Synthetic preservatives are added to 70 percent of all factory farmed meat and poultry to prevent spoilage, rancidity and mould growth. If you're going to invest your money in meat products, the only way to preserve your health is to stay away from factory farmed, chemically and artificially produced meat. Here are 10 things most people have no clue are inside most meat products at major grocery retailers.
1. Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Proprionate and Benzoic Acid
The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has amended regulations that once banned the use of sodium benzoate, sodium propionate and benzoic acid in meat and poultry products, the Food and Drug Administration has announced.
In combination with ascorbic acid (vitamin C, E300), sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate form benzene, form known carcinogens. If a individual happens to consume any of these toxins after consuming ascorbic acid, a carcinogenic process may initiate.
Professor Peter Piper, a professor of molecular biology and biotechnology, tested the impact of sodium benzoate on living yeast cells in his laboratory. What he found alarmed him: the benzoate was damaging an important area of DNA in the "power station" of cells known as the mitochondria. "These chemicals have the ability to cause severe damage to DNA in the mitochondria to the point that they totally inactivate it: they knock it out altogether." he stated.
The three preservatives had been on the list of prohibited antimicrobial substances the FSIS considered to have the potential to conceal damage or inferiority in meat and poultry.
The change follows a petition by Kraft Foods Global Inc., which wants to use the substances to help inhibit the growth of bacteria.
After consideration, the FSIS said it has "determined that sodium benzoate, sodium propionate and benzoic acid, under the conditions proposed in the petitions, are both safe and suitable for use as antimicrobial agents in certain RTE (Ready-to-Eat) meat and poultry products."
2. Asthma-Like Drugs
There is another way factory farmers make animals grow faster besides antibiotics and hormones. The asthma-like drug ractopamine is used in 45 percent of US pigs according to Bacon Bits, the Canadian Pork Industry newsletter. It's also used in 30 percent of ration-fed cattle and a growing number of turkeys. Unlike most livestock drugs, ractopamine is not withdrawn before the animals are slaughtered even though its warning label says, "Individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure. Not for use in humans. Keep out of the reach of children," and recommends protective clothing, gloves, eye wear and masks.
Ractopamine's effects on animals are documented, say the groups, but effects on humans remain a mystery. Codex, the UN food standards body, established ractopamine safety residues on the basis of only one human study of six people and one subject dropped out because of adverse effects! Data from the European Food Safety Authority indicates that ractopamine causes elevated heart rates and heart-pounding sensations in humans.
In an early Canadian study, monkeys given ractopamine "developed daily tachycardia"-- rapid heart beat. Rats fed ractopamine developed a constellation of birth defects like cleft palate, protruding tongue, short limbs, missing digits, open eyelids and enlarged heart.
Cardiac stimulating drugs like ractopamine cause stress and hyperactivity in animals and they are "not appropriate because of the potential hazard for human and animal health,” wrote researchers in the journal Talanta. "Adding these drugs to waterways or well water supplies via contaminated animal feed and manure runoff," is also a concern, said David Wallinga of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in an interview, "because this class of drugs is so important in treating children with asthma."
Could ractopamine, added to the food supply in 1997 with little public awareness, be contributing to skyrocketing rates of obesity and hyperactivity in children?
Certainly the ractopamine label puts no one at ease. "WARNING: The active ingredient in Topmax, ractopamine hydrochloride, is a beta-adrenergic agonist. Individuals with cardiovascular disease should exercise special caution to avoid exposure," says the label for the turkey feed. "Not for use in humans. Keep out of the reach of children.
Nitrites and nitrates are also added to meat products during processing to inhibit the growth of bacteria and enhance color. Nitrites may be added directly to the meat product, but more frequently nitrates are added. Nitrites are used in pork, beef and poultry products to enhance colour. For example, nitrates are added to ham and bacon, giving them their characteristic pink colour. Some countries even permit the use of nitrites in fish products.
When nitrites combine with certain amino acids, N-nitroso compounds or nitrosamines are formed and these have been shown to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Our primary source of exposure to nitrates and nitrites is through the food we consume, however exposure to these compounds can also occur through drinking water.
In 2007 the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) report judged that the evidence for an association between red and processed meat consumption and colorectal cancer was convincing. In addition, the effect of other animal products on cancer risk has been studied, and the WCRF/AICR report concluded that milk probably decreases the risk of colorectal cancer but diets high in calcium probably increase the risk of prostate cancer, whereas there was limited evidence for an association between milk and bladder cancer and insufficient evidence for other cancers.
The study of more than 190,000 people found that those with the highest intake of processed meats were at a 68 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer compared to those with ate the least amount of processed meats. People who ate the most red meat and pork were 50 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer compared to those who at the least amount of those meats.
There are several potential mechanisms relating meat to cancer, including heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, N-nitroso compounds, and heme iron. Although the evidence in favor of a link between red and processed meat and colorectal cancer is convincing, the relations with other cancers are unclear. In this review, we summarize cohort studies conducted by the National Cancer Institute on meat and dairy intake in relation to cancer since the 2007 WCRF/AICR report.
