Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Our tainted beef problem

Posted By on Wed, Apr 14, 2010 at 9:14 AM

I'll tell you a secret: We only buy organic, antibiotic-free meat in my household. (Of course, there's no telling where the food in restaurants comes from ...)

Why do that when organic, antibiotic free meat is more expensive? Because my husband and I had a little problem with MRSA a couple years ago. MRSA is an antibiotic resistant super bug that can kill. (Anyone who has seen me in person, that's where the scar on my neck comes from.)

When we were first diagnosed, our doctors suggested we may have abused antibiotics. These doctors didn't know us very well because that simply wasn't true.

At the same time, we couldn't seem to get rid of the bug. Either I had it or my husband had it for a period of about six months. MRSA is embarrassing, gross, painful and definitely something to avoid. I knew it could be deadly, but I didn't get really scared until I heard UNC Charlotte's Dr. Michael Hudson on WFAE's "Charlotte Talks" program. (Listen to Dr. Hudson's interview here.)

I called Dr. Hudson, who is now deceased, and told him about our struggles. He was one of the world's premier MRSA experts. With the benefit of his expertise, I wrote an article for UNC Charlotte's NinerOnline titled "Throw your soap away right now." In that article, one of the suggestions Dr. Hudson offered for avoiding MRSA is this: "Avoid foods that have antibiotics in them (livestock are often fed feed that contains antibiotics)."

Since then, I have thrown our antibacterial soap away and we have, whenever possible, stopped eating meat containing antibiotics. And, guess what? We are no longer besieged by MRSA.

Before Dr. Hudson died, I promised him I would continue to share his warnings. With that, I ask that you read this:

Beef containing harmful pesticides, veterinary antibiotics and heavy metals is being sold to the public because federal agencies have failed to set limits for the contaminants or adequately test for them, a federal audit finds.

A program set up to test beef for chemical residues "is not accomplishing its mission of monitoring the food supply for … dangerous substances, which has resulted in meat with these substances being distributed in commerce," says the audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General.

The health effects on people who eat such meat are a "growing concern," the audit adds.

The testing program for cattle is run by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which also tests meat for such pathogens as salmonella and certain dangerous strains of E. coli. But the residue program relies on assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency, which sets tolerance levels for human exposure to pesticides and other pollutants, and the Food and Drug Administration, which does the same for antibiotics and other medicines.

Limits have not been set by the EPA and FDA "for many potentially harmful substances, which can impair FSIS' enforcement activities," the audit found.

Read the rest of this USAToday article, by Peter Eisler, here.

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