By Dr. Mercola
Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, there may be good reason to carefully consider your decision to include pork as a regular part of your diet, because despite advertising campaigns trying to paint pork as a "healthy" alternative to beef, research suggests it may be hazardous to your health on multiple levels. One of the most potentially acute hazards is contamination with pathogenic bacteria.
According to a surprising new investigation by Consumer Reports1, 69 percent of all raw pork samples tested — nearly 200 samples in total — were contaminated with the dangerous bacteria Yersinia enterocolitica, which causes fever and gastrointestinal illness with diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps.
Ground pork was more likely than pork chops to be contaminated.
The pork also tested positive for other contaminants, including the controversial drug ractopamine, which is banned in many parts of the world, including China and Europe. The drug, which was found in more than 20 percent of the samples, is used to boost growth in the animal while leaving the meat lean. Worst of all, many of the bacteria found in the pork were resistant to multiple antibiotics, making treatment, should you fall ill, all the more problematic and potentially lethal.
According to the featured report:
"We found salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, or listeria monocytogenes, more common causes of foodborne illness, in 3 to 7 percent of samples. And 11 percent harbored enterococcus, which can indicate fecal contamination and can cause problems such as urinary-tract infections."
While Nutritionally Sound, Pork is Probably Still Best Avoided
Pork is an arguably "healthy" meat from a biochemical perspective, and if consumed from a humanely raised pastured hog like those on Joel Salatins' farm and prepared properly, there is likely minimal risk of infection. However, virtually all of the pork you're likely to consume do not fit these criteria.
So for most all industrially raised pork, I believe there is enough scientific evidence to justify the reservations or outright prohibitions in many cultures against consuming it. Nearly all pigs raised in the U.S. come from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO's. These inhumane environments are typically toxic breeding grounds for pathogens.
These animals spend their short, miserable lives on concrete and steel grates. Antibiotics are given liberally with their feed, making their massive waste even more toxic.
This is why you can smell a CAFO swine operation miles before you see it. At an operation like Joel Salatin's, you couldn't smell any sign of pigs. These pigs were raised humanely and organically, where both animal and land are managed symbiotically.
Unfortunately, raising animals in CAFO's is the standard for Americans. For many of us, CAFO pork is the only option available.
This is why my nutrition plan recommends consciously avoiding pork whenever possible unless you can assure yourself that the hogs were raised like the video above. Granted, the occasional consumption of pork might be fine, but it's a risk, and the more you consume it the more likely it is that you will eventually acquire some type of infection. The pork and swine industry has been continually plagued, and continues to be so to this day, by a wide variety of hazardous infections and diseases, including:
- PRRS -- A horrendous disease, which I first reported on in 2001, but which had been a nightmare for many nations since the mid-1980s, is still alive and kicking today. At one point referred to as "swine mystery disease," "blue abortion," and "swine infertility," the disease was finally named "Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome" (PRRS), and may afflict about 75 percent of American pig herds.
The PRRS virus primarily attacks the pig's immune system, leaving its body open to a host of infections, particularly in the lungs. Initial research revealed that the virus was transmitted via semen, saliva and blood, leaving pigs herded closely together and transported in close quarters by trucks more susceptible to infection. However, according to research presented at the 2007 International PRRS Symposium, the disease is also airborne, making eradication efforts very difficult.
- The Nipah Virus – Discovered in 1999, the Nipah virus has caused disease in both animals and humans, through contact with infected animals. In humans, the virus can lead to deadly encephalitis (an acute inflammation of your brain). I originally reported on this virus in 2000, but according to CDC data, the Nipah virus reemerged again in 20042.
- Porcine Endogenous Retrovirus (PERV) – According to a study in the journal Lancet, this virus can spread to people receiving pig organ transplants, and according to test tube studies, PERV strains do have the ability to infect human cells3. PERV genes are scattered throughout pigs' genetic material, and researchers have found that pig heart, spleen and kidney cells release various strains of the virus.
- Menangle Virus – In 1998, it was reported that a new virus infecting pigs was able to jump to humans. The menangle virus was discovered in August 1997 when sows at an Australian piggery began giving birth to deformed and mummified piglets.
Pork is NOT Advisable in a Raw Diet
As explained by Consumer Reports, thoroughly cooking your pork is important for safety, so if you're on a raw diet (which can include raw meats), pork should definitely NOT be part of your menu... Again, while I don't recommend it, if you DO opt to eat pork, it would be wise to follow these safe handling tips and guidelines, issued by Consumer Reports4:
- When cooking pork, use a meat thermometer to ensure that it reaches the proper internal temperature, which kills potentially harmful bacteria: at least 145° F for whole pork and 160° F for ground pork.
- Keep raw pork and its juices separate from other foods, especially those eaten raw, such as salad.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.
- Choose pork and other meat products that were raised without drugs. One way to do that is to buy certified organic pork, from pigs raised without antibiotics or ractopamine.
- Look for a clear statement regarding antibiotic use. "No antibiotics used" claims with a USDA Process Verified shield are more reliable than those without verification. Labels such as "Animal Welfare Approved" and "Certified Humane" indicate the prudent use of antibiotics to treat illness.
- Watch out for misleading labels. "Natural" has nothing to do with antibiotic use or how an animal was raised. We found unapproved claims, including "no antibiotic residues," on packages of Sprouts pork sold in California and Arizona, and "no antibiotic growth promotants" on Farmland brand pork sold in several states. We reported those to the USDA in June 2012, and the agency told us it's working with those companies to take "appropriate actions." When we checked in early November, Sprouts had removed the claim from its packages.
- If your local supermarket doesn't carry pork from pigs raised without antibiotics, consider asking the store to carry it. To find meat from animals that were raised sustainably — humanely and without drugs — go to eatwellguide.org. To learn about the Consumers Union campaign aimed at getting stores to sell only antibiotic-free meat, go to NotinMyFood.org.