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Viruses the New Condiment 363

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the hold-the-e-coli dept.
Lip writes to tell us that a new bacteria killing virus has been deemed safe by the FDA as a food additive for ready-to-eat meats. These bacteriophages are designed to kill a common microbe (Listeria monocytogenes bacteria) to which hundreds of deaths every year have been attributed. From the article: "The viruses are grown in a preparation of the very bacteria they kill, and then purified. The FDA had concerns that the virus preparation potentially could contain toxic residues associated with the bacteria. However, testing did not reveal the presence of such residues, which in small quantities likely wouldn't cause health problems anyway, the FDA said."
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Viruses the New Condiment

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  • "Please keep it down, sir, or everyone will want some."

    • by buswolley (591500)
      I am not a biologist, so please respond if you are: Could these viruses effect the bacteria that exist in our digestive tracts??
      • by RsG (809189) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:45PM (#15941131)
        Ever had strong antibiotics? One of the bits of advice they give you is to eat stuff like yogurt once you're done the treatment.

        The reason for this is that antibiotics will kill off your own symbiotic bacteria in addition to the infection they're supposed to cure. However, replacing those same intestianal bacteria is incredibly easy with the right foodstuffs.
      • by tijnbraun (226978) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:04PM (#15941217)
        probably not... viruses are often host specific. They have to attach to specific receptors to enter the cell. So as long as the bacteria in our digestive tract do not share the surface proteins with Listeria, the bacteriophage will only tarcet Listeria.
      • affect vs effect (Score:2, Informative)

        by bar-agent (698856)
        Could these viruses effect the bacteria that exist in our digestive tracts?

        You mean affect. The verb effect means "to bring about," which is opposite of what you want it to mean here.
        • by buswolley (591500)
          Thanks. I admit I get them confused.
  • lysing
    • by pilgrim23 (716938)
      Relax, don't worry about it. If it makes you too nervous, take som thalidamide and go fishin on Love canal..
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Kitten Killer (766858)
        Let's stop giving that drug a bad name. It has its uses, even though it had a terrible past.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalidomide [wikipedia.org]
        "The FDA approved thalidomide in 1998, under a restricted access system, for the treatment of erythema nodosum leprosum associated with leprosy (Hansen's disease). It also was found to be effective for multiple myeloma, and is now standard first line therapy for this disease..."
      • by AJWM (19027) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @04:25PM (#15941683) Homepage
        Nothing wrong with fishing on Love Canal. The canal was fine, the problem was the (1940s era?) Hooker Chemical dump near Love Canal. That wouldn't have been much of a problem either, if the town hadn't expropriated the old dump site. Hooker Chemical didn't want to sell, but the town forced the issue -- HC put in a proviso that the land never be used for anything. Few years later the town builds a school on it...

        Nothing wrong with thalidomide either, so long as you're not female and pregnant. (If you're male and pregnant you have bigger problems ;-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:30PM (#15941054)
    The federal government classified them as vegetables along with ketchup.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kfg (145172) *
      The federal government classified them as vegetables along with ketchup.

      Which is totally ridiculous. Everyone knows that ketchup is a fruit.

      KFG
  • Mutation? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MidoriKid (473433)
    Is it possible for a bacteriophage to mutate and infect human cells?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      AFAIK there aren't any phage-type viruses that can infect humans with intact immune systems. They're too big and obvious for our white cells not to notice.
      • Re:Mutation? (Score:5, Informative)

        by RsG (809189) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:41PM (#15941117)
        What's more, a virus whose survival strategy is to infect bacteria doesn't really gain anything from trying to infect animal cells. When was the last time we had any infection, with or without human intervention, that made such an enourmous leap? Hell, it's hard enough for disease organisms to jump from one similar species of animal to another, let alone from bacteria to animals. Even examples like bird flu are going from one large, warm blooded animal to another.

