The proliferation of infectious organisms from animal factories provides ample areas for concern. CAFOs are incubators for bacterial and viral infections that can, and have, caused numerous outbreaks of food borne disease, some often fatal.
In addition, they are catalysts for the presence of highly destructive organisms in the environment, such as pfiesteria piscicida, also referred to as the "Cell from Hell".
Many of the pathogens responsible for food borne outbreaks stem from factory farm manure lagoons that are used to fertilize crops.
It was once believed that washing vegetables, especially greens such as lettuce or spinach, was adequate to kill infectious organisms and protect ourselves from these pathogens.
Let's meet these bad boy infectious organisms that cause so much mayhem. We'll start with salmonella since it is very prevalent although not as bad as some of the others we will meet.
Salmonella are infectious organisms that, despite its name, has nothing to do with the salmon fish. It is named after the scientist that discovered it.
It is a bacterial infection spread by fecal material and is very prevalent in ground beef. If we were allowed to see the filth that feedlot cattle live in and the speed at which their carcasses go through the disassembly line, it would be easy to see how manure can end up in our burgers, burritos and spaghetti sauce.
The book link Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them
pictured to the left discusses a new strain of salmonella that ranks right up there with the other five potential epidemics covered in the book. It is a ground breaking work on the connection between man-made degradation in the environment and disease.
Symptoms of salmonella include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that typically set in between 12 and 72 hours after being infected. It could take around 4 days to a week to get over it and in most cases treatment is not needed.
However, in some people with compromised immune systems and at risk groups such as the elderly and infants the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized.
In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
There are about 40,000 reported cases a year but it is estimated that about 1.4 million Americans could be infected and sickened each year. Worse, the CDC has linked a new antibiotic resistant strain of salmonella to ground beef.
Students are especially at risk in that at least one large beef processing company with repeated failures of salmonella testing is a major supplier of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program.
The company was shut down by the USDA way back in 1999 but, with backing from the powerful meatpacking industry, they sued the USDA, won the case and succeeded in overturning the ruling. Apparently they are still happily supplying salmonella tainted beef to our young school kids.
What is the lesson? It is clear that the U.S. food safety system is designed to protect the meatpacking industry from liability rather than protect the public health from these infectious organisms.
Other infectious organisms in ground beef are the E.coli family, specifically O157:H7. From the CDC, "Escherichia coli (E.coli) are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick.
Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses."
In fact, E.coli can cause severe illness and death among children, the elderly and anyone with a suppressed immune system. Haven't we heard this song before?
One of the most famous outbreaks was from hamburger meat served up by Jack in the Box. On Christmas Eve of 1992 six year old Lauren Rudolph was hospitalized with excruciating stomach pains and died a few days later.
Three more children died with the same symptoms and 700 other people fell gravely ill. Author Jeff Benedict, in his remarkable book Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat, tells the riveting story of this infectious organism that changed forever our relationship with food and put America's meat industry on notice that it was no longer business as usual. Click on the book image above to review or buy the book.
The Clinton administration started random testing for E.coli but the meatpacking industry sued the USDA in federal court to block the tests.
The USDA won this lawsuit and began the testing. However, the system has been so weakened by industry opposition and legal challenges that it is probably less effective than the prior system. In most meatpacking facilities, food safety test are now performed by company employees instead of USDA inspectors.
The CDC estimates that 73,000 Americans are infected by E.coli O157:H7 each year with another 37,000 being sickened by other strains of E.coli, all linked to ground beef.
How does E.coli get into our burgers? Same as with Salmonella...at the slaughterhouse, these infectious organisms are spread when manure or stomach contents get splattered on the meat. Still want that burger rare?
The foregoing might suggest that the problem is isolated to ground beef but in can show up in any food that was irrigated with animal factory manure or from animal factory dairy and meat products.