Most people know that antibiotics are part of the diet of US livestock to make them grow faster (feed is metabolized more efficiently) and prevent disease outbreaks in cramped conditions. But they'd be surprised at how many animals destined for the dinner table have drug residues that exceed legal limits. Each week the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) finds dangerous antibiotic levels in animals including penicillin, neomycin and "sulfa" and "cipro" drugs, many from "repeat violators."
Excessive levels are also found of risky antibiotics like tilmicosin, whose label tells the farmer, "Not for human use. Injection of this drug in humans has been associated with fatalities," and gentamicin, which the FDA, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and Association of Bovine Practitioners warn against using at all, except under rare circumstances. Unlike bacteria which antibiotics are supposed to kill, "No amount of cooking will destroy [drug] residues" says a USDA Office of the Inspector General report.
They are used widely as preservatives in food to maintain food colour and prolong shelf-life. Sulphites can also be used in some pharmaceutical medications as a way of maintaining their potency.
Sulphites have such a long history of use that in 1958, when the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was amended to regulate preservatives and other food additives, the FDA classified sulphites as generally recognized as safe (GRAS). However, in response to a 1982 FDA proposal to affirm the GRAS status of sulfating agents, the FDA began to receive reports of adverse health reactions to sulphites. The FDA contracted the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) to examine the link between sulfites and the reported health claims. The FASEB submitted its final report to the FDA in 1985, concluding that sulfites could pose a hazard of unpredictable severity to asthmatics and others who are sensitive to them.
Sulphites can not only trigger asthma but other anaphylactic-type reactions. Certain individuals, particularly those with asthma, may react to sulphites with allergy-like symptoms. It's one reason most pre-packaged foods are required to have an ingredients listing on the presence of sulphites on the label. The pre-packaged food product label will state “may contain” or “may contain traces of” sulphites and sulphite derivatives.
It is important to always read the ingredients’ lists and remember that sulphite derivatives exist and may be listed as:
E 220, E 221, E 222, E 223, E 224, E 225, E 226, E 227, E 228 (European names)
6. Carbon Monoxide
Most meat eaters may be unaware that more than 70% of all beef and chicken in the United States, Canada and other countries is being treated with poisonous carbon monoxide gas. It can make seriously decayed meat look fresh for months.
Carbon monoxide (often referred to as CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, one measly oxygen molecule away from the carbon dioxide we all exhale. But that one molecule makes a big difference in that it does very, very bad things to the human body at very, very low concentrations.
CO is toxic because it sticks to hemoglobin, a molecule in blood that usually carries oxygen, even better than oxygen can. When people are exposed to higher levels of CO, the gas takes the place of oxygen in the bloodstream and wreaks havoc. Milder exposures mean headaches, confusion, and tiredness. Higher exposures mean unconsciousness and death, and even those who survive CO poisoning can suffer serious long-term neurological consequences.
Keeping meat at healthy temperatures is very challenging for grocery retailers. The actual surface temperature of displayed fresh meat is often much higher than the thermometer of the display case due to UV radiation from the display case lighting which penetrates the meat packaging and heats the surface just as the sun can cause a sunburn on a cold winter day. Various studies have found that the internal temperature of meat from display cases does exceed 50 degrees Celsius which is more than 10 degrees higher than recommended temperatures.
The meat consequently decomposes very quickly, so the meat industry heavily invested in modified atmospheric packaging which utilizes carbon monoxide gas to extend the shelf life and resist spoilage.
In a carbon monoxide system, with low oxygen, the carbon monoxide will react with the myoglobin and give the meat a bright red colour. The low oxygen mixture artificially limits the growth of spoilage organisms that are commonly caused by increased levels of heat in display cases.
So although carbon monoxide is a gas that can be fatal when inhaled in large quantities, the meat industry insists that it is not harmful to human health when ingested via modified atmospheric packaging (MAP).
This is not true of course since C. perfringens bacteria, the third-most-common cause of food-borne illness, has been proven to grow on what is considered fresh meat right out of the supermarket that is well within the expiry dates on the labels. Marissa Cattoi a lab tech who analyzes meat samples for a health and safety agency says the bacteria are commonly found on fresh grocery meat. "We commonly test for C.perfringens bacteria and about half of the fresh meat products that come in are positive despite them being within the expiry period. 100% of the these cases come from packagers who adopted atmospheric packaging methods such as the use of carbon monoxide gas," she stated.
While the meat industry compares meat losing its red color to the harmless discoloration of apples and says MAP keeps products affordable, both the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Food and USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service have expressed concerns that the artificially hued food can appear fresher than it really is. Thanks to MAP, meat can stay red an entire year!
Most atmospheric packaging will not be labeled. There also many foods that do not have to declare the presence of preservatives, unless the amount of the preservative is naturally occurring in, or added to, the product exceeds a certain concentration.
