The New York Times reports that E.Coli is in 48% of chicken samples–according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Holy snow!
Except… the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine is a non-profit group that has vegetarianism on its agenda. Oh, and the study had only 120 samples. Oh, and it is questionable if these were even the sort of strains of E. coli that make people sick. So it is largely baseless at this juncture. I’m not even sure why this made the New York Times, or why any agency trying to gain any public health momentum would even bother with a study with only 120 chicken products…
But wait. It seems they may have pulled a PETA here. They are taking something attention grabbing and sensational and using it as a launching pad for a larger discussion. Because, wow, did they get their negative messaging out in this article. They basically say that they want people to know there is poop on their meat. (To be fair, let us not forget outbreaks of E.coli on fruits and vegetables. There may be poop on your spinach, too.). They even get a vice president at the National Chicken Council to affirm to the New York Times that they “abide by the Department of Agriculture’s zero tolerance for visible fecal matter.” That’s right folks–we’re really careful that you can’t SEE any poop on your food! …NOW you’re thinking about food safety, aren’t you?
Despite my dismissiveness of this study, I’m uncomfortable with the realities of factory farms. I think we could do a lot more to prevent bacterial contamination. I am the sort of meshugana who wears gloves when handling raw meat. Eating meat is also occasionally problematic for me. (Not problematic enough to avoid meatballs on a regular basis, but still). It is easy to make food look sanitized in the context of a supermarket. This “small study” reminds us that words like “carcass” and “fecal matter” relate to the food we eat. Do what you will with that.
This all reminds me of this fantastic poem: “Grace to be Said at the Supermarket,” by Howard Nemerov, which reminds me of one of my all time favorite poems, A Supermarket in California, by Allen Ginsberg.