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Safety of organ meats concerning BSE, antibiotics etc.?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created May 01, 2011 at 12:19 PM

I read a lot of good things about organ meats and wouldn't mind eating it. I'm just concerned with some issues, which I don't know are totally true:

  • BSE/'Mad Cows Disease' and equivalents. The prions causing this disease are said to be in organ meats, so eating these meats could result in humans getting BSE... I don't know why they would be apparent in organs and not in other tissue (apart from the liver it doesn't make an awful lot of sense to me).
  • Antibiotics, hormones and other rubbish that is given to commercial animals (we are very good at spraying antibiotics all over the place here in the Netherlands). They would heap up in the animals system, and especially the liver, kidneys and other garbage-collectors. And eating these is obviously not very good for you.

How much of this is true? Is it any more unsafe to eat organs than it is to eat muscles? Would it be safe to eat organs from organic, grass-fed animals instead? (In the case of antibiotics and such that is, for BSE I couldn't imagine)

Thanks :)

Cf626d3fba66c18297b3f1116a920e58

(3417)

on May 01, 2011
at 06:07 PM

Good point about downers, but not all downers necessarily have spongiform encepholopathies. Nonetheless, eliminating downers from the food supply, grass-fed or grain-fed, would probably just about close the book on humans ingesting animal prions. In any case, I'm starting to suspect the prions are a result of the feed. Human grain "feed" can lead to similar SEs or brain plaques like Alzheimer's, though those are by no means prion-related diseases. It's a weak link, just a similar anatomical manifestation of the disease, but I wonder if there's any significance there.

425aa4bfb79556ed50ea693c3edd7e13

(609)

on May 01, 2011
at 05:25 PM

I think you are dramatically misrepresenting the situation wrt: grass fed and prion incidence. I wont argue the cow point but scrapie and CWD are in no way confined to factory farm settings and both are prion diseases (and in the case of CWD, apparently an issue for transmission). Also, there are inspection concerns. There is a downside to smaller operations in that they are much more dependent on any given specific animal making it to market. Downer animals finding their way into the food system is the issue.

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2 Answers

2
3c997ffae3db9464325b96979346d9e9

on May 01, 2011
at 04:03 PM

I am startled how many people who post here consider factory farmed meat to be an option. For health, humanitarian, economic and ecological reasons it seems meat including eggs should only be gotten from family type farms that often have no problem with you visiting them. Farmers markets are often a place to purchase their meat.

1
Cf626d3fba66c18297b3f1116a920e58

(3417)

on May 01, 2011
at 01:59 PM

Fattier tissues will accumulate more lipid-soluble toxin, and muscle is far less fatty than most organs. You're right to assume that most organs will build up more of these toxins than muscles. Buying organs from animals that have been minimally exposed to these toxins will help you avoid accumulating them in your own fatty tissue.

And prions... well, that's a little more complicated -- definitely a unique case. First, I'll let you know how they work as an agent of disease, then I'll tell you why you shouldn't worry about them too much:

Prions as an agent of disease have only fairly recently been discovered, and they come with a novel pathogenic mechanism. That mechanism hasn't been totally fleshed out, but it seems that what is happening is a weird sort of evolution at the protein level that results in the proliferation of prion (mutant) proteins and the destruction of native proteins. I kind of consider it a cancer of protein compared to traditional cancer being a cancer of DNA.

What tends to happen with prions is hydrophobic amino acids that usually cluster in the cores of proteins in the cytosol (and reasonably so because the cell is an aqueous, water-based environment) instead pop out and are exposed on the surface. This happens to proteins naturally as they age, and it's one of many markers that either flags them for repair or degradation.

The unique thing about prions is that this reversal of amino acid positioning is extreme, and they acquire, arguably, some new ability to convert some normal cellular proteins into the malformed, prion form with the hydrophobic amino acids on the outside of the protein. In an watery environment, hydrophobic things will naturally cluster together to form aggregates to increase their stability and get away from water. The initial prion protein will convert a normal cellular protein, then they will form an aggregate joined at the now-exposed hydrophobic amino acids. The new prion will them fragment, and the daughter bits will invert amino acids on other cellular proteins and form new aggregates. Then, the process repeats. The end result is a growing cascade of constantly joining, splitting, and newly forming prions that eventually form aggregates so large that a sort of "dead-zone", a plaque, is formed in the tissue, usually the brain, where this whole process went down.

Prion proteins have only been found in the brain or in other elements of the central nervous system (as far as I know). In order to catch a prion, you have to eat the prion, so the only organ at the moment you need to avoid, is brains. Prions have only been found in typical commercial farm settings, not in cows raised on grassy pastures. A caveat: often, cow brains at commercial butcheries get mixed in with the muscle meat because the butchering methods have little regard for sanitation. This infects the muscle protein with the neural, disease-causing prion protein. Get grass-fed meat, and you will have NO reason to worry about prions, especially if the butchering is done cleanly.

Cf626d3fba66c18297b3f1116a920e58

(3417)

on May 01, 2011
at 06:07 PM

Good point about downers, but not all downers necessarily have spongiform encepholopathies. Nonetheless, eliminating downers from the food supply, grass-fed or grain-fed, would probably just about close the book on humans ingesting animal prions. In any case, I'm starting to suspect the prions are a result of the feed. Human grain "feed" can lead to similar SEs or brain plaques like Alzheimer's, though those are by no means prion-related diseases. It's a weak link, just a similar anatomical manifestation of the disease, but I wonder if there's any significance there.

425aa4bfb79556ed50ea693c3edd7e13

(609)

on May 01, 2011
at 05:25 PM

I think you are dramatically misrepresenting the situation wrt: grass fed and prion incidence. I wont argue the cow point but scrapie and CWD are in no way confined to factory farm settings and both are prion diseases (and in the case of CWD, apparently an issue for transmission). Also, there are inspection concerns. There is a downside to smaller operations in that they are much more dependent on any given specific animal making it to market. Downer animals finding their way into the food system is the issue.

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