Stop Bugging Me
is food poisoning? / What
are bacteria? / What are viruses? / Who
gets it? / Why
eating animals increases your chance of infection / The
chicken and the egg / Eggs / Types
of food poisoning / Salmonella / Campylobacter / Escherichia
coli / Clostridium perfringens / Listeria / Botulism / Vibro
vulnificus bacteria / Bugs and Drugs / Prevention
or poisoning? / Will
cooking kill the food poisoning bacteria? / What
can I do to protect myself and my family from food poisoning? / References
Do you eat to live,
or live to eat? Either way, what you eat can determine how you live -
or even if you live. Foods can nourish us, or kill us if they are poisoned
- and food poisoning is on the rise in the UK and worldwide. Foods are
poisoned by microscopic germs that get into them: viruses, bacteria,
parasites and even worms (which can grow large enough to see with the
naked eye). Sometimes, it is the chemicals produced by these germs which
cause us harm. In the following pages, you will learn about the major
causes of food poisoning, what happens when you are poisoned and the
steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.
Almost all food poisoning
today originates from animal agriculture and foods. Even the relatively
few recent outbreaks of food poisoning derived from various fruits or
vegetables have been traced to contamination and runoff from animal manure.
The danger has been worsened by intensive factory farming methods used
in animal agriculture. Thus, the simplest, most effective step you can
take to protect yourself and reduce the problem in society as a whole,
is to avoid eating or serving animal products.
Modern life in the
UK has many advantages. We have the benefit of technology making the
most difficult tasks quick and easy. In one shopping trip we can buy
enough foods for a month as best before dates get further away. Ready-made
meals are becoming a part of everyday life, people eat out on a regular
basis and take out and fast foods are readily available. However there
is a price to pay for such "luxuries", and I don't just mean
money. Food produced on a big scale leads to food poisoning on a big
scale as there are many opportunities for bacterial and other infections.
Food processing plants centralise the manufacture of meals so that one
infected ingredient can spread to many products. And long shelf lifes
can give bacteria the chance to grow to dangerous levels.
is food poisoning?
You know what happens when you eat something that disagrees with you? Well,
food poisoning is more than a disagreement. It can feel like a full out battle
between your body and the food you have eaten! Usually between 12 and 24 hours
after eating the contaminated food you feel abdominal pain which is quite mild
at first but it becomes stronger and stronger. The pain can be excruciating
and may lead to explosive diarrhoea. Your temperature may rise as high as 102°F/39°C.
Vomiting may follow and dehydration (sunken eyes, a dry mouth and a rising
pulse rate) may result. Usually the illness lasts for five to 10 days, with
a further one to two weeks before you feel well again. The loss of salt and
water from the body can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Food poisoning occurs
as a result of eating food that is contaminated by metal, chemicals or micro-organisms,
such as bacteria and viruses.
Bacteria are the main cause of food poisoning. They are micro-organisms that
exist everywhere; in the air we breathe, in the water we drink and in the food
we eat. Some bacteria live on our skin, in fact there are on average one million
per square inch. There are also bacteria which live in our guts protecting
us against infection. Too many bacteria in our system can lead to illness and,
because they can reproduce at a phenomenal rate, it is easy for them to get
out of control. If bacteria are allowed to incubate in the foods we eat then
problems will ensue. Sometimes people are not poisoned by the bugs themselves,
but by the chemicals which they release into food.
Virus is the term applied to a group of infective agents. Viruses are smaller
and simpler than bacteria and cannot reproduce unless they are inside a host
cell. Some viruses infect cells and destroy them and some co-exist with their
host. The viruses that infect bacteria and destroy them are called bacteriophages
and they are among the most complex viral particles known. They can cause infection
by killing off healthy bacteria or by causing toxic substances to be released
into cells during the virus life cycle.
The following table shows that eating animal products is a big risk in terms
of food poisoning and is making over a million people ill - some very seriously
- every year. However, this figure is thought to be a conservative estimate
(most people dont report their illness) and the government reported in
February 1999, that 9.5 million people in the UK get food poisoning each year,
at a cost of £750 million to the National Health Service (1). Those most
endangered by food poisoning are the elderly, pregnant women and children under
one year old, but anyone can suffer. A massive 95% of all food poisoning cases
are caused by eating animal products. Only 5% are from plant foods however
much of this is from contamination by animal manure or from animal products.
