In a world first, California is about to decide whether to put health warning labels on packs of meat.
You know how supermarket oranges are packed in orange nets to make them look even oranger? Well, they do the same to meat, except that what they use to get that lovely red fresh blood colour are the carcinogenic chemicals, nitrites and nitrates. The World Health Organisation has placed meats treated with nitrites and nitrates (processed meats) in Risk Category 1 – as great a cancer risk as cigarettes and asbestos.
A daily 50g portion of processed meat – roughly 2 slices of bacon – increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. Even nitrite- nitrate-free processed meats are carcinogenic, according to the WHO report published in 2015.
It just so happens that in California they have something called Proposition 65, which requires the state to keep a list of all substances known to increase the risk of cancer. Once an item is added to this list, it is up to the producer to prove that the product – processed meat in this case – is not dangerous enough to warrant a warning label. And California is about to put meats processed with nitrites and nitrates on the list.
Senior environmental health scientist Nathan Donley is adamant on the label issue: “There should be no question that all Californians should be properly warned .”
Why stop at Californians? Shouldn’t everyone be warned? Or is it that meat-producers are protecting their interests with no regard for people’s health? Surely not!
Proposition 65 is giving major meat producers and processors like Hormel Foods Corp, of Spam fame, quite the headache. It’s not the prospect of their meat doing harm to their customers’ health they’re losing sleep over. Their worry is that the inclusion of nitrites and nitrates on California’s list may indeed lead to the state slapping health warning labels on their products – which, dear oh dear, might stop some people buying them.
On cigarette packs in the UK, large black letters proclaim, “SMOKING KILLS”. Just imagine picking up your pack of hot dogs, bacon or ham, or your can of corned beef and have similar large black letters staring you in the face: “EATING THIS MEAT KILLS”. And what if this nightmare scenario were to spread to other states in the US?
If such a prospect weren’t apocalyptic enough for these poor unfortunate meat-producer giants, including their products on the carcinogen list could also open the door to their being sued by people diagnosed with certain types of cancer. Advice to shareholders: you might just want to start looking for somewhere else to invest your dollars.
You can be sure the battle lines are being drawn up as we speak. “Any move to add red or processed meat to the Proposition 65 list would be challenged by the industry,” said Mark Dopp, a senior vice president of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) which represents mega companies like Cargill Inc, Tyson Foods Inc and Kraft Heinz Co. The corporate opposition is not to be underestimated.
But Proposition 65 aside, there’s more bad news for meat on the health front. It’s not just cancer consumers need to fear from eating Hormel’s products. A whistle-blowing USDA inspector reported “that Hormel employees were not only poorly trained but that government standards were lowered, allowing defects previously identified as cause for condemning carcasses to now be cleared for sale to consumers. ‘This includes things like bile, bruises, bone fractures, scabs, toenails, and skin lesions.’
“It also meant much less concern about fecal contamination. When he complained to an older inspector he says he was told, ‘It’s not whether or not people are going to eat shit—they are. It’s just how much.'”
Fancy a touch of E coli anyone? Or maybe a dab of Salmonella?
You’re not safe eating other producers’ meat either. Hormel is far from the only culprit.
“Federal health authorities have estimated that food-borne diseases sicken 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people), cause 128,000 hospitalizations, and kill 3,000 Americans every year. Likewise, a number of studies have confirmed the presence of harmful bacteria in meat in the US. After collecting ground beef samples from meat processing plants around the country in 1996, the USDA determined that :
- 7.5% of the beef samples were contaminated with Salmonella
- 11.7% were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes
- 30% were contaminated with Staphylococcus Aureus
- and 53.3% were contaminated with Clostridium perfringens.
“These unacceptable levels of contamination are caused by the crowded conditions in which conventional food animals are raised, as well as the high speed at which meat is processed. In order to maximize profits, meat processors have continually increased the speed of their production lines. Twenty years ago, meatpacking plants slaughtered about 175 cattle an hour, but due to increased line speeds, today plants can slaughter as many as 400 cattle per hour” – The Sustainable Table.
If you think that is old news and things are better now, they’re not – they’re worse.
“All ground beef eaten in US contains food poisoning bacteria” – headline in The Daily Mail August 2015. “Consumer Reports tested 300 packages of ground beef from 103 stores in 26 cities across the country in order to test the prevalence of bacteria in the meat. Incredibly, every product purchased contained bacteria showing faecal contamination.”
Other health issues associated with eating meat:
- increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- increased risk of high blood pressure
- increased risk of stroke
- increased risk of type 2 diabetes
- increased risk of Alzheimer’s
- increased risk of osteoporosis
- ingestion of deleterious hormones and antibiotics
- shortened lifespan
I may have forgotten a few, but here is a new one – the noxious ‘icing on the cake’ for meat as far as health is concerned:
New research reveals a strong link between eating meat and autism. The increase in the incidence of autism between 1961 and 2009 is positively correlated with the steep rise in meat consumption during those years – the findings of a 2014 study carried out in China, the UK and Israel.
“The data show that per capita consumption of all three types of meat (bovine, pig, and poultry) is positively correlated with autism prevalence. The correlation is particularly strong in the case of poultry meat, and the authors note that ‘the correlations of AD [autistic disorder] with poultry meat consumption approach high statistical significance.'” – Faunalytics
So, after all that, will or won’t the world’s first ever health warning labels soon be adorning packs of meat in Californian stores? I can’t wait to find out. One thing is certain – they absolutely should.
PS If you’re still not convinced, look what happens to the animals – 21 shocking animal industry practices revealed
4th November 2016 Canadian government rebuffs pressure from meat industry to stop contributing to United Nations Research Agency that conducted the research on meat for the WHO – Mercy for Animals
21st November 2016 Is Some Store-Bought Meat Blasted With Carbon-Monoxide to Keep it Red & Juicy? – Inside Edition
22nd November 2016 The Animal Legal Defense Fund has filed a suit against Hormel “alleging the company is misleading consumers through the advertising of its Natural Choice® brand of lunch meats and bacon. Contrary to Hormel’s branding campaign, the suit alleges, meats the company advertises as “natural” actually comes from animals raised in the worst factory farms that employ additives, hormones and antibiotics, and contain ingredients that constitute artificial preservatives.”
18th February 2017 Fears of ‘dirty meat’ entering food chains after 25% of abbatoirs fail tests in the UK- The Guardian
What the State isn’t Telling You about Processed Meat – Center for Biological Diversity via The Medium
Health and Environmental Implications of US Meat Consumption – John Hoskins Bloomberg School of Public Health