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I'm hearing a lot about avian influenza. Do I need to be concerned?

Avian influenza is an animal disease that on rare occasion can infect humans who come into direct contact with infected live birds. Human to human transmission of the disease has never been documented.

The form of Avian Influenza now impacting Asia (H5N1) has not been diagnosed in U.S. poultry or U.S. citizens.

It is reassuring to note, however, that the same safe handling practices that ensure safe meat and poultry every day would be effective in the unlikely event that a person handled poultry from an infected bird.

These practices include washing hands before and after handling poultry, cooking all poultry to a minimum of 165F. As always, it is important to separate raw and cooked foods.

To read a World Health Organization statement on avian influenza and poultry safety, click here:


Why are antibiotics used in livestock production?

Antibiotics are used in livestock production to ensure safe and wholesome meat products in the food supply. Antibiotics play an important role in ensuring healthy animals.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved antibiotics for use in the food industry more than 40 years ago. Since the approval, farmers have used antibiotics safely to help animals remain healthy.

Are there reasons other than illness for antibiotic use?

Yes. Antibiotics are used for three different purposes in animal production: therapeutic use to treat identified illness, prophylatic use to prevent illness, and sub-therapeutic use to enhance feed efficiency and promote growth. It has been demonstrated that when antibiotic use is curtailed in livestock production, there are consequences such as increased likelihood of more devastating disease outbreaks amongst livestock with more severe consequences for the animals.

Antibiotics are an important disease management tool that allows livestock and poultry producers to supply the growing population with a safe, efficient and plentiful food supply.

Can animals develop a resistance to antibiotics?

Yes. Resistance to antibiotics is a natural biological defense that bacteria use to survive efforts to eliminate them. It is important to realize that antimicrobial resistance traits are widely distributed among bacteria throughout the environment and within the human population; and the issues surrounding antibiotic resistance extend well beyond livestock production. Mobile DNA elements that can be transferred from one bacterium to another are largely responsible for antibiotic resistance in bacteria; although other mechanisms of developing antibiotic resistance exist. The transfer of DNA that codes for antibiotic resistance between bacteria can occur in the human intestinal tract as well as outside the human body.

Is research available regarding antibiotic resistance?

Yes. The World Health Organization, and a U.S. coalition of the National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration, United States Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all recognized the importance of gaining a better understanding of how all factors, including those related to livestock production, contribute to antibiotic resistance of bacteria. These organizations have called for improved surveillance of clinical and animal bacterial isolates for antibiotic resistance, more data on how antibiotics are used throughout the world to treat human illnesses, and more research to better understand how antibiotic resistance traits move throughout the bacterial world. Their consensus signals broadening acceptance of scientific results linking antibiotic use in human medicine and in agriculture to the potential for development of antibiotic resistance.

While many media reports attempt to link solely the use of antibiotics in animals to resistance in human isolates, experts understand that this is a shared responsibility and that investigations must also consider the misuses of antibiotics in human medicine. Furthermore, some antibiotics remain stable in the environment after they have been used for any purpose and can affect the resistance of bacteria in the environment.

Is there any oversight for antibiotic use in livestock production?

Yes. The responsible use of antibiotics helps to advance public health, food safety and animal health. The FDA helps to ensure the prudent use of all antibiotics used in animal agriculture.

The meat and poultry industry uses only those antibiotics approved by the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine that have met regulatory and scientific criteria. In addition, antibiotic use in animal agriculture is governed by several principles.

  • Prudent Use Program - The guidelines, "Prudent Use of Antibiotics: Global Basic Principles," were put in place by international organizations representing farmers, veterinarians and the animal health industry.
  • Risk Assessment -Antibiotics used in both growth promotion for animals and in human health, will be phased out should scientific risk assessment point to a human health impact.
  • Life Saving Measures - The industry will refrain from using antibiotics deemed critical for human medicine except for animal life saving measures.
  • Public Health - All decisions regarding antibiotic use will be based on what is in the best interest of public health and food safety.
  • New Alternatives - The industry will focus on sanitation and animal husbandry practices that facilitate animal health, the use of short courses of drug therapies for treatment of disease, the development of vaccines to improve animal disease resistance, animal genetics to improve the sustainability of animal health, and the application of probiotics and competitive exclusion to improve animal health and development.

