The NY Times recently had a story about a study by a pro-vegan medical group which claimed that 48 percent of chickens bought at supermarkets are contaminated with E. coli. Of course, the vegan group referred to the E. coli as feces. This is correct, as E. coli are a component of feces. Then again, if you keep your toothbrush in your bathroom, the odds are pretty good there are some E. coli on it too.
Regular readers will know that I’m no fan of factory farming, especially since it is a major contributor to the antibiotic resistance problem. But this study is idiotic–and more importantly, it’s not anything the government doesn’t already publicly release. Here are some other issues:
1) According to the (non-peer reviewed) study, 48% of chicken products are contaminated with E. coli. That’s actually low relative to most studies, which suggests they either have an unrepresentative sample, or they don’t know what they’re doing.
2) Chicken has always had E. coli contamination. That’s why you cook it.
3) There were no halcyon days of yore where people routinely ate raw chicken. Unless your grandparents were carnival freaks. Members of the genus Homo have been cooking food for at least hundreds of thousands of years. Regarding meat in general, every so often, there is a brief fad where people eat raw ground beef. There is a reason it’s a brief fad.
4) We don’t know what the E. coli are. Are they potential pathogens? Are they antibiotic resistant? That would be good to know. But the study doesn’t discuss that.
5) This is a study whose sole purpose is performance art. As mentioned above, the NARMS program routinely surveys food products, and does so much more rigorously. This study tells us nothing we didn’t already know, and simply serves as a excuse for a press release.
6) The he-said, she-said reporting doesn’t help. Make a call here: is this study anything other than repetitive sensationalism? No? Then don’t run it.
Like I mentioned, I’m no fan of factory farming, but a little less credulity by the NY Times would help here. Yes, there’s E. coli on chicken. We know that already, and it’s not news. Hell, the government tells us that every year. Next time, why not cover the NARMS report in detail, or any other number of studies that describe something important like the spread of antibiotic resistance through the agricultural system?
ZOMG! TEH E KOLI!!!