For example, a Listeria outbreak in New England was traced to coleslaw made
from cabbage that had been fertilised with manure from a herd of sheep infected
with the bacteria (33). A diet free of meat, fish, milk and eggs is by far
the safest and one that I highly recommend.
eating animals increases your chance of infection
It makes sense that
bugs in animals are much more likely to infect us than bugs found in
plants. Animals are closer to us biologically than plants and so, for
example, bacteria in a cow are more adapted to living in cells that are
similar to human cells, than bacteria from a carrot. In fact, people
catch many diseases from cattle including tuberculosis, Listeria, cryptospiridium,
Salmonella, E coli poisoning and BSE. We are also infected with various
bugs from all other farmed animals.
Food poisoning is becoming
bigger, more complex and harder to control. Meat is a main culprit because
bugs love it! Bacteria can multiply extremely rapidly given the opportunity,
and meat, cheese, eggs and milk all provide the ideal environment for
bacterial growth. From cradle to grave, or should I say from birth to
plate, food poisoning bugs have several chances to infect meat:
1. The conditions
in which the animal lives:
Like us, animals are at their healthiest when they are happy. Those that are
placed under stress are more susceptible to infection and illness. As farming
has become more and more intensive, livestock are primarily selected for growth
rather than disease resistance. Factory farming is at the root of the problem
of food poisoning. Thousands of animals squeezed into cramped, dirty and unnatural
habitats leads to problems. The main aim of intensive or factory farming is
to have maximum output with minimum input or basically to make a lot of money.
It is well known that when people are forced to live in camps, slums and other
overcrowded and unsanitary places infection is inevitable. Intensive farming
involves crowding as many animals as possible into a limited space - making
infection unavoidable. Bacteria and viruses thrive in this environment and
can infect large numbers of animals within a very short time. Also, poor ventilation
in buildings means that airborne bacteria spread easily.
Intensive farming means
that every waking hour of the animal is manipulated to ensure a rapid
and high yield. This is a strain on the animals involved and has its
E. coli O157 inhabits
cattle in two forms. In its normal state in their gut, it is comparatively
harmless. But when the animal is under pressure, like when cattle are
subjected to the stress of being herded through the mass production process
of a modern industrial slaughterhouse, the bacterium breaks out into
the bloodstream. This causes diarrhoea and the potential for spreading
the lethal infection becomes enormously greater (2). Add to this the
safety problems which are increased because of a lack of testing, lack
of controls, and lack of care at each stage of the food chain, and you
have a recipe for disaster.
2. The food that
In Britain, cows were fed the brains of other cows and sheep which led to a
fatal disease - BSE or mad cow disease. After years of government denial, it
was finally acknowledged in 1996 that this disease can pass to people via infected
meat, causing a lethal brain infection called nvCJD (new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob
Disease). This shows the dangers of forcing herbivores to eat the remains of
other animals. In the UK, ruminants can no longer be fed mammalian meat and
bonemeal. Cattle can still be given tallow and gelatine from pig bones. In
other countries, such as the US, farmed animals are still fed the remains of
other animals, as well as their faeces (coated with molasses) - an ideal way
to spread diseases.
3. At the slaughterhouse:
When an animal arrives at the slaughterhouse it may be covered in faeces. This
is a major source of contaminated meat because potentially fatal organisms
such as E. coli O157 and Salmonella can enter a meat processing plant on
the skins of infected animals.
costs to be kept to a minimum the animals are put through the system
as quickly as possible. Speed is of great importance in the process and
similar principles apply for the preparation of chickens, cattle, sheep
and pigs. Automated slaughter and processing on a factory production
line means that the bacteria and viruses can spread widely. The same
implements are used to slaughter one animal after another with little
washing in-between so the bacteria spread rapidly between carcasses.
When the animal is split open his insides fall out along with the contents
of the gut, which is often where the bacteria live. It is likely that
the bacteria will spill onto the rest of the animal and infect the meat.
If a living animal went into a slaughterhouse bug-free, there is a good
chance that she would emerge as a disease-ridden carcass. And dont
count on the government to stop contaminated carcasses from reaching
the market. One investigation determined that meat inspectors in chicken
processing plants have an average of two seconds per bird to check for
signs of contamination (3).