Because farm animals consume a large amount of biotechnology or genetically modified (GM) crops, it is reasonable to ask what, if any, affect these crops have on the animals that eventually become part of our food supply. The Federation of Animal Science Societies (FASS) claims that farm animals consume 75 percent of the genetically modified corn crop and a significant amount of the genetically modified soybean crop.

What benefit does biotechnology have for livestock?

Biotechnology has a significant role in enhancing livestock nutrition. With better nutrition, animals digest their feed more efficiently, are healthier and more productive. All scientific data available suggests that biotech or GM foods, such as soybeans and corn, are safe for both the livestock and the humans who eat products derived from these animals.

Are Foods from Animals that eat GM crops safe to eat?

More than 30 studies show that the composition of meat, milk and eggs from animals fed GM foods is no different from those fed conventional feed, according to FASS.

How does biotechnology work?

Biotechnology is a faster, more direct way of doing what agriculturists have been doing for centuries through conventional breeding. Scientists today can quickly select a crop's most desirable traits-higher crop yields, improved pest resistance or improved nutritional properties-and create seeds that produce crops with these characteristics. Plant breeders can use biotechnology to give crops specific qualities, which improve their feed value for animals, and make the crops easier to process.

Since favorable traits are integrated right into plants, growers can reduce production costs and time, increase their efficiency and control pests without pesticide use. For example, Bt corn is specially engineered to protect it from pests that make the plant susceptible to a fungus known to be a human carcinogen. Not only does this corn protect human health, it also reduces the need for chemical sprays and increases the amount of crops per acre.

Is there government oversight to biotechnology?

The Federal government has a well-coordinated system to ensure that new agricultural biotechnology products are safe for the environment and to animal and human health.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of three federal agencies, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), primarily responsible for regulating biotechnology in the United States. Products are regulated according to their intended use, with some products regulated by more than one agency.

What are some benefits of biotechnology?

Biotechnology benefits consumers by reducing the delivery time of improved foods to the marketplace. What once took 10 to 15 years and trial and error can now be completed in months. Science has reduced years of crop field-testing and trait selection to months of laboratory testing and selection. Another consumer benefit: meat products are produced from healthier, better nourished animals. The use of biotechnology in animal nutrition is widespread and growing.

Both conventional and biotechnology approaches have benefited livestock and poultry producers by making feed more nutritious, plentiful and affordable. The end result is a wholesome, abundant and affordable product that meets the demands of growing population.

I heard a news story that said carbon monoxide is used in some packages of meat.  Do I need to be concerned?

Many food products including some meat products are packaged with gas to maintain the fresh color that appeals to consumers. From potato chips to bag lettuce, this type of technology has been used safely and effectively for years.

Red meat products are somewhat like sliced apples. Their color can change rapidly even though the product is still safe and wholesome. In fact, retail stores often discount red meat products that have changed color but are still safe and wholesome and well within their shelf life. Discounting safe and wholesome products due to color can ultimately drive up costs and the meat prices paid by consumers.

But by adding minute amounts of carbon monoxide at levels approved by the FDA and USDA to red meat packages, products like ground beef can maintain their appealing red color throughout their shelf life. This maintains product value, eliminates waste and keeps costs down for consumers in the long-run.

Red meat products that use carbon monoxide packaging systems are centrally packaged at meat packing plants using tamper proof packaging systems. These centrally packaged products contain use-by dates that provide clear instruction to the consumer about the products safe shelf life.

While carbon monoxide can maintain the red color in meat, other factors will tell a consumer if a product has become spoiled. These factors, which include a strong and recognizable spoilage odor and a slimy, slippery texture, become apparent at the end of product shelf life whether products are packaged with or without carbon monoxide. Products packaged at the plant in tamper proof packages also begin to bulge noticeably when meat becomes spoiled.

When preparing and enjoying any meat product, consumers should follow the safe handling label on meat products carefully. These labels tell consumers to wash hands, utensils and any surfaces or utensils that touch raw meat; keep raw meat and poultry cold; keep raw and cooked products separate and cook thoroughly using an instant read thermometer.

What is cloning?

Historically, the livestock industry has bred together desirable male and female animals and awaited their offspring. More recently, through the case of somatic cell nuclear transfer- a form of cloning- scientists can make genetically identical copies of animals with desirable characteristics. These animals are much like identical twins.

The livestock industry has used breeding practices to select desirable traits for meat production- like tenderness or leanness.

