Vegetarians International Voice for Animals

Dishing the dirt: The Secret History of the Meat

Meat is a dirty, dangerous substance. It’s contaminated, carries infection and kills people. It’s hardly surprising when you consider where it comes from.

95% of food poisoning is caused by meat and animal products. Food poisoning makes millions ill in the UK every year and kills hundreds –usually the most vulnerable: the elderly and the very young. The meat industry and the shops which sell meat hide the truth with shiny packaging and clever marketing but Viva! exposes the truth.

Dirt on the farm: disease on the plate

These are just some of the illnesses found in dirty meat.

Salmonella – caught from chicken, pig meat and eggs. Half a million people made ill each year, hundreds killed.

E Coli 0157 – found in the guts of cows, spread to meat at slaughter. Meat from one butcher’s shop killed 20 and made hundreds ill in a single outbreak in Scotland a few years ago. The commonest cause of acute kidney failure in children.

Campylobacter – the number one food poisoningbug, found in half of all chicken on shops’ shelves. Infects millions, kills 80 to 100 people per year.

BSE – still found in hundreds of British cattle every year. Causes Creuzfeld-Jacob Disease in humans (CJD). CJD is invariably fatal. BSE is now found in 24 countries: others have yet to discover it – or, still worse, are yet to admit to it.

Superbugs – antibiotic-resistant bacteria (like MRSA) are a growing threat to human health. Some kinds are caught directly from eating meat and scientists now agree that the use of antibiotics on farmed animals has played a part in their emergence. In Britain, 20 of the antibiotics we use to treat human illnesses are also used to treat farmed animals

Dirt and disease on the farm

Viva!’s investigations have uncovered the filth and disease found throughout the farming industry. On factory farms and in the fields, we find the same stories of disease, suffering and neglect time and time again:

Chickens are packed together in their tens of thousands, the litter beneath their feet never changed and the stink of ammonia from bird faeces rank in the air. Diseases like coccidiosis (intestinal parasites) spread like wildfire through the flock. Despite routine administration of antibiotics and other drugs, 100,000 chickens die before slaughter every day. Half of chicken carcases on shelves carry the killer bug campylobacter – 40 million contain salmonella. The most virulent form of bird flu kills 75% of the people it infects – and now it has started to pass from human-to-human.

Pigs suffer from pneumonia, meningitis, dysentery, stomach ulcers and numerous other illnesses. Over 90% of meat pigs are kept indoors in filthy factory farms. One in 10 piglets die before they are a month old and dead and decomposing pigs and piglets can often be found just lying around. Breeding sows are forced to give birth into their own manure and these naturally-clean animals are frequently caked in slurry. Half of all pig carcases at slaughter show signs of pneumonia in their lungs. A quarter of pig carcasses are contaminated with salmonella.

Sheep endure fly-strike (maggots burrowed in their skin, eating their flesh), foot rot, pneumonia, infective abortions and intestinal parasites. They also suffer from scrapie, a BSE-like illness and may even harbour BSE itself. Sheep also pick up clostridium perfringens from infected soil, a bug causing over 50,000 cases of food poisoning a year.

Cattle are ravaged by pneumonia (which affects over 3 million a year and kills over 150,000 calves), tuberculosis, parasites, infected, weeping lesions on their feet and diarrhoea which kills one calf in 30. E coli 0157 is produced in the guts of some cattle and can be easily transferred to others in the pasture – and to humans through infected meat.

Fish become contaminated by all the pollutants we dump in the sea: mercury, dioxins, PCBs and other toxins. Many fish carry parasites, especially farmed salmon which are kept packed together and dosed constantly with drugs in a failed attempt to keep disease at bay.

In addition to these chronic illnesses, deadly epidemics devastate farmed animal populations on a regular basis – bird flu, BSE, swine fever and foot-and-mouth are just a few examples. The global trade in meat and livestock spreads disease across continents and borders. What will hit us next, nobody knows.

Dirt in the slaughterhouse

Terrified animals in abattoirs defecate uncontrollably, fouling their own skin and the animals around them. At slaughter and during gutting and processing, faeces and intestinal contents infect the flesh used for meat . Equipment, water and people working there easily become contaminated, spreading parasites, bacteria and viruses. Parts of the animal that no-one wants to think about become so-called “meat products”, eaten by millions of people every day while a slurry called mechanically-recovered meat is used in products such as chicken nuggets.

Vets in the slaughterhouse are supposed to check the health of every animal before slaughter – but each vet has an average of 6,000 animals to check every day. According to an official audit, the Government body responsible for abattoirs officially failed to meet its target for enforcing meat hygiene rules last year.

Dirt on the Shelf

A recent survey of butchers by the University of Wales found that only 50% of surfaces used to store cooked meats could be classified as clean and that in more than half the premises surveyed, cooked and raw meats are kept on the same shelf. The researchers concluded that bacterial counts were too high and that “considerable potential for cross-contamination existed in many shops”.

Dirt on the Plate

The horror and squalor of factory farming and abattoirs lie behind every cut of meat and well known illnesses like foot-and-mouth and bird flu are just the tip of the iceberg. The carved up body parts of sickly animals kept in dirty conditions are the last thing any rational person should want to eat.