Friday, September 22, 2006

Has CNN Snr Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta "Effed Up"?

Talking about Spinach and Ecoli on KTVU this Morning

photograph picture of sanjay gupta cnn snr medical correspondent

Watching KTVU this morning, I heard something that made me prick up my ears. The CNN Snr Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta was live on the station talking about the Ecoli spinach breakout and was attempting to explain Ecoli's relationship with cattle and beef. This is what he said:

"grainfed cattle actually had less likelihood of actually allowing the bad ecoli to live in their bodies...maybe people don't like grain fed beef as much but that does seem to reduce the risk"

Why did that make me prick up my ears? Well, because all day yesterday I was reading the exact opposite.

This from Time Magazine (ironically enough, "in partnership with CNN"):

"But feeding steers grain and supplements can create safety issues--for cattle and humans. Biologically, cattle are ruminants, exquisitely evolved to graze grass, and researchers have found that a grain diet raises the acidity in steers' guts. This breeds an acid-resistant form of E. coli that can spread from feces-contaminated carcasses to meat. Although USDA inspections are supposed to detect E. coli, the system is not perfect. In 1993, 600 people in Seattle got sick and three children died after eating E. coli-- tainted hamburger. Since then, outbreaks have triggered more recalls and led to a federal recommendation that consumers cook beef thoroughly. According to USDA research, more than half of grain-fed cattle have been found to have acid-resistant E. coli in their feces; the proportion drops to 15% if they are switched to hay."

Two polar positions are being presented to us in mainstream media.
Who is telling the truth? I know who I'd put my money on.

PS. With many thanks to a boyfriend who digitally records the news every morning.

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Has CNN Snr Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta "Effed Up"?


  • At 22/9/06 08:51, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    Oh, yeah. He was wrong. What a disservice. That's why I just can't rely on TV for news.
    I may send a note to CNN.

  • At 22/9/06 08:59, Blogger Sam said…

    Good idea Cookiecrumb. I will too. And one to KTUV too.

    It was a shame because the KTUV presenter Ross McGowan, interviewing Gupta actually got it right and then Gupta twisted the facts back the wrong way round.

  • At 22/9/06 08:59, Anonymous Sean said…

    I happened to catch this as well. Having just read The Omnivore's Dilemma, it also jumped out at me as a discrepancy. Boo!

  • At 22/9/06 09:17, Blogger Erin S. said…

    Definitely send a note. Did you see this article by Nina Planck in the NYT--she addresses this very issue, explaining why grassfed is better and how grain-fed cows can be responsible for E.Coli.

  • At 22/9/06 09:24, Anonymous sam said…

    I have written to KTVU and to CNN about this.

    Thanks Erin for the heads up - I knew there were a lot of articles yesterday on this subject. It would have been cool to dig around and search for them all and put them in the articles as links, but I figured it was better to get this post up asap after the mistake occurred. Any more readers want to weigh in with relevant articles, please feel free to leave links here in the comments section.

    And if you want to email KTVU or CNN about this matter, too, I definitely encourage it.



  • At 22/9/06 10:06, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    OK, I sent brief, polite notes to KTVU and CNN.
    Unless you've fixed it, your link goes to a station (KUTV) in Utah, when I believe you meant KTVU in Oakland, so if anybody else is planning on writing, heads up.

  • At 22/9/06 10:20, Blogger Sam said…

    thanks cookie - link fixed.

    the show is called "Mornings on Two"
    just for information

  • At 22/9/06 10:31, Anonymous Kate said…

    Great Catch Sam! I've sent the appropriate e-mails. Thanks for the heads up.

  • At 22/9/06 10:33, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I totally didnt catch that!


  • At 22/9/06 13:09, Anonymous Luisa said…

    I was also going to point you in the direction of Nina Planck's piece. Oh, television....

  • At 22/9/06 13:58, Anonymous Fatemeh said…

    I have to wonder if this was a slip of the tongue.

    The reason I am wondering is that most people actually don't like GRASS fed beef as much because of its very different taste.

    Of course, I didn't hear the whole segment, so could completely have it wrong, but it's a possibility.

  • At 22/9/06 14:18, Blogger Sam said…

    It could have been a slip of the tongue - but a pretty big slip since Ross Mcgowan who brought up this line of thought put the question forward correctly, suggesting the 'hay fed' (as he called it) was better, albeit at the same time as professing his ignorance on the subject.

    Then Gupta came back with sentence I quoted. If indeed it was a slip of the tongue then it really shows up his ignorance on this particular subject, because anyone who really knew what they were talking about would surely have noticed their own mistake as they were saying it?

    Plus people who are on television under the audpicious title "CNN Snr Medical Correspondent" professing to be experts have a responsibility to get things right and not let their tongues slip. Or if they do, indeed to apologize and put matters straight for the public thereafter. I don't know if they did this, I didn't watch KTVU all day and as yet havent had a reply to my emails.

    Maybe Gupta is being paid by Cattle Farming Conglomerates to try and reverse the increasingly bad image of grain fed beef to an ignorant public. Who knows?

    I doubt the latter to be true, but it makes for a nice conspiracy theory, eh?

    I think Gupta just doesn't fully understand the differences between grass and grain fed and as such picked the wrong one to talk about when he was on TV this morning. He had a 50/50 chance but messed up.

    That's no excuse, though, he has to do better than that.

  • At 22/9/06 18:13, Blogger Del4yo said…

    What bugs me is not a question of the food given. Escherichia Coli is part of the normal hosts of healthy humain and animal digestive tube.

