Consumer Reports on Pork

If you haven't heard, Consumer Reports will be putting out a story after the first of the year with the headline, "What’s in that pork? We found antibiotic-resistant bacteria and traces of a veterinary drug."  The story has been picked up all over the web and reported on the nightly news.

I'm glad there are consumer watchdogs out there, but one thing I learned years ago is that Consumer Reports (you know the source to which you turn to find out which TV or automobile to buy) often gives sensationalized and one-sided accounts on many food issues.  In that vein, it is useful to see what is the "other side" of the story.

Over at Feedstuffs, Richard Raymond weighted in with a long critique of Consumer Reports account of their findings.  Here are a few of his observations:

You can find antibiotic-resistant bacteria in your navel and on your bed post. They are everywhere, including in your nose where 1 out of 50 Americans harbor Methicillin Resistant Staph aureus (MRSA), a bug they just had to mention in the report.


The big splash seems to be the often quoted bit about "Yersinia enterocolitica was in 69% of the tested pork samples. It infects about 100,000 Americans a year."
Want some facts you can take to the bank? 
The Centers of Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), in its own Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases January 2011 edition, states that there were only 950 "aboratory confirmed" cases of Yersinia in 2009.
The same CDC says, in its annual Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report titled 'Incidence and Trends of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food", June 10, 2011/60(22):749-755 that the incidence of Yersinia infections have declined by 52% over the last 10 years.


Consumer Reports also says 11% harbored enterococcus, which "can cause problems such as urinary tract infections."
Are they even remotely trying to get their readers to think that you can get a bladder infection from eating contaminated pork? I haven't been out of medicine that long to have forgotten how people get an enterococcal bladder infection, and it is not from eating pork. Trust me, I'm a doctor


That drug, ractopamine to be specific, causes swine to reach a leaner market weight more quickly, saving the Earth's precious resources such as land, water and feed.
It was approved after years of study by the FDA in 1999. It has been used as a feed additive in over 330 million pigs in the U.S. alone, with not one single case of a human suffering any ill effects from consuming pork.
Its safety for humans is beyond reproach. Because of this, 27 other countries have established MRLs [maximum residue levels] for ractopamine and approved its use in their swine herds. 

The MRL for ractopamine established by FDA is 50 ppb in muscle. The 20% of samples that had any residue were all below 5 ppb, but Consumers Report will not tell if the residue was 1 ppb or 4 ppb. Not that it makes any difference, they are all safe.