        I'd actually think it more likely that the bacteriophages would go after the bacteria living in our digestive system, which would likely cause many of the same problems that a round of antibiotics does - ie, diarhea - but which is also simple to cure by recolonizing your intestines with those same bacteria (no colonizing your colon jokes please). So the cure for the bacteriophage run amok B-movie style would be... yogurt actually.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ultranova (717540)

          What's more, a virus whose survival strategy is to infect bacteria doesn't really gain anything from trying to infect animal cells. When was the last time we had any infection, with or without human intervention, that made such an enourmous leap?

          Presumably sometimes after the first multi-cellular organisms developed.

          But you are going about this backwards. A virus doesn't think, it doesn't ask itself: "Can I gain anything by infecting these human cells instead of bacterial cells?" The virus infects the

          • Re:Mutation? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by RsG (809189) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:32PM (#15941318)
            Point taken. However, "survival strategy" generally doesn't imply conscious decision, rather it implies what the virus has specifically developed for. In this context, the virus has evolved to infect bacteria, which are quite different from human or animal cells. It's not a question of whether it is "wise" for it to infect those cells, but whether it even could in the first place.

            As to ancient viruses jumping species from bacteria to animal cells, what makes you think that humans and modern animals are anything like the first multi-cellural organisms, aside from the obvious point of having more than one cell? So far as I know, immune systems didn't develop until well after organisms became multi-cellular, due to the fact that such systems require specialized dedicated cells evolved to fight infection.

            It's much easier to see a disease organism jumping from a single celled organism to a cluster of cells that have only just begun to act as a group, than it is to see a virus that had no prior evolutionary adaptation to immune responses infect a complex organism with an immune system. The "arms race" between animal cells and viruses to develop/survive immune responses accounts for why modern viral infections are capable of surviving an assault by the human immune system, whereas bacteriophages lack those millions of years of adaptation.

            I am aware of no examples of bacteriophages jumping species to animals. Presumably they do share a common ancestor with the common cold, but that's likely so far back that using that common ancestor as proof that they could jump to humans is illogical.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by PizzaFace (593587)
          I'm worried that recolonizing the intestinal tract would just feed the viruses. Antibiotics get cleared from your system, but viruses keep multiplying until the hosts are destroyed.
        • Re:Mutation? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by edxwelch (600979) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @03:49PM (#15941574)
          Yes, but why do we need this in the first place? If meat is fresh and cleanly prepared it doesn't have any risks of bacteria. So, basically this is a measure to conteract the bacteria that you would find on meat that has being lying around for a while. While that might make the food cheaper to produce, I would prefer the fresh product, rather than gambling with the unknown effects of having a virus in my food.
          • by RsG (809189)
            Well, from TFA they seem to be approving this for cuts of meat that you don't cook (like the kind that go on a cold sandwitch).

            With that in mind, "fresh" isn't guaranteed, and cleanly prepared isn't the consumer's job, its the meat-packing companiy's. It's not like with raw hamburger or chicken where the buyer is going to cook the stuff themselves before eating it.

            Given the choice between either irradiating or phage-treating the stuff, or else risk giving their customers food poisoning, which should the pa
        • "I'd actually think it more likely that the bacteriophages would go after the bacteria living in our digestive system, which would likely cause many of the same problems that a round of antibiotics does - ie, diarhea - but which is also simple to cure by recolonizing your intestines with those same bacteria (no colonizing your colon jokes please). So the cure for the bacteriophage run amok B-movie style would be... yogurt actually."

          Antibiotics pass through your system, after which the bacteria can recoloniz
    • by Enzo the Baker (822444) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:34PM (#15941076)
      Is it possible for a bacteriophage to mutate and infect human cells?

      If it does, we'll just come out with some virus-eating bacteria. It's the ciiiiiiircle of liiiife!

      • Do we have viruses that infect other viruses? I can see the potential to adding that to many foods to rid entire populations of HIV/AIDS.
        • by Kitten Killer (766858) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:09PM (#15941241)
          Viruses don't have cells. They're basically just genetic material in a protein shell that go off to reprogram other cells. It would be impossible to "infect" another virus.

