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Study claims pork is unsafe

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Associate Professor and Director of Food Risk Modeling and Policy Lab at Iowa State University and Former USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Scott Hurd questions the efficacy of a study out today from Consumer Reports claiming high levels of dangerous bacteria were found in samples of pork from 6 American cities.

A press release from Consumer Reports, which is published by Consumers Union, asserts the following: “‘Antibiotics are routinely fed to healthy animals at low levels. This practice promotes the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria which are a major public health concern,’ said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports. ‘Infections caused by resistant bacteria are more difficult to treat and can lead to increased suffering and costs.'”

In response to the same claim from Consumers Union Director of Food Policy Initiatives Jean Halloran during the November 15 Food Dialogues event in New York City, pediatric nutritionist Dr. Keith Ayoob from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine questioned the source of “superbugs.”

The findings below are reproduced directly from the Consumer Reports press release, which you can read by clicking the link above.

Consumer Reports tested 148 samples of meat from pork chops and 50 from ground pork. The pork samples came from many major and store brands, but the sample sizes for each were small and distinctions among them could not be drawn. In a separate test to determine the presence of ractopamine, Consumer Reports analyzed 240 additional pork products. Here are some key findings:

– Yersinia enterocolitica, was found in 69% of the tested pork samples. This lesser-known bacteria is estimated to cause foodborne illness in about 100,000 Americans a year, especially children, and is associated with pork.

– Salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, or listeria monocytogenes, more well-known causes of foodborne illness, were found in 3% to 7% of samples. And 11% harbored enterococcus, which can indicate fecal contamination and can cause non-foodborne related infections such as urinary-tract infections.

– Most of the bacteria found were resistant to at least one of the tested antibiotic drugs. This is also worrisome because people infected by those bugs may need to take a stronger (and more expensive) antibiotic.

– Ground pork was more likely than pork chops to harbor pathogens.

– Very low, but detectible levels of ractopamine were found in about 1/5th of the samples tested for the drug. Beta-agonist drugs like ractopamine can cause restlessness, anxiety, fast heart rate and other effects. While levels we found were below U.S. and international limits, Consumers Union, the policy and action arm of Consumer Reports, calls for a ban on the drug, citing insufficient evidence that it is safe.

– Misleading and unapproved claims such as “no antibiotic growth promotants” and “no antibiotic residues” were found on some packages of pork and reported to the USDA for investigation.

– No labels disclose the use of ractopamine. Government standards for “no antibiotics used” and “no hormones added” claims do not prohibit the use of ractopamine.