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Sunday, June 10, 2007

E. COLI CONTAMINATION OF BEEF

E.COLI CONTAMINATION OF BEEF

During the late 1800's and early 1900's the US and many other underdeveloped countries (and we were one then) suffered with outbreaks of dysentery diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever. During this period medical scientists were beginning to appreciate that microbes, especially bacteria, might have been causing these diseases. One of the great accomplishments also occurred during this period, that of separating the human waste sewage from the water supply. The great epidemics of the dysentery diseases were essentially stopped, and the only places such epidemics now occur are in those still underdeveloped countries, many in South East Asia, where the water supply gets tainted with human waste products usually due to floods from overflowing rivers and storms.

The solution of some epidemics causing considerable human illness and death occurred long before we had vaccines which took us into the next phase of epidemics control.

But recently we have begun to experience the contamination of food, not by human wastes but by wastes from cattle. It is this problem I wish to address today.

It was in 1993 when we experienced one of the first outbreaks of E. Coli-contaminated beef, with the incident which occurred in a Jack-In-The- Box restaurant in Seattle. It was found that a specific strain of E. Coli, strain O 157:H7, was the culprit. This case immediately brought to mind something which personally happened to me 10, 11, and12 years previously. I used to travel around the country for The GoTaCh Center for Health, an Holistic Health Center which I founded but since has become defunct (that is, another story worth telling some day!) giving lectures on stress and holistic health. Now it is well known that the North West area near Seattle experiences a tremendous rainfall from hundreds of inches each year at the Pacific end to almost nothing at the eastern end after you pass the base of the mountain range and get into the high desert area between Yakima and as you get closer to Spokane.

I was driving east proceeding down the last mountain range before getting to the flat desert area ahead and there at the base of the mountains was one of the largest cattle feeder lots of the Washington beef Company, which I am quite sure supplied much of the beef for the upper North West states. A feeder lot is where cattle are house in the open in rather close quarters and fed grain food to fatten them up prior to slaughter. It was shortly after it had been raining for a few days and the cattle, thousands of them, knee deep in a mixture of mud and their own feces roaming up to their troughs with difficulty because of the depth of the mud feeding on their food. Not only were the outsides of the cattle contaminated but with all that sloshing around contamination of the feed-containing-troughs was inevitable, so the cattle were also eating their own feces.

Remembering this when the Seattle outbreak occurred, I telephoned the USDA in Washington to let them know of the possible source of the contamination and spoke with several officials, none of whom seemed to be interested in what I had to say. The fact that at one time I was a Branch Chief at the prestigious National Institutes Of Health and my expertise was microbiology made little difference.

This also brought to mind what happens in a bureaucracy when people who supposed to know what they are doing do not know and you get what I have often referred to as “the beaurocratic side step,” which is a dance perfected in Washington, DC! I often wonder whether the unsanitary practices of the Washington Beef Company have changed since.

Grazing cattle in an open field provides a certain degree of sanitation not experienced in feeder lots which are quite dirtier. Imagine having to wash the cattle when they enter the slaughter house, the washing can never be that complete. The internal organs are contaminated because the bacteria are ingested and allowed to grow within the intestines of the cattle to a proportion much higher than if they had not previously ingested the highly pathogenic-to-human strain E. Coli bacteria.

In my opinion, feeder lots should be monitored as to their sanitation which should include, among other things, numbers of cattle housed per acre and weather changes significantly affect sanitation. I hope the USDA is vigilant in this charge.

The contamination of vegetables which occurred in the summer of 2006 brings up another matter. We should reevaluate the techniques implemented in the early 1900's and insure the food supply and the sewage, this time not of human but of animal origin, be separated.

nicola michael c. Tauraso, M.D.

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