Test results on pork products released by Consumer Reports raise questions on food safety and the use of antibiotics in animals raised for food. We talked about it with Dr. Richard Raymond, a former USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety about some of the claims made in the report.
Dr. Raymond, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety 2005 -2008, works as a food safety and public health consultant. He graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical School with distinction and had longtime family practices in Nebraska, where he also served as that state’s Chief Medical Officer. He is an editor for two food safety blogs, Feedstuffs Foodlink and Meatingplace.com.
Dr. Richard Raymond
Best Food Facts: What’s your general reaction to the Consumer Reports (CR) article on their pork testing?
"I give them a grade of “D” for accuracy. It bothers me when a publication like this tries to lead people to believe that there are big problems that really don’t exist."
Best Food Facts: Let’s examine some of the claims. The report says Yersinia Enterocolitica, a bacterium that can cause fever, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, was found in 69 percent of the pork samples they tested. The article also claims Yersinia infects about 100,000 people per year. Is this cause for concern?
"The percentage seems awfully high and I don’t know how they did their testing, but consider this. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 950 cases of Yersinia in the U.S. in 2009. They’re estimating that for every 122 cases of Yersinia, only 1 actually goes to the doctor. That’s how Consumer Reports has come to the 100,000 figure. And 100,000 seems like a big number.
"But let’s compare that to the 350-million people that live in the U.S. That is less than two ten-thousandths of a percentage of our population (0.000029%) who got Yersinia. To me, that is a very low rate. Of course, if you’re the one who gets it, it is considered a big problem. But the bottom line is that Yersinia is not a big problem in this country.
"In 1999, according to the CDC, there were 2,536 laboratory-confirmed cases of Yersinia in the United States. In 2009, there were 950. That’s a 60 percent reduction. That leads me to believe that we’re doing something right."
Best Food Facts: Here’s another quote from the CR report. “Some of the bacteria we found in 198 samples proved to be resistant to antibiotics commonly used to treat people. The frequent use of low-dose antibiotics in pork farming may be accelerating the growth of drug resistant ‘superbugs’ that threaten human health. What’s your reaction to this statement?
"Bacteria is present all over the environment that are resistant to antibiotics. This isn’t anything new. There is no link between eating pork and antibiotic resistance. They also state that one sample was identified as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). If you took 100 people and swabbed their noses two of them would have MRSA in their nasal cavity. So, the MRSA that was on the pork chop they tested probably came from a person, not a pig. Bacteria certainly didn’t become Methicillin resistant because the pig had Methicillin in its system. This is true because Methicillin is not used in pork production.
"There is currently a huge clamor in the U.S. about antibiotics being used in agriculture. The issue deserves a high level, scientific-based discussion, but this report is not based on sound science."
Best Food Facts: The CR report mentions that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are given to animals raised for food – a statistic that has been used a lot in the national debate on this issue. What are your thoughts?
"The FDA has stated that the 80 percent figure is not a valid number. Let’s examine this topic further though. It’s important to note that 45 percent of the antibiotics used for animals aren’t used in human medicine. Another 41 percent are tetracyclines, which aren’t manufactured anymore for human medicine because there are so many more effective drugs doctors can choose from to treat their patients. So, that accounts for about 86 percent of all the antibiotics used for animals. Nobody makes that point. There is no true link between antibiotic resistance in humans and antibiotics used in animals raised for food.
"I also take issue with the article stating that food safety experts say no drug should be used routinely in healthy animals to help promote growth. Does this mean we shouldn’t vaccinate our children to prevent things like polio, mumps, measles, diphtheria … you name it? Should we not give them vitamins? Should we not allow them to use fluoride to keep their teeth healthy? These are all things that promote growth and wellness."