CSPI “risky meat” report called a gimmick

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A lengthy analysis that ranked the riskiest meat categories was released this week, drawing criticism from industry groups and professionals who question the tactics and motive of the group that conducted the study.

Center for Science in the Public Interest The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), is a self-described “consumer advocacy organization” that aims to provide “consumers with current, useful information about their health and well-being.”

Their report, “Risky Meat: A Field Guide to Meat & Poultry Safety,” made headlines on most national media web sites, newspapers and broadcast outlets this week with an analysis that ranked the 12 riskiest meat and poultry categories. The risks were assigned based on outbreak reports and the likelihood of hospitalizations associated with the pathogens most commonly reported in those foods. The risk levels were determined using information from 12 years and 1,700 outbreaks and reviewing 33,000 cases of foodborne illnesses.

According to CSPI, risk levels show ground beef and chicken were rated the highest risk, followed by other cuts of beef, steak and turkey. Barbecue, deli meats, pork and roast beef received a medium risk ranking, and the meats said to be least risky were chicken nuggets, ham and sausage.

CSPI’s analysis is interesting, but a larger question is whether the information is “useful” for consumers’ “health and well-being.” That’s because the incidence of foodborne illness has declined in recent years.

“Top-10 lists are great entertainment, but lousy public policy,” Kansas State University professor of food safety Doug Powell wrote on his daily blog, barfblog.com.

Powell told Rachael Rettner of My Health News Daily he believes the “report was a gimmick” that distracts people from the big picture that all foods come with risks.

“To my mind, all food is risky and should be treated with care,” Powell said. He says it’s important “to treat all foods, not just meat, but produce – everything – as a potential source of dangerous microorganisms.”

Despite the headline of the CSPI report condemning meat and poultry, Powell says, “Over the last decade, the biggest source of foodborne illness has been produce, which consumers often eat raw. Consumers should use a thermometer to tell when their food has reached the proper internal temperature. They should thoroughly wash all produce and discard vegetable peels.”

The American Meat Institute also criticized the CSPI report, and AMI Foundation President James Hodges said in a statement, “A broader examination of the total food supply could have delivered a more meaningful examination of food safety risk from our normal diets and would have shown that we have a meat and poultry supply that delivers consistently safe eating experiences. U.S. meat and poultry companies produce 90 billion pounds of meat and poultry products a year and 99.99 percent of these are consumed safely.”

AMI noted that seafood, poultry and beef showed the sharpest decline in the number of reported outbreaks in the study period.

“We do agree with CSPI’s perspective that better food attribution data is needed to understand the causes of foodborne illnesses and potential strategies for improvement,” Hodges says. “While we are always seeking to do better, our industry's food safety performance reflects commitment and continuous improvement. Consumers should continue to enjoy the meat and poultry products they normally choose and should continue to follow the safe handling instructions provided on all packages."

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Ron Sills    
Colorado  |  April, 25, 2013 at 08:54 AM

Journalists don't study anything. They study journalism. They rarely know enough about any subject they cover, to ask an intelligent question. Everyone knows that Mexican produce is the riskiest thing you can eat and that unless you caught it, "fresh fish" is an oxymoron. This is another case of people with an agenda trying to sell it.

Tennessee  |  April, 25, 2013 at 09:26 AM

“Over the last decade, the biggest source of foodborne illness has been produce…” Actually, livestock creates is the source of that food poisoning, too. Carrots don’t have anuses. Broccolli doesn’t come with a lower intestine. Spinach doesn’t produce manure. But livestock does. And livestock produces so much manure that it is overused on crops and poisons vegetables, too. And how can giving people statistics about food poisoning be a gimmick? As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

David Prather    
Oklahoma  |  April, 25, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Tell Fox News.com. They have over a period of time consistantly slammed meat products. This week they were promoting Meatless Monday and Tuesday they one of their main articles was this report. As an industry we have to stand up to the media and set them straight. We are constantly dealing with a barrage of liberal Vegans that want to completely put us out of business and they have the media's ear.

iowa  |  April, 25, 2013 at 11:44 AM

well Mr Vegetarian if you knew ANYTHING about farming you would know that manure is NOT over used as fertilizer. Profit margins in farming are very slim. Fertilizer is a HUGE expense and so it is used sparingly. Trying to blame livestock producers for the failures of vegetable farmers and their sometimes less than clean labor. That is sad. Sorry but the facts are that in fields where there was proper sanitation practiced by the workers(washing hands) there was no ecoli. Even today many of the handwashing facilities provided outside the field toilets are not utilized properly. Yum Yum.