          There are ways other viruses can co-infect a cell and piggy-back onto another virus's replication cycle for it's own use, or even disrupt the other virus's replication because of it. Problem is HIV is a retrovirus, which also means it doesn't actively replicate all the time and can integrate into your own genes. That's why an infected person can survive for years with a very low HIV count and relatively symptom free until the viruses essential reactivates.
    • Re:Mutation? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kripkenstein (913150) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:38PM (#15941095) Homepage
      Is it possible for a bacteriophage to mutate and infect human cells?

      Anything is 'possible'. However, the odds of this are quite small. Bacteriophages are highly adapted to their hosts - bacteria. This would make it far less likely to occur than for a virus adapted to, say, a mammal to cross over to humans (which happens, but rarely). Furthermore, as TFA states, humans already come into contact with these particular bacteriophages all the time.

      However, there is a risk factor, obviously. We would be creating much more interaction between human beings and these bacteriophages (if these sprays become commonplace), which would give them more time to adapt to us.
    • Re:Mutation? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Cyberax (705495) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @03:04PM (#15941418)
      Bacteriophages are VERY specialized. They can't penetrate into animal (or plant) cells because they are too large for it, and they can't use their injection system because animal cell walls are dense as bacterial cell walls.

      Actually, bacteriophages (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phage) are the smallest syringes in nature, and they actually have proteins that store the energy needed for injection of genetic material through the cellular wall!

      Phage therapy is a very real alternative to antibiotics. In fact it is already used with much success: my cousin was treated with phage therapy after a chemical burn complicated by kidney infection (strong antibiotics would have destroyed his kidneys).
  • Cue John Q Public (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dsanfte (443781) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:32PM (#15941062) Journal
    "They're putting bird flu in our food!"

    The press coverage has been woefully bad with respect to explaining that these are not your average run-of-the-mill viruses, but rather are bacteriophages that can only infect bacteria. Expect some mild hysteria over this and some nuts demanding labelling.
    • truth in labelling (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aepervius (535155) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:40PM (#15941109)
      Whether histerical or not, whether dangerous or not, I am for TRUTH in labelling. It does not matter whether biotest found out that it is innocuous. It does not matter that FDA thinks genetically modified soja is ok for consumption, or hormone in beef, what matters is that *I* "the consumer" need to know to make a choice. Whether I inform myself to make a correct decision is my choice. But if you take out stuff from the label beause no consummer would buy it out of fear, then you REMOVE the choice, even if it is a dumb choice. And I as a consumer find it a really bad idea. Next you will claim putting a label with a list of ingredient with % is a dumb idea too.
      • by FleaPlus (6935) * on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:55PM (#15941172) Journal
        Whether histerical or not, whether dangerous or not, I am for TRUTH in labelling.

        Should all products which use yeast include the label "Contains fungus"?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Luxifer (725957)
        Ok, lets give you truth in labelling: your tap water contains a hundred trillion of these phages in every glass, but most are specific for other species. While we're at it, about 4 pounds of your body weight is bacteria. That's about the mass of your brain.
        Do you think if we told the public that any given piece of meat has x billion bacteria on it that it would be useful information to them? Plants too, so none of that herbivore crap.
        How about this, your food is inspected
      • by Jugalator (259273)
        I got the impression he was talking about some demanding *warning* labels on it from mass hysteria.
        But sure, putting a label with <insert virus name here> as part of the ingredient listing would only sound fair.
      • by ozbird (127571) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @05:14PM (#15941805)
        Whether histerical or not, whether dangerous or not, I am for TRUTH in labelling.

        "Warning: Lark's Vomit!" [utwente.nl]

        Personally, I think this is a dangerous precedent. Adding a 'phage is not a substitute for having proper food handling standards (and testing) to prevent Listeria contamination in the first place. Listeriosis may be unpleasant for those unfortunate enough to get it (a mere 7.4 people per million), but it acts as a red flag indicating there's a problem that needs to be fixed. Giving people a "magic spray" just encourages them to take shortcuts, leading to more outbreaks of other food contamination. (No doubt the FDA's "solution" is to add more 'phages - didn't they learn anything from the misuse of antibiotics?)