Summarize the Cloning Process

Early methods of cloning in the 1970s involved a technology called embryo splitting, or blastomere separation, where embryos were split into several cells and then implanted into a surrogate mother for growth and development. The practice took on a new meaning in 1996 with the birth of Dolly the sheep, the world's first mammal cloned from an adult cell. Dolly was cloned using SCNT technology. Livestock breeders use cloning to copy elite animals, using them as breeding stock to upgrade entire herds.

Cloned animals and "transgenic animals" are sometimes confused. Transgenic animals or plants are produced by moving beneficial traits from one animal to another using a systematic procedure. By contrast, cloning involves using cells from an adult animal to make animals that are biologically identical.

Are cloned animals included in the food supply?

No. Cloned animals are primarily used for breeding stock. Meat from cloned animals or their offspring currently is not marketed to the consuming public. Because of the enormous expense involved in cloning animals, only the offspring of such animals, not the animal itself, would enter the food supply for consumption. First- or second-generation offspring of clones may eventually become part of the food supply.

Are products from cloned animals safe to eat?

Yes. FDA commissioned the National Academies of Science to identify and prioritize any safety concerns that bioengineered and cloned animals might present to food, animals and the environment. In August 2002, NAS published a report titled Animal Biotechnology: Science-Based Concerns, in which it determined there was no evidence that food products derived from cloning or their progeny present a food safety concern. The report recommended collecting additional data about food composition to confirm further that the products are safe to eat.

Are there any benefits to Cloning?

Yes. Cloning has the potential to benefit the welfare of animals and the environment. Proponents claim the process of cloning can help eliminate animal pain and suffering from disease when farmers breed disease-resistant animals. The cloning of high-quality grass-fed instead of grain-fed animals has an environmental benefit as well. Grass is a soil-building crop that reduces erosion and does not require the quantities of fertilizers and pesticides that grain need. And because forage (or grass) is cheaper than grain, it could ultimately provide a cost savings to consumers.

What studies have been conducted on the safety of cloning?

In Oct. 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted an animal cloning risk assessment. Like other studies that have preceded it, the assessment affirms the safety of cloning as a means of producing high quality livestock that will in turn yield high quality meat products.

FDA has performed a thorough review of the issue and its conclusions should be reassuring to the public. Cloning is a natural progression in animal breeding techniques that essentially produces a "twin." The genetics of the cloned animal are the same as its parent and are not altered during the cloning process.

Why are hormones used in cattle?

Hormones are used in cattle production to ensure that feed is converted to "muscle" or "beef" as effectively as possible. An overwhelming body of scientific evidence assures that hormones are safe for animals and that beef from hormone-treated cattle is safe for people to eat.

An animal that is given growth enhancers gains weight more rapidly and produces a leaner product. By reaching market weight sooner, there is a reduction in the cost of beef production and therefore a reduction of cost to the consumer.

What types of hormones are used?

The three synthetic hormones used in beef production mimic three naturally occurring hormones. All the hormones have been safely in the United States for decades.

  • Zeranol mimics estradiol
  • Trenbolone acetate mimics testosterone
  • Melengestrol acetate (MGA) mimics progesterone

Are hormones safe for animals?

Yes. There is a clear, worldwide scientific consensus to support the use of these approved and licensed hormones when used according to good veterinary practice. The world's scientific community has agreed that both naturally occurring and synthetic hormones are safe when used, according to label directions, in food-producing animals.

Is meat produced from cattle with hormones safe to eat?

Yes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others also have concluded that there is essentially no difference between beef from animals raised using hormones and those raised without their use. Their conclusions indicate that even the miniscule amount in beef is well below any level that would have a known effect on humans.

Is hormone administration regulated?

Yes. FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture collaborate to provide consumers with a safe food supply by ensuring the proper use of hormones in cattle. FDA regulations allow the use of hormones in the form of implants, which have very specific instructions for proper usage.

Hormones are used in beef production to sustain a high quality and affordable beef supply. Careful federal regulation and oversight of the use of hormones can assure consumers that beef from cattle treated with hormones are safe.

Is there a level or limit for hormone dosage?

Yes. The prescribed dosage is the level that will produce optimal results. In fact, there is no benefit to using more - only additional costs - thus eliminating the incentive for farmers and producers to increase dosage.
The hormone levels in beef produced using growth hormones are well within the range of naturally occurring levels of these hormones in beef cattle.

For more information, visit the Food and Drug Administration Information for Consumers at


What is irradiation?