    So what is REALLY important is that the animals should be cut properly in a very clean environnement, for the guts not to contaminate the meat. Butchers should also always have very clean hands, for their own shit could be a contaminant. Actually everybody should wash their hands more often.

    It's not only a question of grain or hay (I wish all the cattle had a chance to be fed on grass outside,it really changes the meat's taste and they look more happy), it's more of an hygenia problem.

    I wonder if the rules and tests are as strict here as they are, say, in Europe, and from now I'll eat thoroughly cooked beef...

  • At 23/9/06 02:08, Blogger JacquelineC said…

    From what I understand: e.coli is a normally occuring instestinal virus. The problem is the particular strain that is harmful and directly linked to grain-fed beef. I've read that only one week of grass-feeding will clear the harmful strain from the cattle, and therefore from the runoff, groundwater, etc.

    In the NYT 9/20 an FDA scientist admitted that buying locally grown spinach would be safer.

    Make sure your farmer has a face...

    Jacqueline C
    AKA the

  • At 23/9/06 06:35, Anonymous Barbara said…

    It is a bacteria, not a virus.

    And yes, it is naturally occurring in mammals in the lower gut, however, each species carries its -own- strain of e coli in their own guts.

    When alien strains of e coli enter our upper digestive tract, it causes illness.

    However, even our own human strains of e coli, which are safe and happy in our guts, if they get into our upper digestive tract, cause illness.

    The deadly strain of e coli that causes not just mild food poisoning, but death, is a particularly virulent one that is resistent to various antibiotics. That strain has been pinpointed to have come from the typical practices of feedlot cattle raising.

    I think Gupta is ignorant, and misspoke, but it is possible that he did it on purpose. But the way that the interview went, it sounds like a big dumb mistake rather than a shill for the feedlot cattlemen.

  • At 25/9/06 06:23, Anonymous Jyotsna aka deccanheffalump said…

    Oh dear and I thought he was so smart!

  • At 25/9/06 06:25, Anonymous dhl again said…

    Usual T.V. foot in mouth disease?

  • At 25/9/06 10:11, Blogger Palette said…

    The real rub here is, that grain causes the ph in the ruminant stomach to shift, and decrease in acidity. The acidity in a ruminant's stomach is higher on a grass fed diet. Which is why the ecoli levels in grass fed beef are greatly diminished. What was the outcome of the letter?

  • At 25/9/06 12:26, Anonymous farmgirl said…

    1. After reading the first quote twice, I thought exactly what Fatemeh did.

    2. IMHO, grass fed beef is the best! (I have several hundred pounds of it in my freezer that we raised right here on the farm.) Yes, it has a different flavor than feedlot raised, grain-fed beef--it HAS flavor.

    (And I think the term "grass fed" is much more appropriate--and more palatable sounding--than "hay fed." Our steers were only fed hay--organically grown from our own fields--during the harshest winter months, and even then they were allowed to wander around and graze.) : )

    3. I second what JacquelineC said:
    "Make sure your farmer has a face," (And hopefully a smiling one!) *smiles*

  • At 25/9/06 12:37, Blogger farmgirl said…

    4. Oh yeah, regarding what del4yo said: Almost NOBODY washes their hands enough--or properly.

    A few weeks ago I was at Whole Foods in the Big City, standing in line to wash my hands in the ladies' room. When it was my turn, I soaped up and scrubbed my hands while I counted out 20 seconds. As I was finishing up, a lady standing behind me said, "You're the ONLY one who did it right!"

    Scary. VERY scary.

    I read something a while back that said if you wash your hands for five seconds it isn't enough, if you wash them for 10 or 15 seconds it feels like a long time but still isn't enough, and if you wash them for 20 seconds people start to look at you funny.

    I realize I live on a farm and my hands probably get a lot "dirtier" than most peoples.' I probably wash my hands at least two dozen times a day.

    When I am off the farm, I am constantly using hand sanitizer and wishing I could wash my hands more often, as I am absolutely horrified by what I see people do to/on/with their hands and then touch things that they want/expect me to touch--like a pen or a receipt or a gas pump handle. UGH.

    The first thing I do when I get home from anywhere is wash my hands--twice!

    I'll stop now before I start going on about the disgusting habits of many food service workers. . . I would worry a lot less about the actual food and a lot more about peoples' dirty hands!

    Stepping off soapbox now. . .

  • At 25/9/06 16:42, Anonymous Fatemeh said…

    I definitely don't like Sanjay -- he's a bit of a condescending prat.

    I'll be looking for the feed of this online.

  • At 25/9/06 22:51, Blogger Marc said…

    Erin S.'s recommendation of Nina Planck's op ed is a good one. But hurry, as articles disappear from the Times in a week or so (or two?).

    Michael Pollan got into the subject of deadly E.coli in detail in his NY Times piece "Power Steer" (unfortunately not on his website), and a little bit in "Ominivore's Dilemna". On page 82, Pollan writes that most microbes in a grass-fed cow's gut have evolved to live in the neutral pH environment, and are therefore killed in our stomachs. Cows fed on corn have acidic rumens, which is where E.coli 0157:H7--one of the deadliest known bacteria--thrives (0157:H7 was the culprit in the big Jack-in-the-Box tragedy a few years back). Since it can survive in a feedlot cow's gut, it can live in our acidic stomachs. Pollan writes that USDA research shows that just a few days of a diet of hay or grass before slaughter can dramatically reduce the population of E.coli 0157:H7. But that would be too expensive and complicated, so the meat industry proposes irradiation.

    This is a place where a huge meat buyer like McDonald's needs to step in and say "we want to avoid food poisoning, so feed the cattle grass for a few days." McDonald's has such power that the feedlot industry would find a way.


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