DISHING THE DIRT
The Secret History of the Meat on our Plates
Meat is a dirty, dangerous substance. It’s contaminated,
carries infection and kills people. It’s hardly surprising
when you consider where it comes from.
95% of food poisoning is caused by meat and animal products. Food
poisoning makes millions ill in the UK every year and kills hundreds –usually
the most vulnerable: the elderly and the very young. The meat industry
and the shops which sell meat hide the truth with shiny packaging
and clever marketing but Viva! exposes the truth.
Dirt on the farm: disease on the plate
These are just some of the illnesses found in dirty meat.
Salmonella – caught from chicken, pig meat
and eggs. Half a million people made ill each year, hundreds killed.
E Coli 0157 – found in the guts of cows,
spread to meat at slaughter. Meat from one butcher’s shop
killed 20 and made hundreds ill in a single outbreak in Scotland
a few years ago. The commonest cause of acute kidney failure in
Campylobacter – the number one food poisoningbug,
found in half of all chicken on shops’ shelves. Infects millions,
kills 80 to 100 people per year.
BSE – still found in hundreds of British
cattle every year. Causes Creuzfeld-Jacob Disease in humans (CJD).
CJD is invariably fatal. BSE is now found in 24 countries: others
have yet to discover it – or, still worse, are yet to admit
Superbugs – antibiotic-resistant bacteria
(like MRSA) are a growing threat to human health. Some kinds are
caught directly from eating meat and scientists now agree that
the use of antibiotics on farmed animals has played a part in their
emergence. In Britain, 20 of the antibiotics we use to treat human
illnesses are also used to treat farmed animals
Dirt and disease on the farm
Viva!’s investigations have uncovered the filth and disease
found throughout the farming industry. On factory farms and in
the fields, we find the same stories of disease, suffering and
neglect time and time again:
Chickens are packed together in their tens of
thousands, the litter beneath their feet never changed and the
stink of ammonia from bird faeces rank in the air. Diseases like
coccidiosis (intestinal parasites) spread like wildfire through
the flock. Despite routine administration of antibiotics and other
drugs, 100,000 chickens die before slaughter every day.
Half of chicken carcases on shelves carry the killer bug campylobacter – 40
million contain salmonella. The most virulent form of bird flu
kills 75% of the people it infects – and now it has started
to pass from human-to-human.
Pigs suffer from pneumonia, meningitis, dysentery,
stomach ulcers and numerous other illnesses. Over 90% of meat pigs
are kept indoors in filthy factory farms. One in 10 piglets die
before they are a month old and dead and decomposing pigs and piglets
can often be found just lying around. Breeding sows are forced
to give birth into their own manure and these naturally-clean animals
are frequently caked in slurry. Half of all pig carcases at slaughter
show signs of pneumonia in their lungs. A quarter of pig carcasses
are contaminated with salmonella.
Sheep endure fly-strike (maggots burrowed in
their skin, eating their flesh), foot rot, pneumonia, infective
abortions and intestinal parasites. They also suffer from scrapie,
a BSE-like illness and may even harbour BSE itself. Sheep also
pick up clostridium perfringens from infected soil, a
bug causing over 50,000 cases of food poisoning a year.
Cattle are ravaged by pneumonia (which affects
over 3 million a year and kills over 150,000 calves), tuberculosis,
parasites, infected, weeping lesions on their feet and diarrhoea
which kills one calf in 30. E coli 0157 is produced in
the guts of some cattle and can be easily transferred to others
in the pasture – and to humans through infected meat.
Fish become contaminated by all the pollutants
we dump in the sea: mercury, dioxins, PCBs and other toxins. Many
fish carry parasites, especially farmed salmon which are kept packed
together and dosed constantly with drugs in a failed attempt to
keep disease at bay.
In addition to these chronic illnesses, deadly epidemics devastate
farmed animal populations on a regular basis – bird flu,
BSE, swine fever and foot-and-mouth are just a few examples. The
global trade in meat and livestock spreads disease across continents
and borders. What will hit us next, nobody knows.
Dirt in the slaughterhouse
Terrified animals in abattoirs defecate uncontrollably, fouling
their own skin and the animals around them. At slaughter and during
gutting and processing, faeces and intestinal contents infect the
flesh used for meat . Equipment, water and people working there
easily become contaminated, spreading parasites, bacteria and viruses.
Parts of the animal that no-one wants to think about become so-called “meat
products”, eaten by millions of people every day while a
slurry called mechanically-recovered meat is used in products such
as chicken nuggets.
Vets in the slaughterhouse are supposed to check the health of
every animal before slaughter – but each vet has an average
of 6,000 animals to check every day. According to an official audit,
the Government body responsible for abattoirs officially failed
to meet its target for enforcing meat hygiene rules last year.
Dirt on the Shelf
A recent survey of butchers by the University of Wales found that
only 50% of surfaces used to store cooked meats could be classified
as clean and that in more than half the premises surveyed, cooked
and raw meats are kept on the same shelf. The researchers concluded
that bacterial counts were too high and that “considerable
potential for cross-contamination existed in many shops”.
Dirt on the Plate
The horror and squalor of factory farming and abattoirs lie behind
every cut of meat and well known illnesses like foot-and-mouth
and bird flu are just the tip of the iceberg. The carved up body
parts of sickly animals kept in dirty conditions are the last thing
any rational person should want to eat.