Laura, a mother of two toddlers from Buffalo, N.Y., has been scared away from eating at fast food restaurants. She’s also stopped giving her toddlers antibiotics when they’ve been prescribed by a doctor to treat an infection. Instead, Laura writes that she makes “them fight the sickness themselves because I don’t want their little bodies to become immune to antibiotics.”
There’s so much wrong with such thinking as Laura’s. She obviously lacks confidence in her children’s doctor, and somehow, she’s convinced herself that humans can become immune to antibiotics. In reality, it’s bacteria that develop antibiotic resistance, not humans.
Laura, and millions of intelligent Americans like her, are dangerously misled about their health, their food, the environment and how cattle production affects all of these. That misinformation is a byproduct of the information age where modern snake oil salesmen reach into our homes to sell health remedies, diet plans and unconventional products.
One such salesperson is Food Babe, the internet sensation that is Vani Hari. With a website that generates millions of views, a Facebook page with more than 1 million likes and more than 92,000 Twitter followers, Hari spreads her dangerous anti-science message. In recent campaigns, Hari has said canola oil is toxic, microwaves destroy food’s nutrients, antiperspirants can cause breast cancer and unpasteurized raw milk is superior, despite the Centers for Disease Control warning that raw milk is one of the riskiest foods you can eat.
Hari’s most recent effort is a petition calling on Subway to stop using meat from animals raised with antibiotics. Food Babe’s post about Subway and antibiotics is also where we found Laura’s comments, along with a link to her organic home gardening website.
We might dismiss Food Babe as a shooting star, one whose flame burns bright but only briefly. Sadly, there are many charlatans fueling America’s anti-science sickness, and some are well-respected.
In its October issue, Consumer Reports publishes a “study” that says “conventional” ground beef is more dangerous to your health than “more sustainable” organic ground beef. When news of the study was released, headlines across the U.S. screamed of the dangers of your product. Specifically, Consumer Reports says they found bacteria in 18% of the samples from conventionally raised beef and 9% of samples from “sustainably” raised beef. To low-science consumers, the study could be alarming, but not to industry experts.
Food safety scientist Doug Powell notes a magazine article is “not the equivalent of a peer-reviewed research paper,” while others found problems with the way the data was presented. Some of the bacteria Consumer Reports found, for instance, scientists claim comes from how beef is handled (via hands, countertops) rather than the beef itself.
Further confusing consumers is the fact that the bacteria Consumer Reports found are not commonly associated with illnesses from consuming undercooked ground beef. Mindy Brashears, professor of food microbiology at Texas Tech University, says the bacteria found by Consumer Reports are “typically associated with picnic-type food poisoning” where food is left unrefrigerated for too long.
Given recent attacks on your livelihood from many directions, it will become increasingly important to fund science-based information campaigns for customers. Agriculture must continue to fight anti-science sickness with campaigns that underscore your commitment to healthy, wholesome beef raised in a sustainable manner.