The FDA has approved a mix of six bacteria-killing viruses designed to be sprayed on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products. The viruses, called bacteriophages, kill the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium. This is the first-ever approval of viruses as a food additive.
Listeria monocytogenes can cause a serious infection called listeriosis. About 2,500 people in the United States become seriously ill with listeriosis each year, and 500 die.
Lunch meats are particularly vulnerable to Listeria because they are generally not cooked or reheated after purchase.
Consumers will not be informed as to whether their meat and poultry products have been treated with the spray. Intralytix, the company that produces the virus spray, also plans to seek FDA approval for another bacteriophage product, this one designed to kill E. coli bacteria.
This new process substitutes "spray and forget" for good hygiene and quality control for food. Bluntly speaking it provides meat vendors with more leeway to get away with poor quality control, poor hygiene and meat that's too old because it takes away some of the bacteria.
Economic pressure being what it is, there will be vendors who will take advantage of this and who will then have a competitive advantage over vendors that *do* pay attention to proper hygiene and quality control
This could be a landmark event as it proposes to launch an enormously broad application of this bacterium-killing virus when only a select target group needs it. When meat leftovers containing this virus are disposed of, they will spread this virus throughout compost heaps and perhaps even into sewage sludge, providing a great opportunity for billions of bacteria to encounter this virus in great dilution under a variety of conditions.
Who is willing to bet that no bacteria will develop immunity? This strongly resembles the same irresponsible attitude that was at the bottom of the American habit to prescribe penicillin indiscriminately for everything from coughs and colds to sprained ankles.
There are no safeguards against the emergence of a new strain of Listeria that might develop and that is resistant to this particular virus.
Bacteria live in an ecosystem with competitive pressures. If you remove one bacterium like Listeria, you create an open invitation for any bacterium that isn't targeted by this specific virus.
What are the chances that we will be surprised by a newspaper article decrying the death of 100 elderly because they had sprayed luncheon meat in which very rare but virus-immune bacteria had developed (and had a chance to develop because standards of hygiene went down and the meat was kept out of the fridge for say 24 hours).
Applying this virus in the food system simply is not a good idea as:
If you haven't been concerned about processed meats yet, here's one more reason: At one point, the FDA had concerns this spray-on concoction might contain some toxic residue from the bacterial mix of sprays. The agency claims human contact with these residues in small quantities doesn't cause health problems, but are you willing to bet they won't?
Considering the increasingly experimental and dangerous nature of so much processed food -- like irradiation and genetic modification as well as this new spray -- there are many reasons to go organic.
You may have wondered on occasion if organic food is really better for you. Besides the fact that organic foods are not treated with sprays, radiation, or genetic modification, organic food differs right from the start, in the way that it is grown. Where traditional farmers apply chemical fertilizers to the soil to grow their crops, organic farmers feed and build soil with natural fertilizer.
Traditional farmers use insecticides to get rid of insects and disease, while organic farmers use natural methods such as insect predators and barriers for this purpose. Traditional farmers control weed growth by applying synthetic herbicides, but organic farmers use crop rotation, tillage, hand weeding, cover crops and mulches to control weeds.
The result is that conventionally grown food is often tainted with chemical residues, which can be harmful to humans. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic.
Pesticides can have many negative influences on health, including neurotoxicity, disruption of the endocrine system, carcinogenicity and immune system suppression. Pesticide exposure may also affect male reproductive function and has been linked to miscarriages in women.
Aside from pesticide contamination, conventional produce tends to have fewer nutrients than organic produce. On average, conventional produce has only 83 percent of the nutrients of organic produce. Studies have found significantly higher levels of nutrients such as vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, and significantly less nitrates (a toxin) in organic crops.
There is little question that organic foods are superior to non-organic ones. However, I see many patients who are not eating any vegetables because they either cannot afford them or they are too difficult to obtain.
Please understand that it is better to eat non-organic vegetables than no vegetables at all. In the same vein, it is also important to realize that fresh non-organic vegetables will be better than wilted and rotten organic vegetables that are occasionally the only ones available in smaller organic produce stands.