4. Butchering and
A lack of hygiene can cause food poisoning bacteria to be spread. Processed
meats tend to be more dangerous because cooked meats are the ideal breeding
ground for bacteria.
A combination of poor food handling, inadequately trained staff and insufficient
legal controls create an environment which is highly conducive to outbreaks
of food poisoning.
6. In the home:
Cross-contamination from raw to cooked meat can spread bugs. There is also
a chance of cross-contamination from raw meat to vegetables. Bad hygiene
in the kitchen is a common cause of food poisoning.
7. Unfit meat:
There is a huge trade in illegally selling meat that is unfit for human consumption
to shops and caterers nationwide. In March 2001 more than two tonnes of
meat were seized by police at Denby Poultry Products, Ripley, Derbyshire
along with other premises across the UK. The unfit meat was supposed to
be used for pet food but instead was being sold for human consumption.
In April 2001, 40 tons of unfit chicken meat were seized in Liverpool -
destined for supermarkets, restaurants, schools and hospitals. The dangerous
meat was being sold as meat paste, chicken burgers and had also been packaged
as leg and breast portions and distributed across Britain.
Further, in June 2001
a report by the European Commission stated that British consumers cannot
be sure of the safety of British meat and other raw materials in
mince, sausages, pies and other processed products (21). The report
says that the overall situation on meat products gives rise to
serious concern and checks on raw materials for food were weak
or even non-existent. It also said that most meat plants could
not trace the meat they were buying to their original sources.
chicken and the egg
Intensive farming reaches
its peak with chickens so it is not surprising that chicken meat and
eggs are the most common source of food poisoning bacteria. According
to Time Magazine, bad chicken kills at least 1,000 people in the US each
year. In the UK Salmonella is found in up to 30 per cent of broiler chickens
on supermarket shelves (Food Standards Agency, 2000) (23) and infected
nearly 175,000 people in 1999 (Public Health Laboratory Service, 22).
Between 50 and 100 people die annually from Salmonella infections in
the UK and it's not difficult to work out why. Broiler chickens (those
reared for meat) are kept in appalling conditions and given growth promoters
and other drugs daily. Thousands of them are squeezed into a shed, fed
constantly in artificial light, and not cleaned out once during their
six week lives. So not only do they live in their own excreta, they also
live on top of the chickens that die in the process. Twelve per cent
of broiler chickens don't survive the ordeal (5).
There are 2,000 different
types of Salmonella bacteria and the intestines of the chicken act like
a reservoir and provide the potential for the spread of bacteria. In
recent years, the amount of chicken eaten in the UK has risen dramatically,
so it is not surprising that food poisoning is on the increase.
Battery (egg laying) hens are stacked in tiny cages in dim, stinking sheds.
After an egg is laid it rolls into a collecting gully. Food and water are
supplied automatically and lights are on for about 17 hours a day to promote
egg laying. Up to 30,000 birds are kept in each of these sheds. The combination
of a lack of fresh air, selective breeding and the caging of the birds
in overcrowded conditions so that they cannot even exercise, has led to
the spreading of disease and to distress and suffering.
Food poisoning bacteria
can enter an egg by two methods.
1. Ovarian infection -
the infection is already in the egg when its laid. Bacteria get
through the gut wall and into the internal organs including the blood.
Therefore the eggs become infected via the ovaries.
2. Transovarian -
bacteria get inside the egg when the egg is washed (6).
You would not be able
to tell by simply looking at a chicken or an egg whether it contains
food poisoning bacteria. If you eat an infected egg that is not properly
cooked, the Salmonella may grow in you! It has been known for years that
modern intensive methods of broiler and egg production are riddled with
of food poisoning
Salmonella (S. typhimurium and S. enteritidis) infects at least 150,000 people
a year and is usually caused by eating contaminated meat. Infections are
most common in chicken eggs and meat but also occur in ducks, turkeys,
cows and pigs. An animal infected with Salmonella excretes it and therefore
will cross-infect any other healthy animal with which it comes into contact
- at the farm, to and from market and in the slaughterhouse. It would be
difficult to devise a better, more efficient system for recycling Salmonella
than modern livestock farming. Its methods seem tailor-made to produce
disease and spread infection among animals destined for human consumption.