7. Heavy Metals
The charge that heavy metals lurk in US meat doesn't come from food activists and consumer advocates--it comes from the USDA Office of the Inspector General. Its 2010 report found high residues of copper, arsenic and other heavy metals and veterinary drugs in beef released for public consumption including. Animals with violative levels of metals, anti-parasite vaccines and medicines were knowingly released into the human food supply by inspectors, says the report.
Pesticides are also a disturbing gray area with only one of 23 high-risk pesticides tested for, the Inspector General's office said. The presence of arsenic in poultry made food news in 2011 when a government study found inorganic arsenic, “at higher levels in the livers of chickens treated” with arsenic-laced feed than in untreated chickens. This prompted Pfizer to stop marketing its arsenic feed, 3-Nitro, since arsenic is a carcinogen in its inorganic form. Worries are not over, though. The FDA still allows arsenic in poultry feed for weight gain and feed efficiency, to control parasites and to improve “pigmentation.” Other arsenic-laced feeds besides 3-Nitro remain on the market.
8. Viral Sprays
The FDA also approved a virus-cocktail spray that might prevent listeriosis. The spray, called LMP 102, is a mixture of six different special viruses called bacteriophages -- viruses that infect only bacteria, not people, animals or plants.
Bacteriophages, like all viruses, contain protein. These proteins can cause allergic reactions, just like milk proteins cause milk allergies.
The bacteriophages might also get into battle with the friendly bacteria in the digestive system, making it harder for the body to digest food. But that's a risk the FDA already takes by allowing the use of antibiotics on farms.
The FDA currently allows bacteriophages to be used in pesticides, including those sprayed on crops. But this is the first time that the FDA has regulated the use of bacteriophages as a food additive. Other countries actually use bacteriophages in antibiotic drugs.
The idea here is that these six bacteriophages will infect and kill any listeria bacteria that might linger on meats.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, use of this spray will have to be marked on the food just like any other ingredient on the label.
Consumers might soon see the words "bacteriophage preparation" on cold cuts. As always, although the virus spray is intended to make food safer, it does not come without its own risks.
9. Meat Glue
Produced as Activa by Japan's Ajinomoto Company, it's scientific name is "transglutaminase" and it belongs to the family of clotting enzymes which are eight in number.
Meat glue is thrombin, a coagulation protein which together with the fibrous protein fibrin can be used to develop a "meat glue" enzyme that can be used for sticking together different pieces of meat. It can be made from blood taken from either cows or pigs.
The European Parliament had voted to ban bovine and porcine thrombin. The House said the meat glue has no proven benefit for consumers and might mislead them instead. One year later, all but one of the European Union nations voted in favor of using Thrombian, or Transglutaminase (TG). They now joining other developed nations such as the U.S., Canada, and Australia who approved the product.
This sort of thing has been a boon to the food industry, which can now treat all sorts of proteins like meat or fish as just another material to be processed, but in the hands of molecular gastronomists it's become a way to manipulate food in a way that would have been previously impossible. It's possible, for example, to make tenderloin rolls wrapped in bacon that hold together perfectly without the need for twine or toothpicks.
10. Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria
You'd think with the antibiotic party going on, meat would be free of bacteria. You'd be wrong. Bacteria are rife in conventionally grown US meat including antibiotic-resistant bacteria also known as superbugs. Almost half of beef, chicken, pork and turkey in samples tested from US grocery stores contained staph bacteria reported the Los Angeles Times in 2011 including the resistant MRSA staph bacterium (methicillin-resistant S. aureus). Pork tested by Consumer Reports in 2013 also contained MRSA and four other kinds of resistant bacteria.
Two serious strains of antibiotic-resistant salmonella, called Salmonella Heidelberg and Salmonella Hadar, forced recent recalls of turkey products from Jennie-O Turkey and Cargill and chicken products from Schreiber Processing Corporation. The resistant salmonella strains were so deadly, officials warned that disposed meat should be in sealed garbage cans to protect wild animals. Even wildlife is threatened by the factory farm-created scourges.
MRSA is no longer limited to healthcare settings, either. Researchers have found it on Florida public beaches and on the top of unopened soft drink cans in a car that was following a poultry truck.
Many argue that nitrates, nitrites, sulphites and bacteria are naturally occurring substances, and that they are essential for health, however they also react with other compounds in your body to form cancer-causing substances. In nature, antioxidants prevent this process, especially in fruits and vegetables which counteract it, but you are not getting these protective substances from factory farmed meat. The high concentrations of chemicals injected into processed meats are far from natural and their ingestion is far from natural. Many damage blood vessels, making your arteries more likely to harden and narrow and affect the way your body uses sugar. All of the above chemicals have a negative effect on metabolic processes and although many are occurring in nature in other foods, they are not naturally occurring in meat in the high levels being introduced as preservatives. Always remember that there are consequences to the artificial introduction of any chemical into processed foods that nature has not designed.
Bottom line is if you consume meat, please make it certified organic and from reputable sources your trust.
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.