October 29th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Can David Asper’s research help protect our global food and water supply?
A graduate student in veterinary microbiology at the University of Saskatchewan, Asper is working on a new cattle vaccine that may potentially stop E. coli at its source.
Asper’s research builds on the work of his supervisor, Andrew Potter, PhD. As director of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization–International Vaccine Centre, Dr. Potter helped create the first cattle vaccine against E. coli O157, which prevents bacteria from attaching to, and colonizing in, a cow’s intestines.
Human illness occurs when meat becomes contaminated during slaughter or if feces mix with groundwater, thereby polluting drinking water, swimming water and/or food supplies. Infections can be mild, but some are severe to life-threatening.
“The E. coli O157 vaccine is the first of its kind worldwide and is expected to significantly lessen the amount of E. coli O157 present in food products and also in the environment,” Dr. Potter says.
But O157, while the most prevalent E. coli strain in North America, is one of hundreds of bacteria that cause disease by producing Shiga toxin (STEC). Even healthy cows can carry STEC bacteria, so identification of infected cattle can prove difficult.
“Right now, STEC bacteria is the No. 1 cause of renal [kidney] failure in children around the world,” Asper says. “It affects adults, too, but children are the most susceptible.”
Asper’s vaccine prototype could protect cattle against several non-O157 bacteria. It will be tested on mice and cattle over 3 to 5 years.
“We can protect humans by vaccinating animals before they come in contact with the pathogen,” he says. “I think that’s very important work that will lead to a lot fewer infections.”
Beef and dairy producers could also benefit from Asper’s work. When STEC is found in just one meat sample, beef processors are required to destroy the entire shipment—a significant cost to farmers.
Photo by Scott Bell
Read More:Stopping E. Coli at Its Source
October 8th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Last Sunday, the New York Times published E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection, in which reporter Michael Moss informs us that “eating ground beef is still a gamble.”
The newspaper obtained corporate records that indict our broken food-safety system. E. coli remains an ever-present threat, which is bad news for a nation that loves its burgers.
”The majority of E. coli comes into processing plants on the hides of grain-fed feedlot cattle and in their guts,” says Allen Williams, PhD, chief operating officer at Tallgrass Beef, a producer of grass-fed meats. “Most beef in the United States comes from cattle that are fattened on grain in feedlots. Grain diets alter the rumen pH in the gut to allow the acid-resistant bacteria, such as pathogenic E. coli bacteria, to grow and thrive.
“Grass-fed cattle are much less prone to the pathogenic forms of E. coli that usually lead to sickness and recalls,” he adds. “Since 100% of grass-fed cattle are fed only forage diets and raised in the pasture, they are clean inside and out.”
If you enjoy a good burger and haven’t yet switched to grass-fed organic beef, now’s the time. Burger lovers can follow my mom’s example.
Read More:Ground Beef “Still a Gamble”
August 31st, 2009 - Laura Klein
I’m a huge proponent of grass-fed beef, from birth to market (not finished on grains). Cows, biologically, are created to graze on grass – not feast on nutrient-poor grains. Grain-fed beef is the result of large agribusinesses wanting to fatten up cows as quickly as possible, regardless of the harm it does to their health (not to mention how grain diminishes the nutritional quality of the meat consumers wind up eating!).
Another reason I love grass-fed beef is that it’s simply cleaner.
Feedlot cattle stand all day long in dirt and manure. You can imagine how much harder it is to remove all the fecal contamination given that scenario.
Pasture-raised animals are much easier to clean “because they come from small herds raised in relatively clean pastures,” according to Meat Marketing and Technology’s associate editor. Most U.S. cattle, he said, “are raised in far larger numbers in congested and typically less sanitary feed lots.”1
The E. coli Question
E. coli contamination occurs when manure from an animal comes in contact with meat in the slaughterhouse. The less manure on an animal when it enters the slaughter house, the less likely the meat will become contaminated.
Some studies show that grass-feeding (vs. grain feeding) may reduce the number and acidity of E. coli in the digestive tract of cattle.
Another study shows that E. coli from grass-fed cattle is more likely to be killed by the natural acidity of our digestive tract and therefore might be less likely to survive and make us ill. The reason for the greater persistence of E. coli from grain-fed cattle, the researchers speculated, is that feeding grain to cattle makes their digestive tracts abnormally acidic. Over time, the E. coli in their systems become acclimated to this acid environment. When we ingest them, a high percentage will survive the acid shock of our digestive juices. By contrast, few E. coli from grass-fed cattle will survive because they have not become acid-resistant.2
Science and the Senate: HR 2749
Time after time, scientific evidence proves that it’s industrialized animals that spread E.Coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella. Let’s hope that the senate, who will soon be voting on HR 2749 – the so-called Food Safety Enhancement Act – take these types of facts into consideration.