Red meat irradiation is an added food-safety tool that complements the many other technologies used to produce the most wholesome products possible. Research has shown that irradiation is extremely effective in destroying bacteria like Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli O157:H7. Many compare irradiation's food safety potential to that of milk pasteurization, which was once thought to be a radical idea, yet is now a standard practice.

How does the irradiation process work?

Irradiation is a safe and simple process that uses energy to destroy harmful bacteria on food products. This energy can be generated from cobalt-60 or cesium-137 (referred to as gamma irradiation), x-ray machines or electron accelerators (most often called electron-beam technology). The energy passes through the product, in the same way that microwaves pass through foods in a microwave oven. The energy does not remain in the product or leave any residue, nor does it cook the product or alter its taste in any demonstrable way.

Does irradiation protect against possible contamination in the home?

No. Irradiation does not eliminate the need for proper food handling procedures. Non-irradiated products, human hands or bacteria in refrigerators and on cutting boards and countertops could contaminate an irradiated product that is brought into the home. However, when used in combination with safe handling practices, the technology can help reduce the risk of food borne illnesses, dramatically.

Is irradiation a new process?

No. Irradiation has been available for spices, fruits and vegetables for many years, but was only permitted for use on (single ingredient) red meats in February 2000. Retailers began offering irradiated products in the retail marketplace that same year. Today, irradiated meat products are offered by many leading retail chains in major markets. Consumers are able to identify irradiated products by looking at the label, which bears a symbol called the radura and the words "treated with irradiation" or "treated by irradiation".

How do I know that meat and poultry has been irradiated?

This symbol must be included on packages of meat and poultry along with the words "treated with irradiation " or "treated by irradiation."



Are there any studies about irradiation?

Yes. Irradiation is one of the most studied food safety technologies ever introduced. The American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the American Dietetic
Association, the Centers for Disease Control and a variety of other public health organizations endorse irradiation as a safe, effective and important means of preventing food borne illness. In fact, astronauts and members of the military have consumed irradiated products for decades. Irradiation is already widely used in the United States to sterilize medical equipment. In addition, the technology is approved for use in nearly 40 countries around the world.

Is the irradiation process monitored or inspected?

Yes. Facilities that irradiate meat and/or poultry are considered meat or poultry processing facilities subject to regular and frequent inspection by the Department of Agriculture. Like all workplaces, the facilities also will be subject to Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Environmental Protection Agency regulations and inspections.

Are non-irradiated meat and poultry products safe?

Yes. Irradiation is only used after meat and/or poultry has met all food safety regulations and been inspected and passed by USDA. Irradiation is a supplement to - not a substitute for - other food safety strategies. Because irradiation is so effective in destroying bacteria, irradiated meat products are an important consumer choice, especially for those most vulnerable to food borne illnesses, like elderly, children, pregnant women and those who are immune-compromised.

Is there an added cost associated with irradiation?

Yes. Irradiation may increase the cost of products by pennies per pound, but research shows that consumers are willing to pay more for the food safety benefits that it offers. Research has consistently demonstrated that many consumers who understand irradiation and its benefits will purchase irradiated foods. Consumers' desire for these products increases with their knowledge.

For more information on irradiation, download the Food and Drug Administration consumer brochure at or call 1-888-SAFEFOOD.

What is Sodium Nitrite?

Sodium nitrite is a salt that is used to cure meats like ham, bacon and hot dogs.
Nitrite serves a vital public health function: it blocks the growth of botulism-causing bacteria and prevents spoilage. In addition, evidence indicates that nitrite can help prevent the growth of Listeria monocytogenes, an environmental bacterium that can cause illness in some at-risk populations. Sodium nitrite actually provides a food safety benefit to consumers.

What role does Sodium Nitrite have in meat processing?

Cured meats cannot be produced without sodium nitrite. It gives cured meats their characteristic color and flavor; a product like ham gets its color and taste from nitrite. Without nitrite, product shelf life would also be shortened substantially.

Decades ago, sodium nitrate - a "cousin" of nitrite - was also used as a curing ingredient. Sodium nitrate is rarely used to cure meat today, however.

What is the main source of Sodium Nitirte?

Nearly 93 percent of daily nitrite intake comes from vegetables and saliva; less than five prevent comes from cured meats. Vegetables, most notable spinach, lettuce and root vegetables contain nitrate, which is converted to nitrite when it comes into contact with saliva in the mouth. In fact, the amount of nitrate in some vegetables can be very high. The nitrate to nitrite conversion process from eating vegetables makes up 85 percent of the average human dietary nitrite intake.

