Food and Pesticides
HUMAN HEALTH SCARES
Intensive farming and food production methods have resulted in frequent human health scares. Incidences of food poisoning are on the increase and factory farming has increased the risk of cross-contamination between animals of food poisoning bacteria such as salmonella and E-coli. Contaminated feed has been linked to salmonella in poultry, and the consumption of raw eggs – even in salad dressings such as mayonnaise – has become a health risk. Raw chicken can be contaminated by Campylobacter, a bacteria that causes severe food poisoning and sometimes even death. It is thought that birds are infected during the slaughter process due to poor hygiene in slaughter houses.
While nobody knows exactly what caused the epidemic of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in British cattle, the likely cause is said to be the feeding of meat to herbivores. BSE is believed to have started when cattle were fed processed offal from sheep suffering from a similar condition called scrapie. A report on BSE commissioned by the European Parliament has criticized both modern intensive farming practices and methods of cattle-feed manufacture. The carcasses of cows that had died from BSE were also processed and put back into the food chain as cattle feed. Some researchers blame this unnatural practice of ‘cattle cannibalism’ for the spread of the infection in cattle.
Due to the widespread incidence of illness caused by salmonella, E-coli and Campylobacter, many doctors warn consumers that all raw meat should be treated as contaminated and a potential source of food poisoning. It is therefore essential to understand the basics of food hygiene when preparing, handling and cooking meat.
A VICIOUS CYCLE
Bacteria are tenacious forms of life that have the ability, over time, to adapt to toxic agents. If antibiotics are overused, either as medicines or as prophylactics in the food chain, the danger is that they will no longer be effective against virulent diseases.
- Antibiotics are routinely fed to farm animals.
- The consumer takes in small amounts of antibiotics in meat, dairy products and eggs over a number of years.
- Antibiotics create drug-resistant bacteria in humans and livestock.
- Doctors have difficulties finding antibiotics that can treat illnesses such as tuberculosis and meningitis.
ARE PESTICIDES A PROBLEM?
Although the long-term side effects of pesticides on human health are unknown, most nutritionists agree that the benefits gained from eating plenty of fruit and vegetables far outweigh the health risks posed by trace amounts of pesticides.
If the skins are edible, it is advisable to wash produce in clean running water, or to scrub rather than peel vegetables. Citrus fruits are often covered in a waxy coating that seals in moisture and improves appearance. The wax may contain a fungicide to prevent mould growth, but it does not usually penetrate the rinds, and can be washed off in warm water. Alternatively, some consumers may prefer to buy organic produce, which has been grown without pesticides.
The use of pesticides in food production is now common throughout the world. Although many chemicals which were thought to be dangerous to human health were banned in the 1980s, new pesticides and methods of application have since been developed that leave lower residues and pose less of a threat to both humans and wildlife. Yet the concern over long-term safety remains. One highly controversial study claimed that men who eat organic produce have higher sperm counts, sparking more research on the effect of intensive farming on male fertility.