        "Ulch - that meat was tainted! You feel deathly sick." - Nethack.
    • by l2718 (514756)
      Note that there are implications to this "bacteriological pesticide": while the phages are naturally occuring viruses, they are not normally ingested in large amounts. It is not inconcievable that they could have effects, for example, on the bacterial culture in our intestines. I hope someone here is knowledgeable enough to comment on this.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Lord Kano (13027)
      Expect some mild hysteria over this and some nuts demanding labelling.

      You have to be a nut to want to know what additives are in your food?

      Are vegans nuts if they want to know if enzymes from animal sources are added to their food? Are Jews or Muslims nuts because they want to know if pork products are added to their food? What about people who are allergic to peanuts, are they nuts to want to know when their foods are prepared with peanuts? How about people who are allergic to eggs? What about people who a
    • by SuperBanana (662181) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:52PM (#15941157)

      The press coverage has been woefully bad with respect to explaining that these are not your average run-of-the-mill viruses, but rather are bacteriophages that can only infect bacteria. Expect some mild hysteria over this and some nuts demanding labelling.

      I was expecting more of a "We can't label this, consumers would freak out if they knew!" reaction from businesses.

      Exactly that argument was used to strike down requirements that "GM" (genetically modified) food be labelled. Businesses, with a straight face, told the government regulators that if they required labelling, consumers wouldn't buy their products. God forbid consumers be allowed to make a choice as to whether they want genetically modified foods or not...and if you're afraid they won't choose genetically modified foods- maybe you shouldn't make them.

      Most people's fears come from the business world constantly (and consistently) putting profits ahead of public health. Industries whine about reglation, but they brought it upon themselves, as almost every piece of regulation on the books were brought about by someone doing something they shouldn't have- all because it made more profit.

      • by Trepalium (109107) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:47PM (#15941365)
        Most people's fears come from the business world constantly (and consistently) putting profits ahead of public health.
        Except no one has provided any evidence whatsoever that genetically modified foods are less healthy. All you have is Greenpeace's paranoid ravings about frankenfood, and how it's "not natural". We do not require labels for hybridized foods, or any other type of food we might breed inside or outside of a laboratory, so why single out GM? Is it simply because people have watched far too many monster movies where an unwitting scientist unleashes a monster on the world?
        • by radtea (464814) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @05:30PM (#15941860)
          Except no one has provided any evidence whatsoever that genetically modified foods are less healthy

          This is not the issue.

          The issue is: KNOWING WHAT WE ARE BUYING SO WE CAN MAKE INFORMED CHOICES.

          That is all. That is the only issue. It is an issue of the freedom to choose, and the knowledge required to make that choice.

          I want to know what agricultural practices I am supporting when I buy food. I have my reasons, and in a free country I should be allowed to act on those reasons. I neither know nor care what you, the FDA or Monsanto think of the issue.

          Freedom means the freedom to do things that other people think are irrational and ill-advised, so long as doing so does not take away other's freedom.

          If you can come up with a single argument as to why I should not be free to know what I am eating I'd like to see it.
          • So then, you are for labeling every hybrid? That's genetic modification. And, yes, it is a portion of the issue. Why the hell should I pay more for something because of your unfounded paranoia?
    • by owlnation (858981)

      Expect some mild hysteria over this and some nuts demanding labelling.

      Yes, ok, these are to some degree different from virusy viruses. However, hysteria aside, this is extremely unpalatable. That's one very damn good reason to expect, or indeed demand, a label for this process.

      Seriously, good food does actually grow on trees - there's no legitimate reason (other than squeezing the last cent out of production) for screwing around with it. Me, I'll pay you extra to leave it alone, and I'll probably live

  • by noidentity (188756)
    Yay, let's trade off a few hundred known deaths with the unknown health effects of this new virus. I suppose food labeling won't be required to show that this is added, because "we're sure there are no negative health effects and wouldn't want you, the idiot consumer (literally) deciding for yourself".
    • ... I suppose food labeling won't be required to show that this is added...