Another source of nitrite in the body, called the "Molecule of the Year" by Science Magazine in 1992, is nitric oxide. The body nitric oxide uses it to control blood pressure, kill tumor cells and heal wounds. When nitrite oxide is done with its work, its byproduct is nitrite. So clearly, nitrite is something that is made by the body are part of its normal, healthy processes.

Is Sodium Nitrite Safe?

Yes. Numerous scientific panels have evaluated sodium nitrite safety and the conclusions have essentially been the same: nitrite is not only safe, it is an essential public health tool because it has a proven track record of preventing botulism. Specifically, the world's leading agency on the toxicological safety of chemicals - the National Toxicology Program - conducted a multi-year study to evaluate its safety. The study, approved by a panel of experts May 18, 2000, found that nitrite was safe at the levels used.

A panel convened by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in June 2000 also determined that nitrite at the levels used did not pose any risk to developing fetuses.

Nationally-acclaimed physician and pediatrician Dr. Ronald Kleinman, chief of the pediatric
gastrointestinal unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and associated professor of Harvard
Medical School, offers this assessment: "The risk of cancer that we find today in the United States from hot dogs and other prepared foods is nil…" Consumers should consume - and enjoy - nitrite containing cured meats with confidence.

Does Sodium Nitrite have any health benefits?

Yes. Evidence is mounting that nitrite actually does have numerous health benefits. Studies have shown that nitrite is part of the body's healthy nitrogen cycle. The body converts a neurotransmitter, nitric oxide to nitrite and nitrate. Nitric oxide is made by the body to regulate blood pressure, promote wound healing, and even to prevent pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. Ingested nitrite has been shown to help destroy pathogens in the gut.

Most recently, in November 2003, scientists at the National Institutes of Health announced new study findings showing that nitrite in blood can improve blood flow by opening blood vessels. This increases oxygen in the blood and makes it a potential new treatment for diseases such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, sickle cell disease, and leg vascular problems.

According to Drs. Richard Epley, Paul Addis, and Joseph Warthson of the University of Minnesota, who published a review of nitrite, "Based on available evidence to date, nitrite as used in meat and meat products
is considered safe because known benefits outweigh potential risks."

Learn the facts about Sodium Nitrite


Is grilling healthy?

Absolutely. Grilling is a delicious and nutritious way to cook meat and poultry. Grilling imparts a distinct flavor that consumers enjoy. And, when meat and poultry cuts are grilled, fat drips away from the product, which reduces fat without reducing flavor.

What are heterocylic amines?

Heterocyclic amines are chemicals formed during high temperature combustion. Because grilling uses high heat, HCAs can form when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and creatine (a chemical found in muscles) react.  

Do HCAs pose a risk?

In studies where animals were fed levels of heterocyclic amines that were thousands of times higher than normal human exposure, cancer
has been induced. But epidemiologists studying human populations have seen much less consistent and conclusive results. However, the National Institutes of Health says on its web site that because researchers
are still investigating this issue, no limits have been set for HCA consumption.

Do other forms of cooking cause HCAs to form?

Frying and broiling at high temperatures has been shown to increase HCA formation. When lower temperatures like those used for baking -- are used to prepare meat and poultry products, studies show that HCA formation is greatly reduced.  

Is there way to prevent HCAs from forming?

Yes. By trimming away excess fat before grilling, it is possible to reduce flare-ups that can char meat and poultry. Using lower temperatures when grilling, using indirect heat in which meat and poultry are not placed directly on the flame and turning meat and poultry frequently can reduce HCA formation. If meat and poultry become charred, trimming the charred portion is advised.

In addition, if appropriate for the cut of meat or poultry being prepared, marinades have been shown to reduce HCA formation.

But I'e been told to cook meat thoroughly. What do I do now?

Cooking meat to the proper temperature is essential. While there is some evidence to show that overcooking and charring meat and poultry can increase HCAs, there is still much more research to be done in this area. However, the risks of under cooking meat and poultry are well established. It is essential to cook meat to recommended temperatures using an instant read thermometer to ensure proper doneness.

How much HCA consumption is too much?

According to the National Institutes of Health, studies are being conducted to assess the amount of HCAs in the average American diet. At the present time, the maximum daily intake of HCAs in food has not been established.

Given the preliminary state of the science on this issue, the wisest course of action is to consume a balanced diet consistent with U.S. Dietary Guidelines.


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