David Prather    
Oklahoma  |  April, 25, 2013 at 12:29 PM

Andrew with your views on life and agriculture, we would all starve and their would not be enough of your vedis to go around. Land used for feed grains is not suitible for vegitables. It is amazing that most meat eaters do not give a care in the world about what you eat for dinner but you can not stand that we are not like you. Bob is right and I bet you are one of those consumers that only want organic but complain when it does not work out for you.

April, 25, 2013 at 11:03 PM

I just looked at the Centre of Disease report on the causes of foodborn illnesses (Attribution report) at http://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/ There are twice as many deaths due to food poisoning of meat compared with food poisoning of plants. Similarly, hospitalization rates are higher for food poisoning from meat than compared with plants. Chemical poisoning is higher from plants (notably fruits) than meats, but it is a relatively small number of exposures. This is despite the slightly higher number of cases of food poising by plants vs. meat (4.9 million versus 4.5 million). As may have already been pointed out, a large amount of the food poisoning by plants comes from cross-contamination with contaminated meat

Corrine Wynne    
America  |  April, 26, 2013 at 12:01 AM

This cracks me up again! Veggies don't get mad cow disease, or swine flu! Veggie's don't have to be cooked just so-so to be able to be eaten. Veggies don't have blood or fluids. I am appalled, I raise horses and cattle and I have to say this is the whiniest bunch of cattle folks I ever met! You can't control everyone all the time and squash them when they say their data. I raise vegetables in my garden, I have grain, soybeans, and oats planted on four of my farms each year. I have cattle and horses and the biggest issues are truly in meats. You are appalling me for wanting to slaughter drug infested horses. I vaccinate, pump up, ride/train, and trail ride/show and we use tons of products on them not for human consumption, and your supporting it, oh yeah, bring it on you say-feed it to the foreign countries, really? Where's our Dam@! Pride? Sense of responsibility and with beef being the largest meat on the market world wide you don't ever expect it to rise to the top of the list of illness bearing meats. You are Not being responsible or even seem intelligent in this situation. You Cannot say the largest selling meat on the market would not have the highest illness problems. And you cant compare it to a nearly seasonal meat such as turkey. So buck up and respect the facts, work on the problems and be pro-active. Have you NOT learned being honest and saying yeah it happens, we are sorry, we are working on it, brings UP consumer confidence? Come on, even the CDC has better more reliable facts than either agency. Give it a rest, make beef safer and you wont have the records to say otherwise, I eat steak and potatoes, but I even wonder when it will happen...everyone on the planet does. So quit being a whiney industry!

Tennessee  |  April, 26, 2013 at 04:54 AM

What do you suppose feedlots do with their massive quantities of manure? Fertilizer is a huge expense, but feedlot manure is something to be disposed of. And you can't pin E. coli in produce on the occasional lettuce picker. You are welcome to your opinions, but not your own "facts". The vast majority of E. coli O157 bacteria start out in the digestive systems of beef and dairy cattle (Valcour,J.E., P.Michel, S.A.McEwen, and J.B.Wilson. 2002. "Associations between indicators of livestock farming intensity and incidence of human Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli infection." Emerg.Infect.Dis. 8:252-257.; CIDRAP. Diarrhaegenic Escherichia coli. 2006. University of Minnesota, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.). The scientists studied linkages between farm animals and E. coli illnesses. The strongest positive association between E. coli case frequency and a livestock density indictor was the ratio of beef cattle population to human population (Valcour et al., 2002). The application to cropland of raw manure via a manure spreader, or as liquid slurry, was the second most significant variable explaining the geographic distribution of E. coli illnesses. And it lingers. Researchers found that E. coli O157 bacteria were still viable in 77% of a number of organic wastes two months after land application (Avery,L.M., K.Killham, and D.L.Jones. 2005. "Survival of E. coli O157:H7 in organic wastes destined for land application." J.Appl.Microbiol. 98:814-822). CDC investigations revealed that almost half of the cases of E. coli contamination in produce studied were caused by crosscontamination during food preparation. In other words, they came from meat.

Tennessee  |  April, 26, 2013 at 04:56 AM

This is what they call an ad hominem, or personal attack. It has nothing to do with the topic, and in no way raises the level of discourse here. Perhaps you can think of something meaningful to say and come back.

Virginia  |  April, 26, 2013 at 10:06 AM

Actually, the majority of produce related outbreaks in the past few years have traced back to wild animals or the people picking the produce. Bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts are listed as potentially hazardous foods and there is no manure used anywhere in their production. Quit trying to blame livestock. Nice quote from Sinclair but the same can be applied to ideology and the anti-meat types certainly fit that bill.


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