Free-Range Pork Carries More Disease
(p. A19) Is free-range pork better and safer to eat than conventional pork? Many consumers think so. The well-publicized horrors of intensive pig farming have fostered the widespread assumption that, as one purveyor of free-range meats put it, "the health benefits are indisputable." However, as yet another reminder that culinary wisdom is never conventional, scientists have found that free-range pork can be more likely than caged pork to carry dangerous bacteria and parasites. It's not only pistachios and 50-pound tubs of peanut paste that have been infected with salmonella but also 500-pound pigs allowed to root and to roam pastures happily before butting heads with a bolt gun.
The study published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease that brought these findings to light last year sampled more than 600 pigs in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin. The study, financed by the National Pork Board, discovered not only higher rates of salmonella in free-range pigs (54 percent versus 39 percent) but also greater levels of the pathogen toxoplasma (6.8 percent versus 1.1 percent) and, most alarming, two free-range pigs that carried the parasite trichina (as opposed to zero for confined pigs). For many years, the pork industry has been assuring cooks that a little pink in the pork is fine. Trichinosis, which can be deadly, was assumed to be history.
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Let's not forget that animal domestication has not been only about profit. It's also been about making meat more reliably available, safer to eat and consistently flavored. The critique of conventional animal farming that pervades food discussions today is right on the mark. But it should acknowledge that raising animals indoors, fighting their diseases with medicine and feeding them a carefully monitored diet have long been basic tenets of animal husbandry that allowed a lot more people to eat a lot more pork without getting sick.
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