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Antibiotics in Meat continued...

The cattle industry says there's no firm link between antibiotics in animals and resistant germs in people, but many scientists aren't reassured. "It's hard to trace the impact of antibiotics in the U.S., because we don't require animal producers to tell how much or which drugs they use," says Mellon. In Denmark, however, where bacteria in live animals and food products are rigorously monitored, a recent study traced an outbreak of drugresistant salmonella that killed two people to a herd of pigs carrying the same drugresistant strain.

Should You Worry?
Most drug resistance in germs you might face comes from overuse of antibiotics in people, not animals. But the U.S. government takes the threat seriously — enough so that it established the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, which regularly tests bacteria from animals, people, and retail meats for signs of resistance to 17 common drugs. So far, there's no evidence that drug resistance is spreading from food to people. "But it's theoretically possible," says Craig Baumrucker, Ph.D., a professor of animal nutrition and physiology at Penn State University. Fortunately, cooking meat to the right temperature kills germs no matter what. (For information on how to safely store and cook food, go to fightbac.org.)

Genetically Engineered Corn

Most of us routinely — and unknowingly — eat foods containing at least some plant ingredients whose DNA was modified in order to help the plant grow heartier and prettier. In fact, about a dozen types of genetically modified crops have been approved for market since 1995, but the technology is mostly used on soy, cotton, and corn — which makes the corn syrup that goes into processed foods, as well as cornstarch, flour, and baking powder. Between corn, soy, and other foodstuffs, as much as 70 percent of the processed food in your supermarket could contain at least one ingredient that's been genetically modified.

The Potential Danger
Inserting new genes into a plant's code causes specific changes in proteins that typically allow the crop to survive adversity, such as a dousing of weed killer or a swarm of attacking caterpillars. While genetic engineering seems vaguely creepy to the average layperson, some scientists raise specific concerns — their biggest worry being that genetic tinkering could cause new food allergies, which occur when the immune system overreacts to proteins. Researchers have long known that putting genes from an allergenic plant into a nonallergenic one can result in an allergenic plant for those who are sensitive. Now, a 2005 Australian study finds that even a gene exchange between two nonallergenic plants can create a plant that triggers an immune response in animals. "It's a jump to say an immune response in lab mice translates to allergies in people," says Mellon. "But the research certainly raises that possibility."

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