This is a weird place to start this essay about bacteria, but here goes. I don't drink milk. Back in the fifties immunology was in its infancy and since my father and eldest brother had severe asthma, one of the causes was thought to be milk. Therefore the other children in my family unit were denied milk. So I never developed a taste for the stuff. Then later in life, I learned how the stuff was processed, and that just grossed me out to no end and I have never started to drink. Well once, when living in Austin a few years ago I did happen upon a local raw milk dairy and I did drink some of their offerings, and was pleased with both the flavor and texture of the stuff. And also the fact that it did not cause flatulence as some milk products do. (As we know now raw milk contains the enzyme needed to digest the proteins to alleviate farting whereas in pasteurized milk the enzymes are destroyed by heating)(( the single reason why goat milk is better for you is that the enzyme survives pasteurization)) I think we will all agree that bacteria of the incorrect varieties and in too large a number are bad for us humans. That's sort of the reason why the FDA has made interstate sales of RAW milk illegal and 28 states have banned the sale of raw milk within their own state as well. Sort of. It is in fact a very complex issue with the major dairy agrigiants pumping millions of dollars into the open hands of congress every year. And congress then sets policy of the FDA and USDA for the benefit of the big guys, and destroying the competition of the little guys. And it all centers around a few common bacteria. (Watchdogs)
Esherichia Coli or commonly referred to as E. coli is one of the most common bacteria in the world. It lives generally in the intestinal tracts of warm blooded animals. Everywhere. It has specific functions in the environment in which it exists, not the least of which are aid to digestion, maintenance of acidic environment and in no small measure, destroying pathogenic bacterial invaders. This last bit is some pretty new and still somewhat contested research showing that our intestinal bacteria are in fact responsible for a major portion of our immune system. The fact that they are so prevalent in the animal kingdom should be convincing evidence, but for many, the obvious is not enough. Anyway, E. coli have a tendency to help in the digestion of plant material and are necessary for ruminants like cows to have in their systems in order for them to breakdown the feed into usable products. Now comes the odd part of all this. Scientists have isolated nearly 200 varieties of E. coli within six specific pathotypes. For our purposes today we want to look at the Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, or STEC types including E. coli O157:H7, one of the most troublesome strains found. These little guys actually produce the very toxic Shiga toxin as their waste product. Most of the reported hospitalizations from contaminated foods are from STEC from fecal matter through transmission via waterway overflow from large commercial feeding operations. The unfortunate thing about all that E. Coli getting out into the world is that they not only now crap out toxins in the the form of Shiga, but that because the drive to produce really cheap meat has necessitated that the cows be fed huge amounts of antibiotics in an attempt to keep those STEC out of the cows themselves. Definitely a revolving problem. And those STEC then flow out onto fields of produce for humans and poof, fifty million people each year get sick from eating the stuff.
I guess it's a good time to actually define the phenomena, we know E. coli and other helpful good bacteria live in your lower intestines, however if you ingest them, that is E. coli (and actually all intestinal bacteria) from other creatures that have entirely different strains, it causes problems. Colloquially referred to as the Hershey Squirts, Montezuma's Revenge, The Runs, The Trots, The Squirts, The......, well you get the idea. Diarrhea. The CDC estimates that there are over 50 MILLION cases of food poisoning annually here in the US from humans eating food tainted with bacteria from sources that can be termed fecal contamination. Nearly half a million people are hospitalized and here comes the big one, the FDA admits to 3,000 dying each year, the CDC tells us that 22,000 die each year. Who do we believe, well, that is up to you I guess. Does it matter? No, not really. What matters is that the contamination happens. Here is a list of the Fecal Bacteria that are causing the problems here in America put out by the FDA (FDA on Bacteria) It's pretty comprehensive and as I think about it, I really don't need to identify each one as I had set out to do. The thing that we need to remember is that modern methods of manufacturing cheap meat are the major cause of the Fecal Contamination of food in our society today. And, the main reason the death rate is as high as it is as well. When humans consume fecal contaminated foods, their bodies react to the bacteria populations and they get sick. For the worst cases, the bacteria for the most part are now antibiotic resistant because of the huge amounts of antibiotics fed to livestock. When you give antibiotics to animals to prevent diseases caused by horrific crowded living conditions, the bacteria that aren't killed outright by the antibiotics pass their resistance on to their progeny.
So there we have it. Right now you can go to the FDA website and then go to the CURRENT
recall list of foods that have been recalled. There is a list of all
foods, drugs, pet foods and medical devices that have been recalled and
the list is updated daily. (FDA Recall site) The reasons for most of the food recalls, Salmonella, Listeria and other
bacterial contaminants from animal feces. Even though the EPA is
charged with regulating the disposal of wastes generated from
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, the agency does little to
regulate the problem. It is true that they spend an inordinate amount
of time dealing with internal rule MAKING, and have established
definitive GUIDELINES for agribusinesses to follow; however when it comes to enforcing those guidelines they haven't had a lot of success. (EPA CAFO rules)
In fact agribusiness usually wins in courts when it comes to a question
of human safety or spending money to comply with EPA CAFO regulations.
The 2008 decision of the Federal 2nd Circuit Court details pretty
distinctly that agribusinesses don't need to worry about runoff effluent
from their CAFO operations due to inclement weather conditions, such as rain. (2008 ruling)
What this means is that when a giant agribusiness goes into the
business of raising animals for milk, egg or meat production, that they
are required by the EPA guidelines to set up a system to deal with the
large quantities of animal waste produced. In practice, the
agribusinesses create large settlement ponds and dump most of the waste
into the ponds and allow it to settle, ferment and decay. Then they
infrequently drain the water and scoop up the resulting sludge and use
this to fertilize farmers fields. However, if there are storms, and
rain overflows the ponds into local waterways where the CAFO fecal
material and sludge runoff can then contaminate other farms, or local
municipal water sources, that is now, by ruling of the Federal Court,
fine and dandy.
Realistically that's only part of the problem. Live fecal bacteria are present on most of the meat for sale in stores nationwide. Consumer Reports last year printed a report that stated that over half of the chicken samples from
retail grocery stores had fecal contamination. Visible fecal
contamination. 97% of the chicken was contaminated with salmonella,
listeria and other fecal bacterial contaminants. Slightly less for beef and pork. There's something wrong with our system.
I'll say it again for you, the solution begins with you. When we as consumers begin (yes, BEGIN) to spend our food dollars with producers utilizing sustainable and healthy farming methods, most of these problems will disappear. Local farmers, ranchers, dairymen and cottage food industry people make products for people, and do what they can to make sure people live another day to buy from them again. Agribusinesses manufacturer food in the cheapest way possible, and they do it to make money for corporations. You can be a part of the solution, think local, buy local, eat healthy.
thanks, Chef Roy