In today’s paper, I was disgusted to read that two school-age children, a toddler and a 70-year old man were victims of an E.coli outbreak this week caused by raw milk from a Minnesota dairy. The toddler is currently hospitalized with a serious condition related to the infection (hemolytic uremic syndrome) which can cause kidney failure and death. These are unnecessary illnesses and people are putting themselves and their children at risk by drinking raw milk.
Pasteurization is the process of heating up food to kill any bacteria it might contain. Louis Pasteur first tested the process in 1864 and it is perfectly safe. However, some people who drink raw milk feel that beneficial proteins and bacteria are destroyed during the heating process.
According to the Health Department, several dozen people are sickened by raw milk every year in Minnesota. Unpasteurized milk can contain the live pathogens, or bad bacteria, E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter. Most people are careful handling and cooking meat to avoid the very same pathogens. Why they wouldn’t mind drinking them is a mystery to me.
Beneficial, or “good” bacteria can be found in most yogurt and many companies now add beneficial bacteria to other dairy items, including pasteurized milk. I suspect that many of milk’s other beneficial heat-sensitive proteins can be found in other, safe foods as well. Even raw milk cheese made correctly is safer than raw milk, because it contains other microbes that inhibit the growth of pathogens.
Maybe people don’t realize it, but giving their child a glass of raw milk is as risky as feeding them a raw hamburger. I’m glad to hear the state is cracking down.
For centuries, people have harvested corn by hacking it off, six to fifteen inches above the ground. A caterpillar called the corn borer appears to have adapted its behavior to the corn harvest by travelling back down the stalk to a safe height, before spinning its cocoon. This week, the Science Times reported on a study that suggests that, by descending to the bottom of the stalks, the bugs avoid being chopped off when the corn is harvested. Researchers at McGill University think that “over generations, those caterpillars that did not descend, or did not go down far enough, did not survive.” In the article, Dr. Calcagno suggests that the likeliest explanation for this behavior is the selection pressure of harvesting over generations. In other words, only the caterpillars that crawled down survived to reproduce and make baby bugs, until only caterpillars with the family trait of crawling down remained in the population.
Similar forces are at work on bacteria that live in animals and humans, only instead adapting to harvest, they’re adapting to constant exposure to antibiotics. As a result, many harmful bacteria are finding ways to “outsmart” antibiotics. This is, in part, due to the mind-boggling volume of these drugs fed to animals produced for food. I can’t give you a number, because according to the Center for Disease Control’s website, the amount of antibiotics fed to farm animals is not available to the public or to government agencies.
Feeding animals antibiotics helps them grow. No one knows exactly why. Unfortunately, using these drugs as growth enhancers, or even to protect them from disease, often creates antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that have the potential to end up in our food supply. These drug-resistant pathogens are especially dangerous to people who live and work on farms ( just ask Russ Kremer, who was gored by one of his hogs and nearly died from an antibiotic-resistant infection.) In reponse to the global threat presented by antibiotic resistance, the World Health Organization recommended that antibiotics used in humans should not be used to promote growth in food animals.
Healthy animals occasionally need to be treated for infections, but feeding animals antibiotics for growth benefits is a risk no one should be taking. A huge amount of money is spent each year on these drugs so producers can get top dollar for their animals. My worry is that the additional costs to public health are not being considered, especially if our pharmaceutical arsenal is rendered useless by this practice.
First of all, I have nothing against real ground beef. That is, I will eat beef that has been ground by my local butcher or trusted grocer. I love a good burger.
However, starting today, I refuse to eat ground beef from an unknown source (i.e. fast food restaurants and big chain grocery stores.) Not only does the ground beef industry refuse to allow retesting of their meat (they won’t even sell it to stores who retest it,) I just read that one company is taking parts of cow that are considered unusable, treating the beef ”trash” with ammonia gas to kill harmful bacteria that tend to contaminate those cow parts, and selling it to be mixed with higher quality ground beef to make it cheaper for restaurants and schools (yes, schools!) This disgusting meat product, which doesn’t list ammonia as an ingredient, although it remains following treatment, may still harbor dangerous bacteria. It’s unbelievable.
I’m not touching ground beef from an unknown source or letting my kids eat it until the beef industry and the U.S.D.A get their act together. I’d suggest you do the same. Maybe if we all boycott their substandard, potentially dangerous product, they’ll stop trying trying to feed us beef products that used to be made into dog food.
For a more complete story, read today’s New York Times article at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html?_r=1&hp