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Just How Contaminated Is the Fish and Meat That We Eat?

Why is there no meaningful regulation of the meat and fish industries?
 
 
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Over five years ago the Chicago Tribune reported that tuna was unequivocally contaminated with mercury. “The tuna industry has failed to adequately warn consumers about the risks of eating canned tuna, while federal regulators have been reluctant to include the fish in their mercury advisories — at times amid heavy lobbying by industry,” said the paper. Three years later, the New York Times found similar contamination in area sushi.

But rather than a safer product, clearer warnings or regulatory distance between federal officials and the industry they are supposed to oversee , tuna fish consumers have gotten nothing but more studies.

Last year Time magazine reported 100 samples of both lean red tuna and fatty tuna from 54 restaurants and 15 supermarkets in Colorado, New Jersey and New York, exceed recommended amounts of mercury.

And this year Consumer Reports says every tuna sample tested at an outside lab “contained measurable levels of mercury, ranging from 0.018 to 0.774 parts per million. The Food and Drug Administration can take legal action to pull products containing 1 ppm or more from the market. (It never has, according to an FDA spokesman.)”

In fact mercury-filled tuna is so rampant in the food supply, it was what inspired Fischer Stevens to make the Oscar winning-documentary about the Japanese dolphin fishing industry, The Cove. He personally came down with mercury poisoning, he told NBCLA, after eating tuna three or four times a week which caused him to investigate the entire seafood industry.

Nor is much of the meat necessarily safe. Even though you can cook pathogens like E. coli, salmonella, listeria and campylobacter out, veterinary drugs, pesticides and heavy metals like copper and arsenic remain after cooking says a government report.

According to a 2010 Office of Inspector General report, of 23 pesticides designated by the EPA and FDA as high risk, the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service only tests for one. Four carcasses contaminated with “violative levels of veterinary drugs” were released onto the public dinner plate in just six months, says the report.

“Farmers are prohibited from selling milk for human consumption from cows that have been medicated with antibiotics (as well as other drugs) until the withdrawal period is over; so instead of just disposing of this tainted milk, producers feed it to their calves,” says the report, sounding more like an animal activist group than the U.S. government. “When the calves are slaughtered, the drug residue from the feed or milk remains in their meat, which is then sold to consumers.”

FDA records corroborate the OIM report, finding that Templeton Feed & Grain and Darr Feedlots recently sold antibiotic-tainted animal feed and that Land Dairy and Martin Feed Lot sold cows with the antibiotic sulfamethazine in their livers to be sold as human food.

While consumers are told to cook meat thoroughly to remove pathogens that are eliminated by intense heat, there are even dangers from over-cooking! Frying, broiling and grilling beef, pork, poultry and even fish can produce cancer causing compounds from dripping fat called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons says the National Cancer Institute They are linked to stomach, colon, bladder and several other cancers and to be avoided.

Processed foods like luncheon meat, ham and hot dogs are pre-treated with nitrites to kill food-borne germs. Nitrites become nitrosamines which top the list of well known carcinogens. Nitrites also maintain lunch meat’s “natural” color —  as natural as factory farmed salmon which are given orange dyes.

 

Martha Rosenberg frequently writes about the impact of the pharmaceutical, food and gun industries on public health. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and other outlets.

 
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