The threat of a long-forgotten parasite returning in the form of contaminated meat from organically raised livestock has made some waves in the medical community.
Not so much within animal agriculture.
It’s not like conventional producers and processors are going to launch some kind of mud-slinging campaign to demonize organic operators. Unfortunately, that’s typically what the organic industry does: Pretend that conventional meat and dairy products are suspect, perhaps even dangerous, due to the fact that livestock not raised organically are “pumped full” of drugs and hormones.
The study, published in the May 22 issue ofClinical Infectious Diseases, found that organic meat can be a source of Toxoplasmosis gondii, a single-celled parasite that used to be a significant problem in undercooked pork—like, 50 years ago.
When pigs were allowed to forage for food back in the good old days of non-corporate, family farming, they often ate food contaminated with infected feces from cats—the definitive host for the parasite—or consumed wild animals or birds that contained toxoplasmosis oocysts. That’s why the “tradition” of overcooking pork to a leathery well-done texture became established. It was necessary destroy parasites in all the pork.
However, when pork farmers converted to modern methods of production to eliminate foraging and began feeding the animals a scientifically devised diet, the incidence of toxoplasmosis was drastically reduced. With many organic producers, the trend is toward raising free-range animals—especially pigs and lamb—and that’s renewed the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis. Indeed, wild game, such as venison, is considered a potentially significant source of the toxoplasmosis parasite.
“The new trend in the production of free-range, organically raised meat could increase the risk of Toxoplasma gondii contamination of meat,” the authors wrote.
The researchers pointed out that eating undercooked meat, especially pork, lamb and wild game, is one of the main ways people become infected with the toxoplasma parasite.
The symptoms of toxoplasmosis include swollen lymph glands, aches and pains that can linger as long as a month at a time and a feeling of illness similar to what usually accompanies the flu. Although clinical treatment is usually not needed in normal, healthy people, some patients do require medication. Many people carry the parasite but do not become ill or show symptoms because their immune systems are able to withstand any toxic effects.