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FDA Approves Controversial Spray-On Viruses For Deli Meats

Whenever you hear the U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA) place their seal of approval on something to be included in our food, generally you feel pretty confident that the newly-approved food additive is safe for consumption. But have you seen what they just approved to be sprayed on deli meats that are a popular food choice for people who are livin’ la vida low-carb?

This Forbes story reveals the shocking news that the FDA is going to allow for the very first time a series of six viruses to be sprayed as a food additive onto deli meats such as sliced turkey and ham as well as hot dogs, sausages, and other ready-to-eat packaged meats. You heard me right–VIRUSES SPRAYED ON OUR MEAT!

Before I get into the story, what do you think about that? My gut reaction was immediately, “Oh my gosh, what are they going to be putting on our meat now?!” It freaked me out worse than finding out how chargrilled chicken served in popular restaurants is really made! Unlike probiotic foods which put good bacteria in your body to combat the bacteria that would cause you to get sick, this is different because you won’t have a choice about whether you consume this or not. It’s FDA mandated.

Plus, what is the sudden urgency of this that would cause the FDA to move so quickly to grant approval for this virus concoction to be put on perfectly good meat? Well, it appears there is a segment of our population that gets sick with an infection called listeriosis and one-fifth of those people die annually. How many Americans contract listeriosis each year and get sick and/or die? Millions? Hundreds of thousands?

Would you believe ONLY 2,500 get seriously ill and a grand total of 500 of those people die, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control? That’s a mere SEVEN people for every one million who get the disease and just a little over 1 person per million who dies. That’s it! And THIS warrants a move to introduce a series of viruses to tens of millions of people?! ARGH!

While it is awful to hear that ANYONE has to get sick or even die from something as horrific as something like listeriosis, does it really take a drastic action by the FDA like spray-on viruses on deli meats when the overwhelming majority of Americans will not be affected by this disease? Who’s to say these new viruses won’t lead to some other kind of sickness in the millions upon millions of people who would otherwise be just fine eating the meat sans the viruses? There are too many unanswered questions in my mind to make me feel comfortable with this.

The story explains that this virus spray developed by a company called Intralytix, Inc. (who stands to reap HUGE profits from the sale and distribution of their virus spray) is actually bacteriophages which fight and kill the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium that ends up on uncooked deli meats. This disease is more apt to hit women who are pregnant, newborn babies and adults with a weak immune system.

So, if those people are in the high-risk category, then why don’t we give them access to this virus spray so they can give a little squirt on their meat before eating it if they are the ones who are most susceptible? Why expose the other 99.999% of us who don’t have any difficulty eating deli meats to this new string of viruses that may or may not be good for us to consume over the long-term? By the way, where are the studies on how safe these viruses really are? Hmmmm? FDA, it’s time to pony up the information!

I eat a lot of sliced turkey as part of my low-carb lifestyle. I really enjoy eating a cold cut turkey and cheese wrap with a little mayonnaise and/or mustard and sometimes some spinach leaves. It’s a quick and easy lunch and helps fuel my workout during my lunch break from work. I have eaten it hot out of the microwave and cold, so I guess I have been exposed to the risk of getting listeriosis myself. But I have eaten luncheon meats 5 days a week for the past three years with no sign of sickness at all. NONE!

But now I’m going to be exposed to these viruses which will make me rethink the kind of meats I buy from the grocery store. This really stinks, ya know? Sure, Intralytix President and CEO John D. Vazzana, who has been lobbying the FDA to approve their virus spray since 2002, says this food additive (as they are calling it) is completely safe as does the FDA food additive safety regulator Andrew Zajac.

“As long as it used in accordance with the regulations, we have concluded it’s safe,” Zajac said.

But what makes them so sure the viruses will be used “in accordance with the regulations” and not cause people any harm? Oh, we’re just supposed to trust them and believe them at face value that these supposedly “safe” viruses they are adding to our food will have ZERO negative impact on our bodies. Puh-leez! I wouldn’t trust the government from here to my front door on something that could directly impact my life like this.

Here’s a scary quote from the FDA:

“The viruses are grown in a preparation of the very bacteria they kill, and then purified. The FDA had concerns that the virus preparation potentially could contain toxic residues associated with the bacteria. However, testing did not reveal the presence of such residues, which in small quantities likely wouldn’t cause health problems anyway,” the FDA said.

Jeepers creepers! Since listeria exists in deli meats primarily because they are not cooked or heated up prior to consumption, then why doesn’t the FDA just put out a recommendation for people in the vulnerable groups to do just that prior to consuming these foods? That certainly makes a lot more sense than taking the bold and risky action to begin spraying viruses on the meat that millions of people consume daily. Duh!

