The Burden of Industrialized Meat


Chart via the Emerging Pathogens Institute

Bill and I have been eating grassfed or pastured meat for about the last four years. We totally believe it’s the right thing to do for our health, for the sake of the animals, and for our planet. But many people think it’s too expensive and find it hard to justify spending that kind of money. One way to counter the cost would be by balancing meat dishes with vegetarian ones. Or, you could justify the cost by thinking proactively: Instead of putting the money into healthcare later on, you’re putting it into your health right now.

Recently, there was an article in the The Washington Post about the cost of pathogens found in this country’s food supply. “Of the food pathogens that cost society the most money — in terms of medical care, lost days of work, long-term chronic health problems or deaths — half are found in poultry, pork, beef and other meat products.” This data comes from research conducted by the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI). Together, the 10 most expensive pathogens associated with specific foods cost the U.S. economy $8.1 billion a year, the study found.

The top-ranked pathogen-food combinations include:

  • Poultry tainted with Campylobacter, which causes more than 600,000 estimated cases of illness annually and puts nearly 7,000 people in the hospital
  • Pork contaminated with Toxoplasma, which sickens more than 35,000 and puts nearly 2,000 Americans in the hospital annually
  • Deli meats tainted with Listeria, which causes nearly 600 hospitalizations and more than 100 deaths each year.

If you subscribe to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recalls, this information wouldn’t be a surprise. Just about every week I read about a tainted meat issue that they’ve announced. “What this [research] shows,” says J. Glenn Morris, the director of the EPI and one of the authors of the study, “is that there are diseases that have significant other manifestations, that result in complications, even death. And as a result, the public health burden is so much greater.”

Can you get these diseases from your local farmer’s products? Sure, it happens, but not to the degree that it does with feedlot meat. If you know your farmer you have a better chance of making a good decision about what you eat. In the end, it could save you–and the rest of us–thousands of dollars in healthcare costs.

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