not from a feedlot because it says “free-range”. Many of these labels are meaningless and there are no laws in place requiring those terms to be backed by anything.

Buy as many organic products as your budget allows, but be aware that due to loosening of FDA regulations and requirements, organic products are now commonly made with ingredients you might not want or are trying to avoid, so read labels whenever you buy. One example is the sweetener neotame (developed by Monsanto), a chemical derivative of aspartame. Highly concentrated, this neurotoxic sweetener is 7,000-13,000 times sweeter than sugar. According to Dr. Mercola: “In 1998, Monsanto applied for FDA approval for neotame, “based on the aspartame formula” with one critical addition: 3-dimethylbutyl, which just happens to be listed on the EPA’s most hazardous chemical list.“ It often doesn’t appear on the label at all, or can sometimes be listed as some other ingredient that is unrecognizable.

If something doesn’t seem right about a product you’ve been buying for a period of time, make inquiries again because sometimes things change.

2.  Avoid chain/commercial store shopping as much as possible, and keep to smaller, independent health food stores and co-operatives.

Last month, I wrote a post discussing 8 reasons I won’t shop at Whole Foods Market  when they come to Boise, ID where I live. My friend Sarah Pope, author of  The Healthy Home Economist also wrote a similar post about this topic, and why she won’t be shopping at Whole Foods, which will be opening in her area soon.

Both of us feel strongly about avoiding corporate chains that claim to sell local, sustainable foods because we understand how sketchy marketing claims can be and how powerful the lobbying interests of big corporations like Monsanto are to get GMOs in the food supply. In both of our areas, there is really no reason to shop at Whole Foods. In Boise, ID where I live, we have a wonderful health food store here called The Boise Co-op, which has been in our community for decades and heavily supports local sustainable and organic farmers and food growers, as well as merchants who produce other safe, local products.

In Boise, people complain that the Co-op is too expensive. But Whole Foods won’t be any cheaper and there is no guarantee that the products you buy which might be labeled as “natural” (as one example, their 365 line) are free from GMOs, that their meats are 100% grassfed (the USDA only requires that the labeled meat be from animals that are 30% grassfed), or that their products are actually local.  This is one of my biggest gripes about labeling and marketing. Just because it says “all-natural” doesn’t mean it is, and large corporations like Whole Foods are in the habit of letting you assume something is non-GMO just because the label says “natural”.

There are certainly GMO products in other stores besides Whole Foods, so don’t worry, I’m not being naive. But why switch to a large corporation which is putting farmers and other local companies out of business, when you can support your local farmers by buying direct or by shopping at the businesses that stock the same products and you can actually find out whether these farmers use practices you can trust?  Even though Whole Foods has signs everywhere saying they carry local products, the reality is, these stores ship in products from all over the country and the world – such as from China. They stock much less local food product than bigger name products shipped in from who knows where. And, it’s guaranteed they stock a lot of GMO products.

3. Buy from local farmers and ask questions about how your food is produced.

Because labeling laws are so permissive and we really can’t trust big corporations at all, the single most powerful way to make a statement about GMOs and to assure your food is clean and sustainable is to buy from local farmers. You have complete control this way, and can keep looking until you find what you want.  If you decide to settle for something that’s less than what you are looking for because you are just guessing or you haven’t really made an inquiry, you get what you get.

I don’t live in Amish farmer country, but we do have a fantastic community of farmers that produce sustainable food here in the Boise area. I’ve managed to find several good sources of raw milk that are grass-fed. In our area, grass-feeding year round is not always possible. At least I know that these raw milk farmers feed either grass or non-GMO alfalfa hay since I’ve personally talked to them about it. These producers are not organic, so they are not “perfect”, but they are good in many other  ways as they do use “organic” practices.

In our climate, it’s difficult to have cows on pasture all year round. However, there is one farm, Saint John’s Organic Farm, in Emmett, ID which does keep their cows on pasture all during the year, and they are grass-fed and organic. During the winter months, they supplement with non-GMO, organic, alfalfa hay.

4. Learn all you can about GMOs and what to expect, and share with those you know and love.

Spread the word to people around you. Get involved in your own community to help keep local, sustainable farmers in business.

In Europe, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, France, Germany, Greece, and  Luxemborg have put a ban on GMOs. To get GMOs removed from the U.S., the first and most important thing to do is change your buying habits, and get in the habit of avoiding them everywhere you go.

Next, put pressure on legislators to vote for legislation requiring labeling on all GMO products. New technologies, marketing campaigns, and other emerging activities which can easily fool consumers are always on the horizon. Don’t be fooled!

From The Institute for Responsible Technology site:

“By avoiding GMOs, you contribute to the coming tipping point of consumer rejection, forcing them out of our food supply.”

Truer words were never spoken. We as consumers have POWER to take back our food supply and put our health in our own hands. Are we up for the challenge? Are we dedicated to protecting our food freedom, our health, and our future? I am, and I hope you are too!

If we don’t take back our food supply, who will? If we don’t do it now, then when? The time is now, and the situation is fervent. So please, I humbly ask you to reconsider the impact these organisms have on our health, our planet, and the future of our children.  Let’s get serious and change our buying habits for a healthy future.

More information: 

Busting myths about GMOs

Institute for Responsible Technology
for more information and for the GMO Shopping guide, which can help you avoid GMOs both in the commercial marketplace and otherwise.

Millions Against Monsanto Campaign (project of Organic Consumer’s Association). Find out how you can become involved and stop bio-terrorist bullies like Monsanto from spreading their poison seed across the earth.

The Non-GMO project - non-profit multi-stakeholder collaboration committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices.