You would have to be living under a rock, or on an isolated island, to have missed the big media splash created by the Consumer Reports recent electronically released story titled: "What's in that pork? We found antibiotic-resistant bacteria---and traces of a veterinary drug."
The story is scheduled to run in the January 2013 edition of Consumer Reports but for whatever reason I guess they just could not wait to send out embargoed copy after embargoed copy to the media.
Trouble is, the media pretty much gobbled up what the story says without asking any hard questions. I know I received many a call from reporters who thought my opinions might help their stories. Turned out my quotes hit the cutting floor, so I will offer them to Feedstuffs readers today.
First of all, if I were an English 101 professor and had to grade this composition for honesty, fairness and accurate reporting, I would give it a D. It is full of hype and exaggerations and misrepresentations, just like in the title.
Well duh, they found "antibiotic-resistant bacteria." You can find antibiotic-resistant bacteria in your navel and on your bed post. They are everywhere, including in your nose where 1 out of 50 Americans harbor Methicillin Resistant Staph aureus (MRSA), a bug they just had to mention in the report.
And double duh, they found "traces of a veterinary drug" as if no one expected that to happen. The reason the Food & Drug Administration and the International Codex Alimentarius Commission have established Maximum Residue Levels, or MRLs, for the "veterinary drug" is because it was expected that some would remain at slaughter in some pigs.
More on that later.
The big splash seems to be the often quoted bit about "Yersinia enterocolitica was in 69% of the tested pork samples. It infects about 100,000 Americans a year."
Want some facts you can take to the bank?
The Centers of Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), in its own Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases January 2011 edition, states that there were only 950 "aboratory confirmed" cases of Yersinia in 2009.
The same CDC says, in its annual Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report titled 'Incidence and Trends of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food", June 10, 2011/60(22):749-755 that the incidence of Yersinia infections have declined by 52% over the last 10 years. Seems we should be thanking the swine industry, instead of poking them in the eye.
By the way, when was the last time you heard of someone falling ill from trichinosis as a result of eating commercial pork? CAFOs catch heck from many but they have eliminated this foodborne illness from pork in the U.S.
But back to Yersinia. We slaughter over 100 million pigs a year in the U.S. That makes up a lot of consumption for meat eaters. How can the Consumer Union explain the 69% contamination rate of pork, but only 950 laboratory confirmed cases?
They can't, because it is junk science using junk laboratory testing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not test pork for Yersinia because the testing methodologies are inaccurate and inadequate. It turns out that there are way too many false positives and Consumers Union knew that and tested anyway for a headline.
And the headline included "antibiotic-resistant," which I have already blogged upon and will not go back into detail today.
But to repeat one of my points -- since this "expose" says that "80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals raised for food" FDA says that number is inaccurate and should not be used.
I say it is meant to distract people from a real, serious and honest discussion of the subject of the judicious use of antibiotics in animals, just as the Consumer Reports piece tries to distract by not stating the facts as we know them.
I can let them get away with the 80% stuff, but I want everyone reading this to know that whatever that 80% number should really be, 45% of the antibiotics used in animals have never been approved for use in humans and have no use in human medicine.
Another 41% of antibiotics used are the tetracycline class. I had my annual physical yesterday and asked my physician when the last time was that he had prescribed oxytetracycline or chlortetracycline, the tetracyclines used in animals, and he smiled and said "You have been away from medicine too long. They no longer even make those drugs for human medicine."
That means 86% of the antibiotics used in animals are not even used in human health. Shame on you, Consumer Reports, for trying to mislead the American public and the media.
Consumer Reports also says 11% harbored enterococcus, which "can cause problems such as urinary tract infections."
Are they even remotely trying to get their readers to think that you can get a bladder infection from eating contaminated pork? I haven't been out of medicine that long to have forgotten how people get an enterococcal bladder infection, and it is not from eating pork. Trust me, I'm a doctor.
¨There is a lot more I could write on the bugs, but I promised to get back to that "veterinary drug" that was found in 20% of samples.
That drug, ractopamine to be specific, causes swine to reach a leaner market weight more quickly, saving the Earth's precious resources such as land, water and feed.
It was approved after years of study by the FDA in 1999. It has been used as a feed additive in over 330 million pigs in the U.S. alone, with not one single case of a human suffering any ill effects from consuming pork.
Its safety for humans is beyond reproach. Because of this, 27 other countries have established MRLs for ractopamine and approved its use in their swine herds.
The World Health Organization and the Food & Agriculture Organizations' Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives established a safe Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) and recommended MRLs for ractopamine in 2004 and reaffirmed them in 2006 and 2010. These values incorporate a 50-fold increase in safety levels beyond which a noticeable effect might be seen on humans.
MRLs are established because it can be expected that there may be some residue, even in a drug with a half-life as short as 4 hours, which is the case for ractopamine.
The 20% positive rate for a "veterinary drug" was stated by Consumer Reports for shock value, as if they had discovered something terrible. But if you understand the process, there is no shock here.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission, a program of the United Nations, was established to create international food safety standards and assure fair trade. The Commission has voted on and approved MRLs and ADIs for ractopamine to be used internationally.
The MRL for ractopamine established by FDA is 50 ppb in muscle. The 20% of samples that had any residue were all below 5 ppb, but Consumers Report will not tell if the residue was 1 ppb or 4 ppb. Not that it makes any difference, they are all safe.
Consumer Reports actually tells readers one way to "minimize risk of foodborne illness is to buy from Whole Foods.
Talk about not knowing your consumers and the depth of their pocket books in this day and age.
Lastly, the analysis says, "Our food safety experts say that no drugs should be used routinely in healthy animals to promote growth." They obviously never go to bed hungry.
But do they also include children as healthy animals? If so, are they saying we should not use vaccines, vitamins and fluoride to promote their growth?
Now I remember why I never read Consumer Reports.
Dr. Richard Raymond is a medical doctor by training and a former undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Link to the article: http://www.feedstuffsfoodlink.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=124ECF05FDF84451B3E7