Here we go again.
By warning consumers to “beware when you head for the meat market,” Consumer Reports has stirred up yet another controversy over the presence of microbial contaminants on pork samples the organization bought at supermarkets and tested in its lab.
Officials with Consumers Union, the policy arm and publisher of Consumer Reports, announced this week that 69 percent of 198 samples of whole and ground pork samples they tested were contaminated with Yersinia enterocolitica. The group noted that, “Yersinia is known to cause fever and gastrointestinal illness marked by diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps.
I’m guessing that doesn’t sound very appetizing to the average shopper.
The actual number of cases of infection by yersinia-triggered GI problems are difficult to properly quantify, however, since the people affected rarely suffer life-threatening problems or even symptoms distressing enough to require hospitalization. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about an estimated 100,000 Yersinia enterocolitica cases a year in the United States although some public health authorities caution that for every Yersinia case diagnosed and documented, as many as 120 more aren’t reported or are attributed to stomach flu or general food poisoning.
“We were a bit surprised by the [presence of] yersinia,” Jean Halloran, Consumers Union director of Food Policy Initiatives, was quoted in Forbes magazine online. “This is not a bacteria that USDA requires companies to test for, so it is not regarded as a problem with pork, but it is a significant cause of food-borne illness and this is a sufficiently serious problem.”
Addressing the real issue
Allegations about (allegedly) lax regulatory oversight aside, what’s more serious—for industry as well as consumers—is that the study also discovered numerous samples of pork containing bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics. The Consumer Reports article stated that the sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics often added to pork feed mixtures might be “accelerating the growth of drug-resistant ‘superbugs’ that threaten human health.”
The National Pork Producers Council immediately challenged the report on the basis of methodology and sample size. Problem is, the group’s response simply didn’t muster the requisite clout to counter the unfortunately effective use of an emotional reaction to concerns about tainted meat that people would understandably harbor after reading the article.