      I have an issue with a kneejerk reaction to add labeling. Mainly, the vast majority of people don't read the labels. So adding a warning does little. Furthermore, its getting to the point that so many warnings are being put on consumer goodss, that the warnings get lost in a sea of noise. Take a simple electronic device such as a radio, it typically comes with a small booklet full of warnings. Honestly, when was the last time

  • Small quantities (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Skotlake (891399) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:39PM (#15941102) Homepage
    . . which in small quantities likely wouldn't cause health problems anyway . .

    But small quantities build up over time! I got a fortune cookie a few weeks ago that puts it best: "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible."
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by twitter (104583)
      But small quantities build up over time!

      Yes, irritants cause cancer.

      Don't worry. We can trust the people who brought us BSE, growth hormones, high fructose corn syrup and the current obesity epidemic can't we? Ronald loves you.

    • Why can't the body remove those small quantities?
    • Small quantities _don't_ build up over time if the body can metabolize or excrete them. Metabolizing and excreting are two tasks that your body is remarkably good at performing. Then again, we don't really have a basis for judgment on that because we're not told what those residues might be.
      • so you start your day, and you're poor. You eat 4 sasuage links with your eggs. You snack on a burrito before lunch and have cold cuts for lunch. For dinner you hit Micky D's. You've had 4 heapin' helpings of bacteria. Now lather, rinse and repeat. The FDA assumes you're not eating this stuff _every_single_day_. But for a lot of poor people, they are. They don't have time, or money, for the fresh fruit and vegetables studies assume they'll eat. So they're getting way more of this crap than they should.
  • phages (Score:5, Informative)

    by Luxifer (725957) <{geek4hire} {at} {gmail.com}> on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:40PM (#15941108)
    This is very cool. I remember the Russians were working on killing bacterial infections in people (Tuberculosis, Leprosy, even Flesh eating disease) with Phages. That was in the 70s. It's about time someone came up with something successful.
        By the way these are completely harmless to humans, in fact to all plants and animals. The phage is a very simple virus with a small genome that gets injected into the bacterium and does the standard virus things (hijacks the host's systems to replicate itself a billion times). The cell explodes, releasing billions more phages. These phages have been our tools for a long time in biology, we use them to move genes around, for making libraries of genes, all sorts of neato stuff. There's little we don't know about them, so they're a good candidate for this task. There is no way these can make the leap from infecting bacteria to infecting higher organisms, any more than a plant could suddenly start walking around.
        I could think of a few things that are possible, for example if it mutated enough to find our host bacteria a good target then that might cause problems, but again, very doubtful.
       
    • which there's every reason to believe, there could still be problems with a couple of systems-level effects.

      They only kill one strain of bacteria. Will consumers (and meat packers!) get a false sense of security, get sloppy, and wind up with some different strain of bacteria poisoning the meat?

      Treating huge amounts of meat with industrial quantities of phages will change the environment for the bacteria. The bacteria have a chance to change their genome every half hour. If they can evolve to be less vulnera
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by retro128 (318602)
      It doesn't have to mutate to infect animal/plant cells to cause damage. There are many beneficial bacteria that lives in our bodies. What happens if the bacteriophages mutated to start killing off those? All sorts of intestinal problems can be caused by the destruction of the beneficial bacteria that live there. If that happened, how would you then kill the bacteriophage? Your immune system wouldn't respond to it because it's not attacking any of your cells. I'd sure like to hear what a microbiologist
      • by Scarblac (122480)

        Uhm, bacteriophages are in the food supply. They're everywhere that bacteria are - that includes a lot of them living inside you.

        I don't see a reason why this specific bacteriophage would be more likely to turn harmful than the ones already preying on the bacteria you need.

    • by HalAtWork (926717)
      First, thanks for trying to provide some information and reasoning. But I still have a few questions...