In November, 2010, all of the cheese from Bravo Farms was recalled after a five-state outbreak of listeria and E.coli O157:H7 that may have hit over 4,000 people. The median age was 16, 15 hospitalizations resulted and one case of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a digestive tract infection that destroys red blood cells and cause kidney damage.
In May, 2010 there was a five-state outbreak from shredded Romaine lettuce from a single processing facility. The toll was 26 confirmed cases and seven probable with three HUS kidney failures.
In January 2010, there was a 16 state outbreak from steaks from National Beef and Poultry, mostly consumed in restaurants. The median age was 43 years old, about half female and 16 hospitalizations and one case of HUS reported.
Listeria is a bacteria commonly found in soil, stream water, sewage, plants, and food. It is known to be the bacteria responsible for listeriosis, a rare but potentially lethal food-borne infection in which the fatality rate for those with a severe form of infection may approach 25%.
As infectious organisms go, Listeria has low infectivity and usually hits the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. Pregnant women also need to watch out for Listeria.
It is a hardy bacterium and able to grow in temperatures ranging from 4°C (39°F), to 37°C (99°F). The disease, Listeriosis, is a serious illness, and may manifest itself as meningitis, or affect the newborn due to its ability to penetrate the endothelial layer of the placenta. Another concern is that the infectious organism has a long incubation period of a month or more. So it could take 30 days or so for someone who ate listeria contaminated food to get sick.
Vegetables can become contaminated from the soil, and animals can also be carriers. Listeria has been found in uncooked meats, uncooked vegetables, unpasteurized milk and foods made from unpasteurized milk, ice cream, and processed foods.
On September 29th, 2011 as this paragraph is being written, an outbreak of Listeriosis from contaminated cantaloupes is in the news. To date 72 cases and 16 deaths have been reported across 18 states.
It is the first reported outbreak of listeriosis from cantaloupes and so far all cases have been traced to the same farm in Colorado.
Cantaloupe photo courtesy of USDA...To Eat or Not to Eat?
The FDA is still trying to figure out how the cantaloupes became contaminated but since we don't eat the outside of the fruit, it is a pretty good bet that the infectious organism was absorbed by the plants from contaminated water or animal fertilizer spread on the fields.
One area that will probably be investigated is the possibility of animal waste or water from area dairy farms finding its way to the cantaloupe fields.
Two other outbreaks of listeria killed 21 people in 1998 from infected hot dogs and 52 people in 1985 from Mexican-style soft cheese.
Concerning factory farms, the greatest danger of contracting listeria is from milk cows. Genetic engineering of dairy cows has resulted in unheard of amounts of milk, today on the order of 2,300 gallons/yr/cow, about 4 times that of the 1950's.
These enormous milk yields cause about 20% of dairy cows to develop clinical mastitis or milk fever, both conditions becoming more common as the cows are bred to produce ever increasing amounts of milk.
These infections and other udder problems are responsible for sending about 27% of all dairy cows to slaughter. The important point is that these are sick cows going to slaughter that will end up in our food supply.
Regarding milk and mastitis, there may be a prolonged shedding of infectious organisms in the milk which can be an important source of infection of humans.
In 2002, the USDA's National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) found that 6.5% of farms tested had listeria infectants present in their bulk tanks when sampled.
Pasteurization and sufficient cooking kill listeria; however, contamination may occur after cooking and before packaging. For example, meat-processing plants producing ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs and deli meats, must follow extensive sanitation policies and procedures to prevent listeria contamination.
About 2,500 infections are diagnosed per year in the U.S. with about 500 deaths per year.
A first line defense for the symptoms of Listeria and the other food and water borne infectious organisms one might encounter may lie in colloidal silver and peppermint oil which in theory interacts with the pathogens and kills them.
This is not an endorsement since we have not tried them and it is only mentioned to make our visitors aware that it exists. Anyone that is interested is urged to do their own research befoe using it.
It is not intended as a treatment or cure and has not been evaluated or approved by the FDA; it should be viewed as a stop-gap until professional medical help can take over.