According to scientists
at the Central Veterinary Laboratory: Bacterial infections can
be spread by the airborne route in farm animals, particularly when reared
intensively. For example, poor ventilation in poultry houses can cause
high concentrations of ammonia to develop and irritate the respiratory
tract, predisposing to infection (24). Airborne infection of chicks
and calves with Salmonella is well reported - and in laying hens, within
two days of exposure to Salmonella, the hens were infected in their lungs,
kidneys, spleen, ovary, oviduct and liver (25).
As already stated,
infected animals excrete Salmonella in their faeces. In the case of pig
units, where pigs are forced to stand in each others dirt; and in broiler
chicken sheds or egg layers cages - the chance for cross contamination
is very high. The unhygienic conditions of broiler chicken houses have
been described by scientists studying Salmonella: Broilers are
reared in confined housing and eat, sleep and defecate on the floor inside
the house... During transportation to the processing plant, some broilers
defecate... When they are processed there is evidence that all broilers
will have some faecal material on their feet and breast feathers (26,
27). In fact, Salmonella contamination of chicken sheds can be so high
that steam cleaning or pressure washing of the shed inbetween one batch
of animals being moved out to be killed and the next batch of chicks
moved in, can lead to an increase in bacteria levels! (26, 28)
A government report
in December 2000 stated that up to 700,000 pigs slaughtered that year
could have been contaminated with the Salmonella food poisoning bug.
The governments then MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture) calculated
that 23% of the nations pigs are affected by Salmonella and that
5.3% of carcasses checked were infected (29).
(caused by Salmonella enterica) can be serious in pigs - causing blood
poisoning, acute or chronic enteritis and wasting (mainly in animals
between weaning and 3 months). The septicaemic (blood poisoning) form
kills almost all of its victims. Symptoms of the other forms include
diarrhoea, fever, depression, weakness and sometimes paralysis and tremor.
And sometimes infections only causes mild enteritis or no symptoms.
There has been huge
media exposure of the effects of Salmonella poisoning in people - but
rarely mentioned is the pain and suffering of the pigs.
Factory farms may help
spread this disease as the bacteria infects young piglets via contaminated
faeces. Salmonellae are also in slurry and dust within pig units - some
of the indoor farms visited by Viva! (see Viva! report, Pig In Hell,
37) were thick with dust and slurry pits had not been cleaned out - the
stench pervading every corner of the farms.
Further, live transport
and markets transmit this disease. Up to 20% of Salmonella-free pigs
are infected during transport and at the abattoir lairage from contaminated
Campylobacter is the number one cause of food poisoning in Britain, with more
than 50,000 cases reported in 2000 - and the true figure estimated between
540,000 and 5 million a year (PHLS, 22). The number of cases doubled between
1986 and 1997.
The bacteria has been
found in half of fresh chickens in the UK (26) and in most turkeys. It
can survive for three months on chickens which have been frozen (26).
According to the US
Food and Drug Administration, half of Campylobacter infections are associated
with either eating inadequately cooked or recontaminated chicken or turkey
meat or handling chickens or turkeys. It is also caught from drinking
unpasteurised milk. It is the leading bacterial cause of sporadic (non-cluster
cases) diarrhoeal disease in the US and UK (9, 22).
occurs particularly in children and young adults often five to seven
days after eating infected food. This is because it takes this long for
the bacteria to multiply to huge amounts in the gut and cause disease.
E. coli is a normal inhabitant of the gastro-intestinal tract of humans and
animals. It colonises a baby animal or humans colon a few hours after
birth and performs vital functions for the rest of the hosts life. However,
some strains of E. coli can cause a wide range of diseases - and have increased
in virulence with the potential to cause serious illness. In cows,
E. coli causes one-third of mastitis cases (31) and in pigs it can cause blood
poisoning. Newly born piglets may die within 48 hours and outbreaks can happen
in dirty farrowing sheds where litter after litter is affected. (37) E. coli
is naturally present in pigs but becomes dangerous when pigs are factory farmed
because their immune systems become suppressed due to stress. Also, Professor
DJ Taylor states: Dirty accommodation increases the number of infecting
E. coli bacteria and makes disease more likely (38).
In people, the PHLS
estimates that there are at least 12000 cases of E. coli O157 a year
(1999 figure) with 1084 reported. It usually causes severe abdominal
cramps, bloody diarrhoea and vomiting and lasts up to two weeks. However
symptoms can be much worse.
