Jul 19, 2013

Farmer's Market vs Conventional Chicken


Some days back Penn State Research posted on my facebook page, a link to an article in Poultry News which referenced a study published in the Journal of Food Safety [1], by some researchers at the Pennsylvania State University. The poultry news article, give credit to them, only said - Farmers Market chickens may contain more pathogenic bacteria.
After reading through the news article, I downloaded the journal article itself and started preparing this post. This morning I see a more sensationalist titled article in the ny times blog. A statement: Farmers Market Chicken Higher in Bacteria".
Note: This article discusses bacteria found in chicken. Specifically salmonella and campylobacter. The underlying links under the words for these pathogens take you to the Center for Disease Control (CDC websites).
Primarily, the journal article and at a larger level the "Poultry Site" both project the idea that food from farmers markets may not be "safer" as commonly believed. It is interesting they try to twist the data of naturally occuring bacteria content in raw meat/produce and try to connect that to "health".
By and large, a lot of people tend to go for organic or locally raised foods  - especially the ones that have not been treated with synthetic chemical pesticides/insecticides/antibiotics during the production cycle [2]. This "lack of chemicals" (in common parlance) is viewed as one major benefit from locally raised/organic food. Locally raised foods fit this criteria on many occasions based on a trust that gets built up between the farmer(s) and the consumers . In many cases, local farms get weeding help from community members and these kind of interactions establish the framework of trust that the weeding is indeed done in an organic farming method and not using weedicides (true test by a skeptic) [3].

Coming to the article in the Poultry site, what I notice is that the first paragraph itself has a gross error in reporting the data from the journal paper. The report in the poultry site has some of the numbers in the table mixed up though. On the poultry site they mention 52% of conventional chickens to contain salmonella - but that is not what the study in the journal states (see screen shot below).



There seems to be no easy to way to add comments or point out errors to that poultry site so if anyone knows how to contact the article authors there, please shoot me an email at psusaver at gmail dot com. Thank you.

Link to Article on Poultry Site (note that the article at the site may eventually change and I hope it does, to be accurate).
the useful part of these articles: Bacteria that cause foodborne illness, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella, are destroyed by proper cooking  (at 165 C) of poultry products; however, they also can cause cross-contamination if they come in contact with other foods through contaminated cutting boards, sinks, countertops or utensils.
Other Notes

The headline at the Poultry site as well as in the NYT blog article (published on July 18th 2013), miss the fact the conventionally processed chicken contain campylobacter in 52% cases in this study [4]. This is a matter of great concern, because "store based chicken" are supposed to be already under strict health/agriculture department regulations. The percentage of population that consumes foods bought from conventional stores is substantially higher than those that consume food from farmers' markets.

The existing regulatory machinery as well as the conventional agribusiness needs to do more to fix the issues with the regular supply chain, before trying to overburden themselves targeting much smaller segments that reach only a smaller portion of the society.

The NY Times article is way more sensationalist and just attention grabbing and frankly, is quite deplorable to see NY Times acting like - Sun in UK or Midday in India.

Bibliography/Notes:

[1]: A Microbiological Comparison of Poultry Products Obtained from Farmers' Markets and Supermarkets in Pennsylvania. Joshua Scheinberg, Stephanie Doores, Catherine N. Cutter.

Article first published online: 3 JUN 2013.  DOI: 10.1111/jfs.12047

[2]: Based on conversations with other consumers as well as farmers in Villingen-Schwenningen, Southern Germany (2002), Delhi/Chennai, India (2010) and State College/Boalsburg, Central Pennsylvania, USA (2005-13 and on going).

[3]: Invitations to help out in weeding by local organic farms via Facebook and at Farmers markets in State College, PA United States (Summer 2013). A basket of produce is offered in exchange for volunteering to help.

[4]. New York Times - Wellness blog article. " Farmers’ Market Chickens Higher in Bacteria"

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