      There is no way these can make the leap from infecting bacteria to infecting higher organisms, any more than a plant could suddenly start walking around.

      Aren't there useful bacteria that we need? Also, will it be detrimental to any sort of "bacteria ecosystem" that we may need?

      I could think of a few things that are possible, for example if it mutated enough to find our host bacteria a good target t
  • What happens.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    .. after you've eaten it? Does the virus then die off in your digestive track? How does it die - when it has run out of bacteria to consume??
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Kitten Killer (766858)
      It's likely only capable of infecting Listeria. Once inside your digestive tract, it'll get killed by stomach acids, digestive enzymes, etc. etc. Anything that gets into your system (i.e. outside the digestive tract) will be taken care of by your immune system and the rest goes into the toilet.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 19, 2006 @01:48PM (#15941146)
    Viruses in our food? I think I can see the into the not-so-distant future...

    FDA approves the sale of new Hormel vegetarian alternative food
    Hormel will begin marketing it's unique new meat alternative this month under the name Soylent Green. "We've been pushing for FDA approval for some time, and we're happy we'll finally be able to offer such a wonderful product to our customers," said PR spokesperson Adele Wright.

    When asked about the unusual color, Wright responded, "We were very inspired by Dr. Seuss, and saw the success that Heinz had with their green ketchup. Such a fun looking food will appeal to children, who are notoriously finicky eaters. Soylent Green offers all the benefits of a vegetarian diet, but without missing any of the flavor. Soylent Green has a distinct flavor that we think will be quite popular."

    Imitators, however, do not have Hormel concerned. "We keep our secret recipe closely guarded," says Hormel CEO Dr. Hannibal Lector. "We don't anticipate anybody coming up with a knock-off product any time soon."

    Most people, though, are probably only interested in the taste. The Star's very own food critic Ken Prescott offers his opinion: "Soylent Green is really just vegetarian spam: it has a funny color, and a taste like nothing else. A lot of people like Spam, and a lot of people hate it. Soylent Green is the same - how it tastes will vary from person to person."
  • Disclosure (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I don't have an opinion on this one way or the other, but why do they need to leave consumers unaware of whether this is being used? Anything that goes into our food should be clearly labeled as being used in the process. I find it especially hypocritical since FDA claims there is no harm in this. If there is no harm, I see no reason not to specifically state what it is we are buying.

    As it stands all this will do is drive more people with means to Whole Foods and the like, (and increase their share price in
  • It's a bacteriophage [wikipedia.org]. These things target specific bacteria and it is thought that it is very difficult for bacteria to develope resistance against them. So, they are a much better option and probably less environmentally sensitive that most general antibiotics (to which many bacteria have developed resistance). If you don't know what these phages are you should really visit the Wiki link above (they are really wicked looking and interesting).
  • minor typo... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bazman (4849) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:00PM (#15941198) Journal
    It should be 'bacteria-killing virus'. A virus that kills bacteria. The hyphen is important, it differentiates between 'man-eating shark' and 'man eating shark'.

    Probably the tenth time I've complained about grammar on slashdot :)

    B
  • by CCW (125740) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:02PM (#15941211)
    I'm rather ticked off that once again (like with irradiated meat) the food industry thinks that consumers have no right to know what is in what they are eating. (and I think treating meat with radiation and bacteriophages is a good thing. I just think people have a right to know.)

    The problem is the food industry and USDA wants the benefits of science without taking any responsibility for educating a population woefully ignorant about science.

    The other side of it of course is that treating meat so it can sit on a shelf longer has no real benefit for the consumer (other than not getting sick from spoiled meat) - the meat packers benefit greatly with lower costs, but why shouldn't consumers get some of the benefit in the form of lower prices? Hiding whether it is treated is a way to capture all the benefit for the producers.
    • Then one meat packer will think "Hey, my costs are lower now, I can offer the supermarket chains a discount and take business away from all the other meat packers".