Sub-groups of disease-causing
E. coli are distinguished according to their method of attacking the
a. Sticking to the
b. Invading the lining of the gut.
c. Producing poisons (or toxins).
The most serious form
of E. coli is known as VTEC- verocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli
- the verocytotoxin is a poison and potent inflammatory. This toxin can
cause severe haemorrhagic colitis (which usually causes bloody diarrhoea)
and damage to the kidneys. Another name for the verocytotoxin-producing
E. coli is E. coli O157.
E. coli O157 has been
of concern since1982 when a discovery was made. Gastro-enteritis can
lead to Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) which is a form of kidney failure.
HUS is a complication of a VTEC bacterial infection. The bacteria sticks
to the gut and releases a chemical into the bloodstream which causes
kidney failure. It is most likely to affect the young and the elderly.
VTEC is now thought to be the biggest cause of acute short term renal
failure in children. Farmed animals, cattle in particular, are thought
to be the reservoir of infection.
Since 1985 there have
been between 100 and 200 cases per year in the UK. One in twenty HUS
sufferers die and many of the survivors are left with irreparable kidney
damage. According to the US government: "with intensive care, the
death rate for Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome is 3%-5%. About one-third
of persons with Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome have abnormal kidney function
many years later, and a few require long-term dialysis. Another 8% of
persons with Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome have other lifelong complications,
such as high
blood pressure, seizures, blindness, paralysis, and the effects of having part
of their bowel removed" (11).
In 1993 there was an
outbreak of E. Coli 0157 which began in the Pacific Northwest in early
January. Over 450 people were taken ill, 21 were put on dialysis and
three died. The bacteria were traced to contaminated frozen beef patties
served in a fast food shop in Washington. A more recent E. coli outbreak
was a little closer to home in Lanarkshire, Scotland at the end of 1996.
There were 272 confirmed cases of E. coli food poisoning and there were
thought to be at least 450 people affected. Twenty people died and the
outbreak was linked to a butchers in Wishaw. The butchers supplied fresh
and cooked meats and pies over a large geographical area and had lived
up to EU standards.
E. coli bacteria is
linked to many foods - turkey roll sandwiches, minced beef products and
milk. According to the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety
of Food, many carcases are contaminated with E. coli 0157 at the slaughterhouse.
The bacteria is transferred from the infected faeces on the skin and
from the guts of the killed cow to the carcass. Professor Hugh Pennington
who studied the outbreak of E. coli in Scotland stated that: the
speed of the production process within abattoirs needs to be controlled
to permit adequate food safety standards. (32) He criticised piece
rate payment of workers - where workers are paid according to the numbers
of animals they kill - therefore encouraging lack of animal welfare and
E. coli 0157 has been
around for about 20 years and has highlighted the weak spots in the whole
food production system. It has shown that the UK government are putting
the interests of the food industry above those of the consumer.
This bacteria normally lives in the human intestinal tract and generally does
no harm. But if allowed to incubate in warm foods, this bug can cause problems.
Infections due to Clostridium perfringens are most commonly reported in connection
with beef and meat products, particularly soups and gravy. Outbreaks are linked
to poor temperature control. Mass quantities of food left unrefrigerated for
prolonged periods before consumption pose a risk. Clostridium perfringens bacteria
are anaerobes, which means that they can only live without air and therefore
in foods that are vacuum packed. They form spores, which multiply rapidly when
food is cooling and heavy contamination occurs. Once ingested, the bacteria
in the food produce an enterotoxin which leads to the food poisoning symptoms.
Listeria monocytogenes bacteria has the unusual quality of being able to flourish
at very low temperatures, i.e. in refrigerators (13, 33). Lactating animals
can become infected in the udder, and if this happens large numbers of
bacteria can be present in the milk (33). Pasteurisation should kill the
bacteria. However, processing can go wrong. In California in 1985, 29 people
died from the bug - from eating Mexican-style fresh cheese. It was found
that infected raw milk had seeped into pasteurised milk at the dairy plant.
