How many more lives must be lost or irreversibly damaged before we finally accept the fact that industrialized farming is killing us? So far, the contamination from a new strain of Salmonella (Salmonella Heidelberg) has resulted in one death in California and at least 79 illnesses across 26 states. According to reports, it appears the outbreak “officially” began in March 2011, when a growing number of cases of Salmonella Heidelberg were noted. However, the FSIS didn’t issue a public warning until July 29, and even then this was a broad statement about potential links with ground turkey. Questions are already being asked about the significant time lag between the March detection of the spike in cases, the FSIS announcement in late July, and Cargill’s voluntary withdrawal in early August. But I have far graver concerns about this outbreak.
While any outbreak of food poisoning is horrific, and the immediate focus must be to treat those affected and identify the source, few people seem to be discussing the larger public health issue: this particular strain of Salmonella is resistant to multiple antibiotics. Scientists around the world link this resistance to years of misuse of medicinally important antibiotics by the intensive farming industry. Virtually all intensively farmed animals in the U.S. receive low levels of antibiotics throughout their lives as growth promoters to help maximize production. While this lowers the price tag on industrial protein, the practice encourages bacteria to quickly become resistant to antibiotics – the same antibiotics we use to treat ourselves. In fact, some dangerous bacteria are now resistant to multiple antibiotics. This means that when we get infected, there are fewer and fewer options for treatment. And we are fast running out of options altogether.
In a recent post we discussed the ruling currently under construction at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) which would allow certain state-inspected slaughter plants to perform federal inspections on meat and poultry. The comment period has been extended, and we invite anyone who has an interest in this to add your two cents to the discussion (read full post for instructions). This ruling could have tremendous implications for livestock farmers using independent, state-inspected plants who are now limited to selling product within state lines, and could dramatically expand their marketing capabilities. Cooperative inspection has the potential not only to benefit independent farmers and slaughter plants, but could have positive animal welfare implications through reduced transport time.
The USDA's Federal Safety and Inspection Service recently proposed regulations that will allow certain state-inspected plants to ship meat and poultry in interstate commerce. This impressive development is part of USDA's larger initiative, "Know Your Farmers, Know Your Food," which seeks to develop economic opportunities within regional and local food systems. Secretary Vilsack and Under Secretary Mande are to be applauded for such a far-sighted decision, one which could have a transformational effect on independent livestock producers.