Food Poisoning Outbreaks Linked to Animal Factory FarmsFeb 24, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP At least one expert believes that the massive peanut salmonella outbreak linked to the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA), likely has animal feces from factory farming at its core. According to Neil Barnard—a medical doctor, nutrition researcher, and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, writing for AgWeek—food safety experts and researchers are missing the real problem.
And, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blames peanut butter and peanut paste made by PCA, Barnard feels that blaming an “innocuous” food might not be the answer, citing the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to spinach and the 2008 salmonella outbreak first linked to tomatoes and finally to Mexican peppers, reported AgWeek. Barnard feels more success would be realized if the problem was tackled head on and earlier on in the food processing chain as opposed to patching the problem further down the line and only after consumers are stricken or dying.
Because Salmonella and E. coli are intestinal bacteria and because spinach, tomatoes, peppers, and peanuts—for example—do not have intestines, experts should be looking beyond the tainted produce and to the tainting source, says Barnard. When produce becomes tainted, the source is typically feces contamination from an infected animal by either corrupted fertilizer or irrigation water used in the fields, Barnard explains in the AgWeek piece.
Barnard noted that a recent Pew Commission Report on industrial farm animal production explained that, “untreated animal waste harboring pathogens contaminates air, water, soil, and crops.” As a matter-of-fact, FDA investigators determined that farm animal waste was ultimately found to be the origin of the 2006 E. coli outbreak, reported AgWeek. According to Barnard, the government needs to step up and recognize that the origin of the current salmonella outbreak is an out-of-control factory farming system. Many food safety experts agree, blaming the increase in food borne pathogenic outbreaks on mega-farms, -processors, and –distribution centers, with enormous amounts of food being processed with a lack of protocols, inspectors, and safety workers to accommodate a growing need.
Barnard points out that Americans consume animals at an astounding rate of one million animals per hour with related farms, feedlots, and animal processing operations continually being established nationwide to meet the need. Figuring that one factory farm typically accommodates thousands of such animals, Barnard calculated that the related waste was similar to that produced by a “small city,” pointing out that runoff from such farms is, in fact, the largest American water pollution problem with animal waste in the runoff containing pathogens in concentrations from 10-to-100 times greater than those found in human waste.
The PCA plant linked to the salmonella outbreak is located in Georgia, notes Barnard, and Georgia is also the country’s number one state producer of chicken meat and eggs, and, coincidentally, peanuts. Barnard points out that the state raises over 1.3 billion chickens annually under “crowded, often unsanitary conditions,” pointing to an obvious link between the billions of peanuts Georgia grows and salmonella and other pathogenic infections originating from chickens and the filthy conditions under which they are maintained. Worse, there are a number of counties in Georgia in which dangerous, often deadly, bacteria can move from a poultry to a peanut factory via runoff from neighboring fields, says Barnard. But Georgia, although highlighted because of the PCA scandal, is not the only state in which this sort of cross-contamination often occurs.
While PCA’s disgusting processing facilities harbored various types of salmonella, it is likely that the pathogens originated from any number of sources, including the rodent and pest population which had made PCA their home, as well as filthy runoff contaminating farmlands in which peanuts are produced. If the latter turns out to be the case, then the likelihood exists that nonPCA peanuts and peanut products—so far deemed safe by government officials—are at great risk for pathogenic transfer and infection.