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E. coli O145 Ban Opposed by Meat Industry

June 9, 2012 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 6 Comments

One child is dead and 13 others sickened across six states in an ongoing outbreak of E. coli O145. Another child—a first-grader in Massachusetts—also recently died, but that was from a different strain, E. coli O157. After the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak in 1993, E. coli O157 was declared an adulterant, meaning it became illegal to sell meat testing positive for the deadly pathogen, but it remained perfectly legal to sell meat contaminated with the other “Big Six” toxin-producing E. coli strains: O26, O111, O103, O121, O45 and O145, which collectively are sickening twice as many Americans as O157. For years, food safety and consumer organizations have fought to ban the sale of meat soiled with these other deadly strains over meat industry objections.

In the 1990s, the American Meat Institute opposed the original ban on the sale of raw meat contaminated with E. coli O157 despite the devastating effect this pathogen could have on vulnerable populations, especially children. Here’s how one mother described what E. coli O157:H7 did to her three-year-old daughter Brianna:

“The pain during the first 80 hours was horrific, with intense abdominal cramping every10 to 12 minutes. Her intestines swelled to three times their normal size and she was placed on a ventilator. Emergency surgery became essential and her colon was removed. After further surgery, doctors decided to leave the incision open, from sternum to pubis, to allow Brianna’s swollen organs room to expand and prevent them from ripping her skin. Her heart was so swollen it was like a sponge and bled from every pore. Her liver and pancreas shut down and she was gripped by thousands of convulsions, which caused blood clots in her eyes. We were told she was brain dead.”

The ban on E. coli O157 passed in 1994 despite industry opposition, and the number of Americans dying from that strain is now half of what it used to be. Unfortunately this lesson was lost on the American Meat Institute, which continued to fight tooth and nail against similar regulations targeting the other Big Six strains. This week they lost. Meat known to positive for any of these potentially deadly pathogens can no longer be legally sold as of June 4, 2012. Too late for Maelan Elizabeth Graffagnini, though, the 21-month old victim of E. coli O145 whose funeral was held the same day.

The immediate source of the current outbreak has yet to be identified, but the original source is always the same: feces. How contaminated is the American meat supply with fecal matter? See my video Fecal Bacteria Survey. And what about the hundreds of thousands of Americans that die from non-intestinal E. coli infections? Please check out Chicken Out of UTIs.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

Image credit: phil41dean / Flickr

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Dr. Michael Greger

About Michael Greger M.D.

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

View all videos by Michael Greger M.D.

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  • Val0907

    Thank you for helping to inform the public. The greater the number of people who know about these dangers, the more likely a solution will be found in spite of the meat industry.

  • Strix

    So awful to read the description of that child’s senseless suffering.
    What is also tragic is that we have to fight to not be poisoned. 

  • Craigholman

    I live in Idaho, the dairy and cattle capital of the world I think.  I recently taught a class on whole food plant based diet.  It was well received.  At one time the Chamber of Commerce invited Jeremy Rifkin to speak at its Success Breakfast.  He was then uninvited.  No reason given but I understand the politics of this.  I have been asked to email information to those who attended the class.  I love things like nutritionfacts.org as I agree that people should be informed about nutrition.  Where do I get in trouble, i.e. Oprah Winfrey, with libel laws?  Sad that we can’t even discuss things in our country without worrying about legality.

  • LisaKSkinner

    It boggles the mind that organizations such as the American Meat Institute can be against bans or regulations that protect the consumer.  I guess it’s a case of dollars versus consumer health.
    The prevalence of the Big Six also makes me wonder about the efficacy of the huge doses of antibiotics that cattle receive.  Could it be that the Big Six are developing resistance against the antibiotics?  Pass the tofu please.  

  • HemoDynamic, M.D.

    Finally!  Maybe we are getting somewhere in Congress. 

    But the Head still doesn’t know what the body is doing in our Federal Government. 
    Why do WE/they have the prestigious Institutes of Medicine (IOM) showing us repeatedly what animal products (processed and unprocessed) do to our bodies (hence, their recent “Weight of the Nation” series and their NHANES studies as well as numerous other published materials) yet THEY/we spend $16 Billion dollars annually for meat and dairy subsidies?

    Stop the insanity already!!

    Think Globally, act Locally, GO Vegan!!!!  Vote at your local market.  If we all stop buying these products the markets will soon, no longer carry them; because, for the markets too, it is all about money!

  • Mary Jurmain

    The meat industry is unbelievably evil.  I have HAD E. Coli, and I can tell you that, if you get it, you will never forget the incredible pain from the cramping.  It took FOUR shots of morphine and pain killers to stop my screaming.  Anyone who knowingly allows other human beings to suffer this way — especially children — is the devil incarnate. 

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