Listeria can infect
meat. In France in 1993, 63 people died from Listeria poisoning after
eating infected jellied pork tongues (35). In just three months during
1999 the US government recalled hot dogs and cold meats on eight occasions
due to Listeria contamination. In December 1998, 35 million pounds of
hotdogs and luncheon meats made by Bil Mar Foods, a subsidiary of Sara
Lee, were recalled. Twenty people died in that outbreak. The Guardian
reported that it may have been caused by the long-life of ready-to-eat
foods, giving the bacteria a chance to grow as it survives in fridges
and freezers (34). In fact moving Listeria from a low temperature to
room temperature triggers it to grow faster than if it was kept at 37°C
the whole time.
Listeria has been found
to contaminate two-thirds of fresh and frozen chicken products (22);
and the skin of 58% of pigs (26). It is also in sheep. It is known to
be common in the slaughterhouse - a Dutch study found it in 100% of samples
taken from the conveyor in an abattoir (26).
Listeria is commonly
found in feta cheese, delicatessen and other ready to eat foods, including
hot dogs and meat slices (14). It can survive vacuum packing and even
microwave cooking! (36). Contracting listeriosis produces flu-like symptoms
and is a big risk for pregnant women as it can lead to blood poisoning,
miscarriages and stillbirths and can produce abscesses, meningitis, septicemia,
and death (15). In the UK, an estimated 300 people become seriously ill
with listeriosis each year; of these, about 75 die (16).
This illness is relatively rare and brought on by eating improperly canned
or preserved food contaminated with a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium
botulism which is naturally present in the intestines of some animals and
fish. The bacteria need certain conditions to thrive which are:
1. The absence of oxygen
(e.g. vacuum packed food)
2. Nutrients and moisture (e.g. meat)
3. Absence of inhibitors
4. A suitable temperature - botulism bacteria can survive as low as 26°F/-3.3°C.
Of the infected victims, between 20% and 50% die.
For those with more exotic tastes, according to the American Food and Drug
Administration up to 10% of oysters and other raw shellfish contain this bacteria
which can cause serious illness and has been known to kill people. Viruses
are also emerging as an increasing cause of some outbreaks of food poisoning
from shellfish (17). There is no way of sorting infected and non-infected shellfish,
so its pot luck for the shellfish eaters.
Antibiotics have been
the wonder drug of the last 50 years. It appears, however, that we have
been taking them for granted. Most of today's doctors are willing to
prescribe the drugs for almost any sign of infection, be it a sore throat,
or a headache, or the virus-caused common cold, against which antibiotics
are ineffective. If we take antibiotics for such minor ailments our body
can forget how to defend itself against infection. Therefore our body's
ability to strengthen its own immune system is reduced and we are more
prone to illness. If the antibiotics used are broad spectrum (able to
kill a lot of different kinds of bacteria) it is possible that useful
bacteria will be wiped out along with the infectious bacteria. The body
is then open to infection from other bacterial species, moulds, viruses
and other microbes which can colonise the bacterial wastelands.
The smaller and simpler
a species, the faster it can evolve to survive environmental change.
Micro-organisms are tiny and simple and therefore able to evolve rapidly
to side-step our attempts at control. In fact antibiotics put selective
pressure on bacteria to develop defence mechanisms and to become resistant.
Thus the superbug is born!
The National Academy
of Sciences recently concluded that agricultural uses of antibiotics
pose a risk to the public health (18). The British Medical Association's
chairman Dr. Sandy Macara has stated that: "There is a real prospect
that the majority of our antibiotics could become impotent for the purposes
on which we have relied upon them for 40 years." This is a worldwide
Modern animal farming
depends to a large extent on antibiotics to produce cheap meat. Using
antibiotics in animal feeds is a short term solution to the various diseases
that occur during intensive farming. Antibiotics are widely used as a
prophylactic - to prevent disease occurring in the animals. Looking at
the level of disease and number of drugs used in pig farms in the UK
The government reported
in 1998 (39) that:
be given to sows for metritis, mastitis and for diseases such as erysipelas
and leptospirosis. In most indoor herds antibiotic treatment starts soon
after birth. Piglets will receive drugs for enteritis and for respiratory
disease. From weaning (usually 3 weeks) all piglets are gathered, mixed
and then reared to finishing weights. Weaners usually develop post weaning
diarrhoea caused by E. coli which occurs on day 3 post weaning.
diarrhoea is quickly followed by a range of other diseases. Glassers
Disease (haemophilus parasuis) occurs at 4 weeks, pleuropneumonia at
6-8 weeks, proliferative enteropathy from 6 weeks and spirochaetal diarrhoea
and colitis at any time from 6 weeks onwards.
