Humans have developed numerous poor eating practices, some out of necessity (lack of alternatives) and others by choice. When red meats started receiving a bad name, particularly beef, pork purveyors (especially regarding products that are not nitrate or nitrite-cured) tried to align themselves with poultry (so-called white meats), referring to pork as the other white meat.
Pork is one of the most widely eaten meats in the world, making up about 40 percent of meat consumption worldwide. It’s especially popular in East and Southeast Asia, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, North America, South America, and Oceania. Unfortunately, the pig is a scavenger and like a number of favorite bottom-dwelling fish and shellfish, pork is are far from ideal for human consumption. By nature, pigs are garbage and waste eliminators, often eating anything they can get. This includes slop, insects, pest rodents, energy-rich waste droppings, dead animals, or whatever is available when hungry.
The Pig’s Problematic Digestive System
A pig rather quickly digests whatever it eats, in as few as four hours. During the digestive process, the system detoxifies that which it can. However, rather than being particularly effective, pigs’ digestive systems pass many toxins and inactive biological agents (e.g., viruses and larger parasites) into the circulatory system, muscles and fat storage. Whether by coming in direct contact with the animals, spending extended periods in closed spaces where they are housed, or by eating their meat, you place yourself at risk of exposure to debilitating diseases and toxins.
Pigs are primary carriers of:
- Taenia solium – tapeworm
- Hepatitis E virus (HEV) — In developed countries, sporadic cases of HEV genotype 3
- Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus
- Nipah virus
- Menangle virus, and
- Paramyxoviridae virus
- …and more.
Each of the above-listed parasites and viruses can lead to prolonged, serious health problems.
Commercial Pig Farming
Atop the issues and disease sources described above, today more than ninety percent of commercial pigs in the United States are raised on factory farms. These are not free-range animals. Rather, they are raised in tight, densely-packed spaces. Minimizing movement keeps the muscle tissue more tender. Not always standing, the relatively immobile pigs live in their urine and feces. The spaces are often poorly aerated, promoting sharing respiratory diseases. They are also fed antibiotic-laced, high starch grain mixtures with the objective of fast growth and disease suppression. But, approximately 3/4 of pigs reach the slaughterhouse with either antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections or early onset pneumonia (of viral or bacterial origin) because of raising practices.
Pork and the Consumer
The following is a less adverse example of the effects of pork on the consumer public. A 2013 Consumer Reports analysis of U.S. pork chops and ground pork samples found nearly 70 percent harbored bacteria called yersinia enterocolitica, which infects about 100,000 Americans a year, especially children, causing fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain in humans. Although the vast majority of cases resolve without professional medical intervention, you may fare quite poorly if among the very young, immunodeficient, or otherwise already compromised by another serious illness.
Consider that by analogy, natural tobacco contains 6,000+ active chemical components, with more after processing. A vast number of the chemicals are toxic, some cancer-inducing. There is actually no health benefit of any type of use of tobacco. In fact, its smoke is known to cause disease even among in non-users who are passively exposed to airborne smoke (side-stream smoke) and smoke particulates settling upon furniture and other surfaces with which we may regularly contact (e.g., carpooling in a smoker’s car). Yet, the FDA allows tobacco to be sold with the caveat of warning labels. The FDA is even more lenient with pork, and industries using pork products, not even requiring warning labels.
If you are a hardcore pork consumer, further investigate the topic of commercial pig farms, slaughter, and processing. Additionally, when you shop for pork, look for “antibiotic-free, pastured, organic” products, visit local producers, following the product from birth farmer to the local butcher. A pig is still a pig. But, if you can afford to shop in this way, you can assure yourself a notably “safer”, but very expensive product. For most of you, caveat emptor – consumers beware, pork is not the other white meat.