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Truth in Advertising: PCRM Fights for Biohazard Labeling on Meat

Truth in AdvertisingPCRM researchers recently surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults, asking if they knew the origin of dangerous foodborne contaminants. Most guessed they come from the air, our hands, or even occur naturally in meat. The truth is, the flesh of chickens, pigs, cows, and turkeys routinely become contaminated with their own feces during the slaughter process. The bacteria commonly smear onto packages, counter tops, and kitchen utensils, spreading diseases that cause serious illness and, sometimes, even death.

The trouble is, the U.S. government puts its stamp of approval on feces-infected animal products every day. As long as the contaminants are spread sufficiently thin around the product and invisible to the naked eye, meat is labeled "inspected for wholesomeness" and placed on grocery shelves.

PCRM attorney Mindy Kursban has petitioned the federal government to declare feces an adulterant—meaning that contaminated meat cannot be sold—and to label contaminated meats and eggs with a biohazard label to warn consumers of the inherent dangers of eating bacteria-laden animal products. Foodborne pathogens such as salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, campylobacter, and listeria cause an estimated 76 million illnesses in the United States each year, with more than 5,000 resulting in death, according to government figures.

As it stands, the burden of ensuring cleanliness is put on consumers, who are expected to cook animal products thoroughly and disinfect everything they come in contact with, despite the fact that no amount of diligence can eliminate all risk of contamination.

A greater measure of protection would come from educating consumers about which foods pose little or no health risks. People who follow a vegan diet, where meals are made from a variety of grain foods (pasta, bread, cereal, rice), vegetables, legumes, fruits, and nuts, have dramatically less risk of contracting a bacterial infection than those who eat meat and dairy products. Many Americans have been scared away from beef with the development of mad cow disease, yet chicken harbors even more frequent infections. About 60 percent of chickens are infected with campylobacter, the bacterium responsible for three-quarters of confirmed food-poisoning cases. Evidence indicates that "free range" and "organic" chickens are no safer to eat than factory-farmed birds.

Where do you think foodborne diseases come from?

The survey asked 1,000 adults where dangerous bacteria on meat originally come from. The correct answer is animal feces.
From animal feces 16%
From animal blood 10%
From dirty air in slaughterhouse 15%
From dirty hands 19%
Naturally present in meat 17%
Naturally present on animals’ skin 9%
Don’t know 13%


People with higher levels of education were more likely to know that disease-causing bacteria come from animal feces. Here are numbers of people answering correctly:
College graduates 20%
Partial college 17%
High school graduates 15%
High school drop-outs 9%

Survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation International, 2001


Winter 2002 (Volume XI, Number 1)
Winter 2002
Volume XI
Number 1

Good Medicine

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