Why Is Selling Salmonella-Tainted Chicken Legal?

Why Is Selling Salmonella-Tainted Chicken Legal?
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When researchers last year at the Emerging Pathogens Institute ranked foodborne pathogens to figure out which was the worst, Salmonella was number one on their list. Salmonella was ranked the food poisoning bacteria with the greatest public health burden on our country, the leading cause of food poisoning hospitalization, and the number one cause of food-related death. Where do you get it from?

In my video Total Recall I talked about the threat of eggs. According to the FDA, 142,000 Americans are sickened every year by eggs contaminated with Salmonella. That’s an egg-borne epidemic every year. But Salmonella in eggs was only ranked the tenth worst pathogen-food combination. Salmonella in poultry ranks even worse, the fourth worst contaminated food in the United States in terms of both cost and quality-adjusted years of life lost.  In terms of getting Salmonella poisoning from various U.S. foods, eating chicken may be eight times riskier than eating eggs.

Due to strengthening of food safety regulations under the Clinton administration, the number of Americans poisoned by chicken dropped every year from about 390,000 to 200,000. This was rightly hailed as a significant accomplishment. So now eating chicken only sickens 200,000 people in the U.S. every year. Isn’t that a bit like some toy company boasting that they’ve reduced the amount of lead in their toys and they’re now poisoning 40 percent fewer kids? Hundreds of thousands sickened isn’t exactly something to boast about, and the numbers have since rebounded upwards.

Since the late ’90s human Salmonella cases have increased by 44 percent. The rebound in incidence of Salmonella infection is likely a result of several factors, but one important risk factor singled out is eating chicken, since the proportion of chicken carrying infection has increased.  When people think manure in meat they typically think ground beef, but when you look at E. coli levels there’s fecal matter in about 65 percent of American beef, yet in more than 80 percent in poultry (chicken and turkey).

Why have we seen a decrease in the Jack-in-the-box E. coli O157 but not chicken-borne Salmonella? In the last decade or so, E. coli infected beef and children has dropped by about 30 percent. Salmonella, on the other hand, has actually increased over the last 15 years. One reason for the difference is that the O157:H7 was declared an “adulterant,” defined as any poisonous or deleterious substance that may render meat injurious to health. So selling E. coli laden beef is illegal.

Why is beef laced with E. coli contaminated fecal matter considered adulterated, but chicken laced with Salmonella contaminated fecal matter okay? Salmonella certainly kills more people than the banned E.coli. It all goes back to a famous case I detail in my video Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey: Deadly But Not Illegal, when the American Public Health Association sued the USDA for putting its stamp of approval on meat contaminated with Salmonella.

What could the USDA possibly say in meat’s defense? They pointed out that there have been Salmonella outbreaks linked to dairy and eggs, for example, too, so since “there are numerous sources of contamination which might contribute to the overall problem.” It would be “unjustified to single out the meat industry and ask that the Department require it to identify its raw products as being hazardous to health.” That’s like the tuna industry arguing there’s no need to label cans of tuna with mercury levels because you can also get exposed eating a thermometer.

The DC Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the meat industry position, arguing you can allow potentially deadly Salmonella in meat because, “American housewives are…normally are not ignorant or stupid and their methods of preparing and cooking of food do not ordinarily result in salmonellosis.” What?! That’s like saying oh, minivans don’t need seatbelts because soccer moms don’t ordinarily crash into things.

I’ve talked about this travesty before in my blog post Why is it Legal to Sell Unsafe Meat? and video Unsafe at Any Feed. Don’t worry, though, the meat industry is on it! See my videos Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray (if you dare! :)

My video Food Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination explains that raw meat can be dangerous no matter how long you cook it and Fecal Bacteria Survey features an industry trade journal explaining the difference between the attitude in Europe and The United States.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned the USDA to bar the sale of Salmonella-contaminated meat, but so far to no avail.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2014 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image credit:  futureshape / Flickr

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  • RunsWithPoodles

    I have a solution: Don’t eat chicken.

    • beccadoggie10

      Better solution. Don’t eat factory farmed fish, meat or eggs because manure from egg layers is fed to other livestock, and if that manure has salmonella, the other animals may also be infected. And, if the manure from those animals makes it’s way to water ways, melons, spinach and other veggies are also tainted.

      It is NOT that organic farmers do not know how to kill the bacteria in the compost, by bringing it up to temperature before using it on the fields. It’s because that waste is dumped into public waters, which has become a sewer for factory farming.

      After all, the DEAD ZONE in the Gulf of Mexico is increasing because of this waste ending up in the Mississippi River and being dumped off the continental shelf into the Gulf. Without enough oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico, it cannot sustain life. And this occurred before the BP oil spill.

      • Alice Hilt

        Our food supply is all contaminated due to corporation owning and running these farms. This didn’t exist when family farmers produced our food.

  • stevebillig

    You may want to fix the typo, “In the last decade or so, E. coli infected beef and children has dropped by about 30 percent. Made me laugh, but sadly, not far from the truth.

  • RD

    Thanks for posting, I was surprised to read that the cantaloupe farmers were thrown in jail, yet literally every piece of chicken is contaminated with salmonella.

  • JB

    I agree with the USDA that we should not single out the meat industry. We should require the same standards for eggs and dairy too!

  • beccadoggie10

    When livestock are fed poultry manure, which is laced with Monsanto’s neotame to make it taste better, there is little wonder why livestock have salmonella poisoning.

    After all, poultry in factory farming operations have significant levels of salmonella in their bodies because of the conditions in which they live. Cramped together in cages next to each other, above and below each other. Flies in their fecal material, which also land of their feed. And the fecal matter recycled into feed to cattle and other livestock.

    The whole problem is factory farming which is wanted by Monsanto because factory farmed livestock eat more gmo corn and soy, than animals, including egg layers that forage to live. Salmonella is a political football caused by factory farming agriculture, which blames wild birds as the cause of the problem rather than looking into the mirror and seeing themselves as the cause. And, the USDA/FDA only too willing to bring organic birds who forage outside with a lower salmonella rate, into the fray, and then looking for studies that benefit the USDA/FDA’s bottom line, which is to take out small and medium size organic farmers with burdensome regulations, when they were not the cause in the first place.

    Free range livestock, whether organic or sustainable have long grazed outside, for thousands of years and have not killed off the American public. It is only since the factor farming and the significant levels of animal manures contaminated soils, waterways, irrigation waters that have led to increased levels of salmonella in everything.

    This is a political situation, especially when the USDA/FDA do not do sound science but rely on cigarette science by vested interests that results that are wanted in the first place to find themselves innocent of the problem while eliminating healthy agriculture.

    • Alice Hilt

      So what shall we do to correct this unhealthy disgusting way of corporate farming? Now we know the reason let’s take some action.

  • Colin C

    Hi Dr Greger. While your videos point to chicken being possibly dangerous,
    can you tell me if you think there is downside from a diet point of
    view only in using organic chicken broth that has 0% saturated fats and
    0% cholesterol and 2g of protein per serving …but a heck of a lot of flavoring that his missing in vegetable broth?

  • Sally

    Dr. Greger, Thanks for having breakfast with me every morning! I love the news you bring – or sometimes hate it! Do you recommend shingles vaccine for all seniors that have had chicken pox?