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The Meat You Eat Can Make You Sick

A fascinating – if long – article on how our meat is farmed and the high cost of ‘cheap’ meat:

‘Healthy’ Cows, Sick Consumers: CDC Warns of a High Cost in Cheap Meat
by Bruce Watson Sep 25th 2013 6:00AM

On the surface, it’s hard to question the cost-effectiveness of factory-farmed meat. After all, the math is pretty simple: You start with inexpensive animals, raise them at relatively minimal cost, butcher them in the cheapest way possible, and sell them for low, low prices.

But the math gets a little more complicated when you look at the long-term health impact of all that cheap meat. Of course, there are the obvious things that everyone’s already worried about — issues like cholesterol and high blood pressure and gout and whatnot — but the biggest downside comes from something that you probably haven’t considered: antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 2 million Americans are hit with antibiotic-resistant infections every year — and 23,000 people die from them.

Doctor Feelgood

So what causes all these outbreaks? In part, it’s our overreliance on antibiotics. Every time your doctor prescribes antibiotics to you, the bacteria in your body grow more able to tolerate them. Those antibiotic-resistant germs can then get passed on to other people, leading to the spread of harder-to-kill infections, which leads to more doctor visits, and so on, in a vicious cycle.

So, obviously, the first solution to our antibiotic-resistant bug problem is to stop overprescribing antibiotics. We should, many health experts argue, save the antibiotics for the times when we really need them.

This Little Piggie Had Penicillin …

But our overuse of erythromycin and amoxicillin is just a small part of the problem. Even if you never fill your antibiotic prescriptions — even if your doctor never writes them — chances are that you’re still consuming a huge amount of antibiotics in your food. More specifically, in your meat.

When factory farms look for ways to cut costs, space is one of the first things to go: Factory owners often crowd animals together in cramped pens. But when cows, pigs and chickens live in such cramped conditions, often with open wounds and amid ever-growing piles of feces, the barns become a breeding ground for bacterial infections. One way to cut back on this is to give the animals more space. Another way is to pump them full of antibiotics.

Not surprisingly, most factory farm operations go for the latter. In fact, the meat industry currently uses 80 percent of all antibiotics that are consumed in the US. All those drugs keep the animals relatively disease-free — and help keep meat cheap. But it’s not exactly an impressive price cut for the customer: According to one estimate, the use of antibiotics on farms saves the average meat-eating consumer $5 to $10 a year.

And those minor savings may come at a huge cost. Sloppy slaughtering methods often contaminate meat with antibiotic-resistant bacteria from the animals’ colons and stomachs. And, even if factory-farmed meat makes it to your grocery store without becoming contaminated, there are other ways animal waste enters the food cycle: Water and manure that are left over from factory animals often get used on crops, further spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

So What Can You Do?

As I’ve pointed out in the past, there are a few ways to protect yourself. To begin with, you can ensure that your meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F — both at your home, and in any restaurants that you visit. Unfortunately, while this will kill any bacteria hiding inside your burger, it will also transform it into a well-done hockey puck.

Maybe you should just stick to the brisket.

You can also try looking for organic meat. While a little more expensive, it is produced without antibiotics, which lowers your chance of encountering antibiotic-resistant bacteria. For that matter, you may want to think about using organic vegetables — or, at least, carefully washing your fresh produce.

Another option is to get involved. Last week, I wrote about new USDA procedures would cut inspections on chicken and pork, and would allow Chinese poultry to be sold in American markets. Since these plans also reduce the number of USDA inspectors — among the few barriers between you and food poisoning — they could directly affect your health. If you get a chance, you may want to tell your congressman or senator that you’ve got some problems with this.

Given the huge lobbying efforts behind the USDA’s inspector cuts and opening the U.S. to Chinese chicken imports, chances are that both policy changes will happen. Even if they don’t, however, it never hurts to be safer with your food.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance’s Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Food, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Shopping | , | Leave a comment

“Open His Eyes That He May See”

Some of the historical books of the bible have the most amazing stories. What I love about this one is that when the servant’s eyes are opened, he sees the unseen heavenly beings which surround us. Imagine, too, the King of Israel preparing a feast for the warrior force sent against him, and sending them peacefully on their way back after eating and drinking. This is the old testament reading from today’s Lectionary:

2 Kings 6:1-23

6Now the company of prophets* said to Elisha, ‘As you see, the place where we live under your charge is too small for us. 2Let us go to the Jordan, and let us collect logs there, one for each of us, and build a place there for us to live.’ He answered, ‘Do so.’ 3Then one of them said, ‘Please come with your servants.’ And he answered, ‘I will.’ 4So he went with them. When they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. 5But as one was felling a log, his axehead fell into the water; he cried out, ‘Alas, master! It was borrowed.’ 6Then the man of God said, ‘Where did it fall?’ When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float. 7He said, ‘Pick it up.’ So he reached out his hand and took it.
8 Once when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, he took counsel with his officers. He said, ‘At such and such a place shall be my camp.’ 9But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, ‘Take care not to pass this place, because the Arameans are going down there.’ 10The king of Israel sent word to the place of which the man of God spoke. More than once or twice he warned such a place* so that it was on the alert.

11 The mind of the king of Aram was greatly perturbed because of this; he called his officers and said to them, ‘Now tell me who among us sides with the king of Israel?’ 12Then one of his officers said, ‘No one, my lord king. It is Elisha, the prophet in Israel, who tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.’ 13He said, ‘Go and find where he is; I will send and seize him.’ He was told, ‘He is in Dothan.’ 14So he sent horses and chariots there and a great army; they came by night, and surrounded the city.

15 When an attendant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. His servant said, ‘Alas, master! What shall we do?’ 16He replied, ‘Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.’ 17Then Elisha prayed: ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18When the Arameans* came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Strike this people, please, with blindness.’ So he struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked. 19Elisha said to them, ‘This is not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.’ And he led them to Samaria.

20 As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, ‘O Lord, open the eyes of these men so that they may see.’ The Lord opened their eyes, and they saw that they were inside Samaria. 21When the king of Israel saw them he said to Elisha, ‘Father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?’ 22He answered, ‘No! Did you capture with your sword and your bow those whom you want to kill? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink; and let them go to their master.’ 23So he prepared for them a great feast; after they ate and drank, he sent them on their way, and they went to their master. And the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Cultural, Faith, Lectionary Readings, Relationships | Leave a comment