Pork: The Other Contaminated White Meat

For years, American consumers have heard frightening news accounts about the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other contaminants in factory-farmed poultry products. Now a warning has been issued regarding dangers that lurk in pork produced from pigs raised on industrial farms. Consumer Reports recently analyzed pork products from grocery stores around the country and found significant levels of various bacteria capable of causing serious illnesses in people. More than three-quarters of the samples tested contained bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses, and nearly 90 percent of the bacteria isolated from the samples were found to be resistant to one or more antibiotics. Consumer Reports tested dozens of name-brand and store-brand pork products, including Farmer John, Hormel, Smithfield, and Swift, but sample sizes were too small to determine which brands were most contaminated.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria were not the only potentially harmful thing Consumer Reports found in pork. One-fifth of 240 pork products sampled in a separate test showed low levels of the drug ractopamine, administered to pigs to promote growth and lean meat. As with other growth hormones, ractopamine causes stress and suffering and should not be used routinely on healthy animals. While legal in the United States, the drug has been banned in the European Union, China, Taiwan, and Thailand. Recently, Russia announced that it will stop accepting meat from animals raised on ractopamine and will require importing countries to certify that their meat is free of the drug.

The Russians aren’t the only ones raising concerns about the use of ractopamine in U.S. meat production. The Center for Food Safety and the Animal Legal Defense Fund have petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reduce allowable levels of the drug. The groups said that ractopamine, which has been approved by the FDA for use in cattle and poultry as well as in pigs, has “resulted in more reports of sickened or dead pigs than any other livestock drug on the market.”