1“The Future of Food Safety,” by Joshua Lipsky. Meat Marketing and Technology, April 2001
2 Russell and Diez-Gonzalez (Microbes Infect 2, No. 1 (2000): 45-53.)
Read More:Don’t Eat Dirty Meat!
August 17th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
They call it “bench trim”—remnants from steaks and other cuts of meat that are used to make ground beef.
In an attempt to prevent E. coli outbreaks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service has issued a guidance that amps up inspection efforts. Inspectors would begin taking samples of bench trim, which is not routinely tested, during site visits.
According to FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, the guidance—which would apply to mainstream and organic meat producers—represents a shift from a reactive (dealing with outbreaks) to a proactive (preventing contamination) agenda.
In recent years, E. coli has been responsible for numerous outbreaks. The bacterium can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and kidney failure. Most susceptible to infection are children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
Consumer groups, lawmakers and the Obama administration have demanded FDA reforms and an overhaul of our antiquated food safety system.
Read More:A Safer Beef Supply?
August 5th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Food historian and self-described “full red-blooded carnivore” Betty Fussell understands that Americans are “caught up in the romance of beef.”
As she writes in Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef:
I felt that when I ate steak, I was sinking my teeth into the myth of the Frontier—the Marlboro cowboy busting his bronc, the cast-iron skillet on an open fire, the smell of tobacco and burnt coffee, a soft neigh or two from a tethered horse, the clank of a metal spur, the wheeze of a harmonica, a black sky full of stars.
But Fussell also acknowledges the stark realities of factory farms and slaughterhouses, animal cruelty, E. coli, mad cow disease and the toll meat production takes on our environment.
She talks with folks like Connie and Doc Hatfield of Country Natural Beef, who prove it’s possible to raise cattle humanely, without feeding them hormones or antibiotics, and without polluting the environment.
This makes Raising Steaks a fascinating anthropological read for organic foodies, whether you’re a meat eater, vegetarian or flexitarian.
Read More:Raising Steaks
June 30th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Right before Memorial Day, as Americans prepared for holiday barbecues, I informed you of a recall involving 96,000 pounds of ground beef potentially contaminated with E. coli.
Now, with Fourth of July barbecues only days away, we face another beef recall. JBS Swift Beef Co., based in Greeley, CO, has recalled approximately 380,000 pounds of assorted beef products that may be contaminated with E coli. Not surprisingly, its a huge factory farm.
Once again, this is a Class I recall, defined as “a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.”
The CDC is investigating 24 illnesses in multiple states; 18 appear to be associated with the recalled beef.
The beef products were produced on April 21 and were distributed both nationally and internationally. Click here for a PDF file that lists recalled products.
As noted yesterday, multiple recalls have eroded consumer confidence in the food industry.
From Our Organic Blog: DIY Ground Beef
Read More:New Beef Recall Announced
June 10th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Hot dogs get a bad reputation, and deservedly so. They’re high in saturated fat, sodium, nitrates, cancer-causing compounds and pig parts I have no desire to eat.
But summer isn’t the same without a juicy, grilled frankfurter on a toasted bun. Fortunately, there are healthier, lower-fat natural, organic and vegetarian cures for your hot-dog cravings.
The Great Organic Uncured Hot Dog from Applegate Farms is made from organic grass-fed beef, as are Niman Ranch’s Fearless Franks and Organic Prairie’s Uncured Hot Dogs. Organic Prairie also offers chicken dogs and turkey dogs.
If you’re a vegetarian, check out the Lightlife line of Smart Dogs, Tofu Pups, Veggie Dogs and Pretzel Dogs. Another meatless option is the Yves line of Hot Dogs, Good Dogs, Tofu Dogs and Jumbo Hot Dogs.
Be sure to top your dog with organic condiments. I’ll show you some of my favorites tomorrow.
Read More:Hot Dog Stand
March 17th, 2009 - Gerald "Gerry" Pugliese
I don’t eat meat. So this doesn’t matter to me, but what would you do if someone served you a hamburger and said the beef came from cows too weak or sick to stand. Hopefully you’d be too grossed out to eat it.
These animals are called “downer” cows and many health experts insist keeping these cows in the food system heightens the risk of mad cow disease.
As a result, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has banned downer cows from our food supply. Vilsack calls the move an advance in food safety and the humane treatment of animals.
During last week’s presidential address President Obama called the current U.S. food inspection system a hazard to public health, citing the recent salmonella-peanut butter outbreak responsible for hundreds of illnesses and nine deaths.
Last year a partial ban on downer cows was put in affect, but surprise-surprise, there was a loophole. If a cow collapsed after passing government food inspection it was allowed into the food supply. This move was initiated after the U.S.’s first case of mad cow disease in 2003.
In 2006 the Bush administration dramatically cut back testing for mad cow disease, despite mad cow outbreaks in Texas in 2005 and Alabama in 2006.
Via the Associated Press.
Read More:Downer Cows Ousted from Food Supply