Bacteria-eating viruses (bacteriophages) have been approved as meat additives to reduce the risk of Listeria and Campylobacter found in processed meat and poultry products, but there is a concern they could spread toxin genes between bacteria.
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 colonisation in the live birds would not introduce any new biological entity into the food chain,” meaning consumers shouldn’t 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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For more about leading food poisoning causes of death #1 and #2 see Total Recall and Brain Parasites in Meat. For videos on other risks associated with processed meat consumption, see Preventing COPD with Diet, Prevention Is Better Than Cured Meat, and Hot Dogs & Leukemia. In my book Bird Flu I have a chapter about more of these creative meat industry "technofixes" (rectal poultry superglue anyone?). For videos on other chicken feed additives of questionable safety, see Arsenic in Chicken and Drug Residues in Meat, and for what Campylobacter can do, Poultry and Paralysis. Please also feel free to check out any of the other 1,000+ thousand topics, and if you didn't like the thought of the meat industry spreading viruses on your food, tomorrow's video is entitled Maggot Meat Spray.