Two weeks ago Rawesome Foods was raided for supplying raw dairy on the same day that the nation’s largest ground turkey recall was announced. A frequently heard comment on Facebook and the blogosphere that day went something like this, “You mean that raw dairy which has not tested positive for any pathogens or made anyone sick is considered so dangerous that they have to arrest three people and destroy an entire food buying club’s inventory, but that millions of pounds of drug-resistant salmonella contaminated turkey meat gets a voluntary recall months after the meat not only made people sick but actually killed somebody?”
The comments express a communal outrage at the disproportionate response by our government. After all, three people spent the night in jail and are facing felony charges because they chose to distribute (safe!) raw milk. Meanwhile, absolutely nobody faces any criminal or civil charges for killing someone with salmonella. Why is that?
Because deadly, drug-resistant salmonella is not illegal in raw meat.
You read right. The way the law in the U.S. currently stands, 49.9% of samples in a test run can be positive for salmonella, and absolutely no one will bat an eyelash. Furthermore, the USDA is impotent to actually force a recall when salmonella is discovered.
From a recent Wired article about the recall:
But the biggest revelation may have been that, in strict legal terms, there may have been no wrongdoing in the distribution via turkey of the drug-resistant strain that has killed one person and sickened 78 — because Salmonella, the organism in question, is not classified by the federal government as something that is illegal to distribute.
In food-safety regulation, there’s a concept called “adulterant”, a substance that by law may not be distributed in food. When you hear the word, what springs to mind is probably Upton Sinclair-style additives such as sawdust and plaster. But foodborne disease organisms can be adulterants also. The best-known is undoubtedly E. coli O157, which was declared an adulterant in 1994, one year after the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak that killed 4 children and put 171 in the hospital.
Salmonella, though, is not an adulterant. The federal government has never named it one, despite pleas from nonprofit organizations such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which in May filed a petition with the USDA that specifically asked for drug-resistant Salmonella — the organism in this outbreak — to be declared an adulterant so that extra preventative steps could be authorized according to law. The USDA has not acted on the request.
The way the meat industry sees it, salmonella in raw meat is “natural” and “unavoidable” and it’s our job as consumers to properly handle and cook the meat to eliminate any threat of illness.
This couldn’t be further from the truth! Sure, large-scale industrial turkey and chicken farms are a breeding ground for salmonella (and particularly drug-resistant salmonella), but this is not the only choice we consumers have.
We can turn to pastured poultry. Not only are birds free to roam through green grass pastures (a privilege even “organic” and “free-range” hens don’t enjoy), but they also get plenty of sunshine (AKA “nature’s disinfectant”). They get to eat bugs and larvae, peck through manure, and generally get to express their inherent “chickenness” unlike their de-beaked, force-molted, antibiotic-fed, confined industrial counterparts.
And when raised in accordance with nature, these birds are not-so-surprisingly disease free. According to Joel Salatin:
So far, not one case of food-borne pathogens has been reported among the thousands of pastured poultry producers, many of whom have voluntarily had their birds analyzed. Routinely, these home-dressed birds, which have not been treated with chlorine to disinfect them, show numbers far below industry comparisons. At Polyface, we even tested our manure and found that it contained no salmonella.
Pastured poultry farms exhibit trademark lush pastures and healthy chickens with deep-colored egg yolks and fat. As with any movement, some practitioners are excellent and others are charlatans. Knowing your product by putting as much attention on food sourcing as you do on planning your next vacation is the way to insure accountability.
If you don’t want arsenic in your chicken or salmonella in your turkey, the solution is simple: opt out of the industrial food supply. Know your farmer. Know your food.
(photo by artbystevejohnson)