Sunday, December 6, 2009

Missing the Point on E. Coli

I read something in the New York Times a few days ago that continues to disturb me. It was this article, which is about tests of a new vaccine for cattle against one of the most dangerous strains of E. coli. The article went on at length about the potential benefits of this vaccine to the food supply, and how the costs were likely to be shared. But the article, which was of what I call the "technology will save us" school of thought, completely missed the point - the vaccine is only necessary because something is seriously wrong with the way food is produced, and the vaccine only treats the symptoms, not the causes.

E. coli in meat has become more widespread, and more dangerous strains are now becoming more common, for several reasons. Most cattle are fed antibiotics as a matter of course - the crowding and stress, and their diet, in the feedlot can predispose cattle to become ill. Confined feeding operations cannot work as well (profit-wise) without antibiotics. This routine administration of antibiotics can lead to the development or spread of new strains of disease. The digestive system of cattle is not well-suited to the diet they are fed in feedlots - cattle were not designed to be fed corn, not to mention the other things that are in their feed (some of which are so disgusting as to not bear thinking about). Cattle in feed lots shed much more E. coli in their feces than cattle which are grass-fed. And finally there's slaughter operations - the high-speed industrial processing inevitably leads to frequent contamination of the meat with waste materials.

Dangerous strains of E. coli exist in the food supply for one reason - our industrial, factory approach to food production, which is neither good for the animals subjected to it, or for our health - a vaccine is merely a band-aid and really solves nothing. Just my opinion!


Jason said...

You're right about that.

High levels of grain feeding (which produces a marbled meat..and which has very little to do with tenderness as most people assume) change rumen pH which in turn changes rumen microflora leading to a predisposition for various E. Coli strains. The multiple stressors which exist in any feedlot exacerbate this problem tremendously. I also concur that band-aid solutions won't fix broken models of production.

We fed very little corn to cattle in this country before the WW 2 because yields were low and there wasn't much of it. The ONLY reason we fed cattle gobs of it after the war (and still do) was thanks to the widespread adaptation of chemical fertilizers and pesticides which increased corn yields so much so quickly that we were literally drowning in a sea of it, which STILL doesn't make a good argument for feeding it to cattle to me.

Breathe said...

It's getting harder and harder to be a carniovre in this country. The only red meat I eat at home is bison.

Lori Skoog said...

How do you keep up with all these blogs?