Transcript: Viral Meat Spray
The third leading cause of foodborne disease related death in the United States— after Salmonella, and the meatborne brain parasite Toxoplasma, is Listeria, a type of foodborne bacteria that has the rare ability to survive and thrive in cold, acidic, salty environments, otherwise known as deli meats, hot dogs, and refrigerated ready-to-eat chicken and turkey products. The fatality rate of infection is 20-30%, making it the most dangerous foodborne bacteria in the U.S. meat supply.
Unable to rid itself of the pathogen, the U.S. meat industry petitioned the FDA to allow them to use a novel pathogen control strategy. “Virulent Bacteriophage for Efficient Biocontrol of Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-To-Eat Foods,” or as the FDA touted in one of their publications: “Bacteria-eating virus approved as food additive. Not all viruses harm people. The FDA has approved a mixture of viruses as a food additive to protect people. The additive can be used in processing plants for spreading onto ready-to-eat meat and poultry products to protect consumers from the potentially life-threatening bacterium, Listeria.”
Not all bacteria harm people either, and so concern has been expressed that they could also infect and kill the good bacteria in our gut, but they appear to be extremely species specific, and so the main concern has been the possibility of the viruses spreading toxin genes between bacteria, especially given the difficulty of large numbers of viruses from being released into the environment.
It could also allow the industry to become even more complacent about food safety if they know they can just spray some viruses on at the end, similar to the quick fix argument about irradiation. From the industry point of view, who cares if there’s fecal contamination of the meat as long as it’s sterilized at the end with enough radiation.
Last year researchers discovered that you can put the viruses in the feed of the chickens and obtain the same effect. They conclude that, “The phage cocktail administered in feed can be easily and successfully used under commercial condition in a poultry unit.” Another important aspect of the present study is that as the phages that composed the cocktail were isolated from poultry carcasses, their use to reduce Campylobacter colonization in the live birds would not introduce any new biological entity into the food chain, meaning consumers shouldnt complain about the use of viruses as a biological control agent since the viruses are on their meat to begin with.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Serena.
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