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Is Your meat sage?

Food-borne Illnesses

Here's a rundown of the latest statistics--released April 2002--on yearly cases of food-borne illnesses in the U.S. from 1996 through 2001 according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Overall, CDC calculates that every year in the United States, there are approximately 76 million cases of food-borne illness, with 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Also in this section are descriptions of the most common pathogens found in meat, poultry, and other foods, and the symptoms of the illnesses they can cause.

Is Your Meat Safe?

Most experts agree that the meat supply in America is safer than ever before. But since the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in 1993, Americans are increasingly aware of the possibility that dangerous pathogens may be lurking in their food. So how prevalent is food-borne illness and contaminated meat? And what can American consumers do to eat more safely? Here are some answers from former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, Dr. Robert Tauxe of the Centers for Disease Control, Patrick Boyle of the American Meat Institute, consumer advocate Carol Tucker Foreman, epidemiologist Dr. Glenn Morris, and journalists Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser.

Consumer Resources

A compendium of links to information on how to buy and cook meat safely, details on corn-fed versus grass-fed beef, government sites dealing with food safety, and organizations that advocate a meat-free diet.

Know Your Meat

When you choose a filet of beef in the supermarket, what are you really getting? Here's a review of the eight "grades" that the USDA assigns to meat, plus an explanation of "natural" versus "certified organic" beef and the difference between meat from corn-fed and grass-fed cows.

Secret Agent O157: The Evolution of a Killer

In her book Secret Agents, Madeline Drexler chronicles the disturbing evolutionary arc of one of the most dangerous food-borne pathogens, E. coli O157:H7, the bacteria responsible for killing four children in 1993's Jack in the Box outbreak. "For public health officials," she writes, "the emergence of E. coli O157:H7 is an object lesson in how a new pathogen can lie low in the environment, biding its time until humankind changes a certain activity and in so doing rolls out a red carpet." A former medical columnist for The Boston Globe, Drexler was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1996 to 1997.

Meat Recalls

Statistics on how much meat is recalled for bacterial contamination -- and how much of that is actually recovered.

How Much Meat We Eat

A chart tracking the levels of American meat consumption since 1910.

The Antibiotic Debate: An Overview

Meat producers have fed growth-promoting antibiotics to food animals for years. But recently scientists have raised concerns that, in conjunction with the general overuse of antibiotics in humans, this use of "sub-therapeutic" levels of antibiotics in food animals may lead to serious health risks for people. Banning the use of such drugs, however, would greatly reduce the efficiency of the industry, driving up the cost of meat, and some in the industry believe that the scientific evidence linking low-dose use of antibiotics to increased drug-resistant illness in people is too inconclusive to justify banning their use. Here's a look at the controversy, plus links to more information.

Opinions on the Antibiotic Debate

Many health experts have raised concerns that the use of antibiotics in the meat and poultry industry -- whether to promote growth or prevent illness -- may contribute to the emergence of new drug-resistant bacteria. The fear is that there will then be fewer treatment options for the people and animals who get sick from these superbugs. Here, epidemiologist Glenn Morris, journalist Michael Pollan, and feedlot operator Bill Haw discuss the antibiotic controversy with FRONTLINE.

Cultivating Resistance

Some experts estimate more than half of the antibiotics produced in this country are fed to farm animals, mostly to boost their growth rate. In this excerpt from her book Secret Agents, Madeline Drexler chronicles how that practice has led to strains of drug-resistant bacteria, forcing doctors to prescribe higher and higher doses of medicine to combat these more resilient pathogens. "Farms are some of the most insidious sources of antibiotic resistance," Drexler writes. "Whether carnivore or vegetarian, you cannot avoid the aftermath of antibiotics applied lower in the food chain." A former medical columnist for The Boston Globe, Drexler was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1996 to 1997.

Battling Outbreaks

An explanation of how new technology allows the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to "fingerprint" a bacterium's DNA and trace it back to the source more quickly in hopes of heading off a potential epidemic.


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