At 8 weeks the
pigs are termed growers and moved to another house. Here they will develop
enzootic pneumonia, streptococcal meningitis (Streptococcus suis) and,
possibly, swine dysentery. Respiratory disease may cause problems until
slaughter (MAFF, 1998).
Quite an indictment
of factory farming!
The government reported
that up to 10 antibiotics are used at any one time on some pig farms
(39). The antibiotics are also used as feed additives to ensure that
the animals gain weight. For reasons no one fully understands, antibiotics
promote the growth of animals but in the process they foster the growth
of bacteria that can resist antibiotics.
In simple terms, antibiotics have been massively overused by farmers. This
has led to bacteria becoming resistant to the drugs so that when the same drugs
are used to treat humans, they no longer work.
Antibiotics in livestock
feeds have given bacteria the upper hand in human illness and hence they
have been named superbugs. Antibiotic resistant bacteria, or superbugs,
are passed on to meat-eaters when they eat infected flesh. After all,
you are what you eat and if you eat animals you also ingest their diseases
and the drugs they have been given.
Because the antibiotics
given to animals are generally the same as those used for our medicine,
a superbug in your body is likely to defeat any antibiotic that your
doctor can prescribe. According to Stuart Levy of Tufts University School
of Medicine, former president of the American Society for Microbiology,
half of the antibiotics produced in the US today are used in agriculture
(19). As long as intensive farming continues with the extensive use of
antibiotics, coupled with the over-prescription of antibiotics to humans,
the problems can only get bigger (20).
The most recent example
of this is Salmonella DT104 which is resistant to antibiotics. Experts
have linked this strain of food poisoning to pork, sausages, chicken
and sick farmed animals. 25% or more of human Salmonella infections are
now resistant to drug therapy. If antibiotic-resistant Salmonella are
eaten in food they can remain dormant in the gut while being held in
check by the normal intestinal bacteria. Then if antibiotics are used
to treat some other illness they will kill off the normal gut bacteria
and the Salmonella can resist the antibiotic and overgrow. This leads
to serious illness. Many experts believe that this antibiotic-resistant
form of Salmonella is a rising threat, and cases of Salmonella typhimurium
The problem is even
worse than simply the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the food animals
themselves. Bacteria have the capability of rapidly transferring and
spreading the antibiotic-resistance character to other bacterial species,
including those which cause human diseases. Therefore, diseases which
are not even related to food consumption may become resistant to antibiotics,
and hence a much greater threat. The use of antibiotics in animal feed,
by selecting for the predominance of antibiotic-resistant bacterial species,
is thus a global threat to human health for every individual on earth.
This irresponsible misuse of antibiotics is unilaterally disarming our
species from our precious last line of defence, and devastating epidemics
may well be the legacy of the hunger for inexpensive meat.
The use of antibiotics
has made intensive farming possible, but at what price? The meat may
be cheap enough, but what about disease control? What about animal welfare?
What about safety measures?
The choice is yours. Time and time again it has been proved that a meat-laden
diet can lead to health problems and that a diet which is high in vegetable
intake can provide protection from such problems. The evidence is clear and
the action to take is simple. Basically we need to turn more and more to a
vegan diet if we want good health and a long life, and lets face it,
cooking kill the food poisoning bacteria?
Food which is left to sit for hours at room temperature provides the perfect
conditions for Staphylococci to produce a chemical toxin. This poison is called
an enterotoxin and it is not destroyed by heat, so cooking the food will not
prevent illness. Staphylococci thrive in meat products, cold meats, milk and
egg products. Most bacteria can be destroyed by cooking food at a constant
high temperature for a long time. Certainly, eating meat that is not thoroughly
cooked increases chances of infection. E. coli is known as the burger bug -
infecting people when they eat burgers that are cooked on the outside but still
raw on the inside. However, there is no simple way for the consumer to tell
if the bacteria have been killed.
can I do to protect myself and my family from food poisoning?
The individual alone
is limited in what he/she can do to ensure that food is safe to eat.
Because of factory farming, slaughterhouses and processors, it is effectively
out of our hands to control food poisoning. But we can choose what we
eat, how we cook and serve it. By far the best way to avoid contamination
is by declining the dubious honour of being at the top of the food chain.
A vegan diet is by far the safest for you, your family - and the planet.