Monday, December 04, 2006

FDA Approves Viruses to be Used as Food Additives

In August of 2006, the FDA approved viruses to be added to ready-to-eat (RTE) meat and poultry products, such as lunch meats, hot dogs, and sausages. This is very disturbing, considering viruses are a self-mutating organism. The FDA claims that the viruses have been "purified" and are safe for human consumption, yet this is the first time that viruses have been used as food additives. The part that concerned me the most is their reasoning for using viruses to combat bacteria in RTE meat products, as quoted directly from the FDA:

"The phage preparation will be applied to the surface of RTE meat and poultry products at a level not to exceed 1 ml per 500 cm2 food surface just prior to packaging. These foods can become contaminated with Listeria during production, but unlike fresh meat and poultry, these foods are consumed without additional cooking that would kill the bacteria, thereby increasing the risk to Listeriosis, an infection caused by the bacteria." (From the FDA's Q & A website.)

Okay, so as I ponder their reasoning for adding viruses to lunch meat, it occurs to me that there could be another solution. But since I'm just a typical average run-of-the-mill betty, let's get your take on the situation. The meat products "can become contaminated with Listeria during production..." Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this saying that the Listeria bacteria is introduced into the food source through the production process? Wouldn't the likely solution be to improve sanitary conditions in order to prevent the possibility of contamination of the meat products? Perhaps cleanliness is more costly than purchasing viruses.

Another concerning thought is that these viruses are designed to kill bacteria, and the FDA assures the public that the viruses will not attack human or plant cells. The human body contains beneficial bacteria, and although these viruses are not known to attack human cells, they could potentially attack the bacteria in our bodies. The concoction is made up of six different viruses, any one of which could prove to be harmful to the bacteria present in the human body, or mutate into something more dangerous. Remember, the cold and flu viruses mutate to ensure their survival as our system creates antibodies to fight against the virus, and to this date - we have no cure for either. Prevention is only possibly for those flues that already exist, but since the virus mutates, there will be a new set of threatening flu viruses next year. The flu shot, as we all know, is only a good preventative for the flu viruses that already exist. It seems clear to me that we could be facing the possibility of "hot dog flu" in the near future, or something like it. At the very least, we could be looking at harmful immune reactions, causing allergies, asthma, cancer, or other disorders and diseases caused by the introduction of these viruses.

If any of this has got you considering the possibility of becoming a vegetarian, our worries aren't over. According to the FDA, phages have been used as part of pesticides that are sprayed on crops. The only upside is that the FDA is requiring that any packaged foods in which the viruses have been used will be properly labeled accordingly, however with very evasive wording. The viruses will be listed as a thinly disguised ingredient such as "bacteriophage preparation". This is not all good news, as some meat and poultry products have "standards of identity that do not permit the addition of antimicrobial agents", and yet the viruses will still be added to the foods, as long as they are described as having been "treated with an antimicrobial solution to reduce microorganisms." If this is as much of a concern to you as it is to me, now is a great opportunity to begin reading the labels of the foods you eat, as well as the favorite foods your kids may be eating. In fact, if you'll excuse me, I'm heading to the fridge...I have some reading to do!

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