John Phipps: Is There Really a Tick That Can Cause You to Lose Your Appetite for Red Meat?

A troubling email for red meat producers from Bryan Hall in Anderson, MO.

“I would appreciate any information you might be able to share on the increasingly common allergy of alpha-gal. This a tick-borne condition which creates an allergy to mammal meat (pork and beef). This is becoming much more common at least in my area of the Ozarks. I know several people diagnosed with this. The symptoms can vary greatly but include anxiety and increased heart rate. It is often difficult to diagnose because doctors are not yet familiar with this condition. The only treatment I am aware of is to stop consuming mammal-based products, which not only includes beef and pork but also many other products including bottled water and gel caps because of mammal based gelatins used in these products. My concern is not only for victims, but also as a cattle producer, the eventual effects on the meat industry.”

My colleague at Farm Journal, Rhonda Brooks wrote a helpful column on the spread of ticks across the U.S. and some of the issues it causes.

One big emerging threat is alpha-gal which is short for galactose-alpha – a carbohydrate deposited by the tick that triggers a severe allergic reaction in the digestive system after eating red meat. Since its identification 2002, various ticks have been classified as spreaders around the globe. Here in the U.S., it’s the lone star tick. Warmer winters and greater host populations of deer and mice have spread the range of all ticks.

Your information is correct. There is no antidote although the reaction can fade in 1 to 5 years. Not great news. Poultry and fish do not trigger reactions. The condition is serious but there are no reporting requirements and hence no diagnosis numbers yet to show how fast it is spreading.

With Lyme disease now well known, parasite-spread diseases get media attention. The problem for cattle producers is similar to the gluten/celiac disease issue. While few may be bitten, any digestive trouble people experience may now be self-diagnosed as Mammal Meat Allergy (MMA) simply because more people have heard of it.

Wheat growers were blindsided by the number of both actual and mis-diagnosed gluten allergies. Especially due to the yuck factor of tick bites, we may see an aversion to pork and beef. Careful statistical analysis will probably not help either.

I expect people to have near-zero tolerance for this type of illness. Meat consumption in areas of alpha-gal cases will undoubtedly be affected.



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