Even scarier is the eerie revelation by Zajac in this story that consumers will have no idea this virus spray has been added to the deli meats they purchase. If it’s so safe, then why not? Yikes, you mean there won’t be a big yellow sticker on it with the message “FDA-APPROVED SPRAY-ON VIRUSES APPLIED TO THIS MEAT!” Ya think Oscar Meyer and Bryan would appreciate having that on their bestselling deli meats? Nah, didn’t think so.

UGH! Do you see where this is going people? Now that the FDA has approved this action, Intralytix is already feeling cocky enough to begin an immediate worldwide production of their spray-on virus and are even currently working on another spray that will allegedly kill the E. coli bacteria on beef prior to grounding. AAACK! What are they doing to our beef now?!

Are you as outraged about this as I am? If not, then you should be. Feel free to tell me why you aren’t angry about this if this is of no concern to you. But if you are upset and want to voice your opinion, then make your voice heard by commenting below and also by demanding answers from Andrew Zajac at the FDA. E-mail him to express YOUR concerns about this issue at andrew.zajac@fda.hhs.gov. Let me know if he responds so I can post it here.

This is an important issue for people who are livin’ la vida low-carb and I urge you to tell everyone you know about what the FDA has approved to be put on deli meats. MAKE A FUSS, SAY NO TO VIRUS!

9-11-06 UPDATE: One of my readers over at LowCarbNewsLine.com received a response back from Andrew Zajac regarding my concerns:

There seems to be some misinformation on the internet and in the press about the labeling of bacteriophage-treated meat and poultry products. Use of this additive must comply with the Federal Meat Inspection Act or the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which are both administered by USDA.

According to USDA, the use of the phage preparation will need to be declared as an ingredient on the label of the treated meat or poultry product, e.g., “bacteriophage preparation.” Therefore, if you are trying to avoid foods that have been treated with bacteriophage, you will have the information on the food label to do so.

Andrew Zajac
FDA

Okay, so at least you SHOULD be able to know if the meat you eat has this virus on it or not. But I wonder how conspicuous these food companies will make it on their packaging. I would venture to say that it will be in very fine print. We shall see.

  • karishma

    You missed my favorite quote of the article:
    “The viruses are grown in a preparation of the very bacteria they kill, and then purified. The FDA had concerns that the virus preparation potentially could contain toxic residues associated with the bacteria. However, testing did not reveal the presence of such residues, which in small quantities likely wouldn’t cause health problems anyway, the FDA said.”

    So, deli meat that was perfectly safe and bacteria free before gets sprayed with this concoction, and might very well be contaminated with the very bacteria it’s supposed to kill? Talk about exacerbating the problem.

  • Gary

    Farther and farther away from nature. I have no proof to back up my suspicion, but it sounds like this is a move to allow meat producers more time to allow meats to get to market without the risk of spoilage. So meats won’t have to be as fresh because they’ve been sprayed. Doesn’t sound good. A policy likely designed more for the industry than for consumers. If my suspicion is unfounded, let someone challenge it.

  • Rob

    Well, just another reason to avoid processed meats to be honest with you. While it may be popular on some low-carb diets, one should really avoid processed lunch meats if one can help it. Not only is the quality of the meat used in question but the meat itself is usually LOADED with sodium. Extra sodium should be avoided at all costs, it’s a chemical poison.

    If you’re looking for a quick snack to have around buy a food dehydrator and make your own jerky to have on hand using a nice piece of bottom round, or scan the Bear “Words of Wisdon” thread at the Active No-Carber Forum for his recipe.

    The Zero Carb Daily

  • TeaJay

    I agree with Rob – we make our own jerky, cook up a turkey and then slice for a week’s worth of meals, etc.

    However, it doesn’t seem too unrealistic to believe that they won’t be soon spraying something nasty on something else we eat. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised what’s being done that most of us know nothing about.

  • low carb tennis guy

    I also noticed in the article, that if you cook or reheat the meat that it kills the bacteria, so why not just put a recommendation for that on the products, rather than force-feeding us a virus??? Wouldn’t that make sense? Oh, I forgot, government good sense is an oxymoron. My bad. Maybe cooking or reheating will kill this stupid virus spray as well.

  • branruadh

    Nope, not outraged or bothered. It’s a specially designed bacteriophage that has one target. It’s not likely to spontaneously evolve in the influence of your stomach acids to do something to you. It’ll die off if it isn’t already dead when you eat the salami. Consider how long it’ll be between treatment and purchase (easily a couple of days). If its food source is dead, it’ll die off pretty quickly itself. So I see no problem here.