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Meat Is MRSA March 28, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in food, football, science, sustainability.
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I am quite proud of the title of this post. It’s a play on words and a homophone in one. Actually, Murder and MRSA are not homophones, they are more like semi-homophones (hophones?) or cadence-phones (caphones?), or semi-homo-cadence-phones (hocaphones)! Anyways, if you have just eaten or are about to eat or generally have an overly sensitive gag-reflex, you might want to skip this post. Just enjoy the title.

Still here? Good. You know what meat is. That’s right, it’s the stuff that animals are made of. The stuff they wouldn’t be made of if we weren’t supposed to eat them. You know what MRSA is? Methicillin (Multidrug) Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. Or in English, antibiotic-resistant Staph. I don’t know what you know about MRSA (and I am not a physician so I technically don’t know that much about it either), but basically it’s a slow-moving flesh eating (technically, it’s “flesh necrotizing” or “flesh killing” bacteria) that doesn’t respond to a large class of antibiotics, including most that end in -icillin. Treatment for MRSA involves either massive doses of advanced antibiotics (although there are some strains of MRSA that have adapted to resist those), surgery, and maggot therapy. That’s right. Like in Gladiator. Despite these “medical” options, 18,000 Americans die from MRSA each year.

Historically, MRSA has largely been confined to hospitals–places that use a lot of antibiotics and have many people with open wounds–and the Cleveland Browns’ practice facility. But MRSA is “in the wild” now. Specifically, there is a strain of MRSA that infects cattle and can jump from cattle to humans. I heard on NPR last night from MRSA-lady (the woman who wrote the book “Superbug”) that there are multiple confirmed reports of this new strain jumping from cattle to their CAFO handlers. MRSA-lady also said that while there are no confirmed cases of contracting MRSA from infected meat, it is technically possible to do so, specifically by handling the meat with your bare hands. MRSA will not survive either cooking or the acid in your stomach, but it will transfer by skin contact.

If you’ve ever read “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlossberg or “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, or seen “Food Inc.” by Schlossberg and Pollan, you know that few creatures are more pathetic, disgusting, or more morally objectionable than industrial cows. Industrial cows are almost nothing like real cows. They don’t eat the same things (real cows eat grass, industrial cows eat corn and also chicken and dog), they mature about four times faster, and they are near total system collapse by 18 months, just in time for the meat-processing factory. CAFOs–the industrial operations that produce industrial cows–are essentially concentration camps, only worse. The very least we could do for industrial cows is to install them with Matrix-style bio-ports and at least give them the illusion that they are having anything like a normal life.

I stopped eating red meat about a year and a half ago. In truth, I could have kept eating red meat from non-industrial free-range cows and bison, but I decided to go “cold cow.” Ha! You didn’t think I had a sense of humor, did you. I didn’t do it for health reasons, although I did have “high” cholesterol at least by the 2008 definition of high and probably still do. And I didn’t do it for animal cruelty reasons, although fewer animals have an artificially shorter and more cruel life than an industrial cow. I did it initially because despite our best efforts, industrial cows are still relatively inefficient at converting calories of grain to calories of meat. They do so at a rate of about 7:1. Chickens? About 2:1. Chickens just make more environmental sense than cows. Oh, and they don’t fart methane either. And yes, I know that industrial chickens are not much better off than industrial cows and in fact may actually be worse off.

That decision looks better and better all the time. Industrial cows eat corn and grain (and chicken parts) which is an inefficient use of the global food supply. We could feed more people and feed them better if we ate less red meat and ate the grain directly. Cows produce methane, which is 20x more potent of a greenhouse gas than CO2. Counting everything, meat animals (mostly industrial cows) contribute more greenhouse gases than cars.  And now, they are also training grounds for various bacteria to evolve antibiotic resistance. Evolution can be a bitch!

P.S. And China’s move in the Google vs. China chess game is this. Well, it was either that or all 1.3 billion Chinese people standing on a chair and jumping down all together on the count of 3.

P.P.S. Why not? I would vote for you. Well, I don’t live in Massachusetts but I would trade votes with someone who does to vote for you.

P.P.P.S. Did you hear that Russia eliminated two time zones? They had 11, now they are down to 9. I think the US should eliminate Mountain time. Nothing happens in that time zone anyways. And this way, West coast baseball games would start at 9pm and end at midnight on the East coast. Either that or we should just go to “continuous” time. I mean, with GPS it is possible.

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