      The only objection to labeling that makes sense is that it's hard to know where to stop. Hormone treatments? Antibiotic treatments? Preservatives in the feed? Insects in the packing plant? Trace chemicals in the soil that grew the grass? We all like information, but if there's a health issue the answer isn't to label it but to ban it.
    • Meat packers are already sloppy with intestinal contents on the slaughtering and packing lines. I don't object to technology like this per se but the packers will use it as a way to be even looser and more disgusting with their production hygiene. We eat what they produce. The acceptable amount of shit on the meat whether treated or not should be ZERO.
    • by Kaenneth (82978)
      I'd say not getting sick from spoiled meat is a pretty good benifit...

      Fewer sick days, more productive workers...

      I'm sure the military will feed this to soldiers, so we'll see if it's the next agent orange/desert storm syndrome.
  • by fm6 (162816)
    Bacteriophage has been known about for a long time — long before it was identified as viruses. There's a novel [gutenberg.net.au] written in 1925 that has a doctor using bacteriophage to fight bubonic plague. So I have to wonder why it's taken this long to develop such an obvious application.
  • I guess Heinz is gonna have to print new labels:

      "58" varieties

  • by Slur (61510) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @02:54PM (#15941389) Homepage Journal
    [ vegan police bulletin ] [veganica.com]

    Just to remind everyone, our ever-increasing orgy of animal slaughter wastes land through feed production, pollutes air and water, and brings much untold suffering to our fellow beings, who themselves are given no political voice. Only when the barbaric practice of factory farming is finally eradicated may we ever call ourselves compassionate as a society.

    If you as an individual can reduce your dependency even a little on the products of animal exploitation and slavery, please do. Your every meal will become a testament to life and love, and you will be helping your health, your environment, your animal friends, and your sense of humor [bizarro.com].

    Meanwhile, be aware of the many threats to health directly caused by the breeding and use of animals.

    Oprah: Now see, wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me just ask you this right now Howard. How do you know the cows are ground up and fed back to the other cows?
    Howard Lyman: Oh, I've seen it. These are U.S.D.A. statistics, they're not something we're making up.
    Oprah: Now doesn't that concern you all a little bit, right here, hearing that?
    Audience: Yeah!
    Oprah: It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger!
    Audience: (Claps loudly and shouts) yeah! ...

    Howard: Ask yourself the question. Today we could do exactly what the English did and cease feeding cows to cows. Why in the world are we not doing that? Why are we skating around this and continuing to do it when everybody sitting here knows that, that would be the safest thing to do, why is it, why is it? Because we have the greedy that are getting the ear of government instead of the needy and that's exactly why we're doing it.
    Audience: (applause)
    Oprah: We have a lot of questions about this Mad Cow Disease that we'd like to try to get resolved, because we don't want to just alarm you all, but I have to tell you, I'm thinking about the cattle being fed to the cattle and that's pretty upsetting to me...

    [ kill no more ] [veganica.com]
  • I work at a school that has some people that have been doing phage research for a long time, not a long as the people in Georgia (as in Republic of) but a long time. One comment she made is that the quantity of different phages in a bucket of seawater would keep her busy counting them for the rest of her life. So do not worry, Unless you are boiling all your food and drink for 10 minutes and breathing though an deionizing airfilter you are sucking these thinks down left and right. The only issue and thi
  • A mixed blessing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by golodh (893453) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @03:12PM (#15941446)
    From the article the idea is to cut down on illnes and deaths Listeriosis, particulerly in "primarily in pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems" caused by a bacterium called "Listeria". These bacteria grows in e.g. meat and are readily killed by cooking, so Listeria only has a chance when meat is kept uncooked.

    I consider this a very mixed blessing for the following reasons:

    - it substitutes "spray and forget" for good hygiene and quality control for food. Bluntly speaking it provides meat vendors with more leeway to get away with poor quality control, poor hygiene and meat that's too old because it takes away some of the bacteria. Economic pressure being what it is, there will be vendors who will take advantage of this and who will then have a competitive advantage over vendors that *do* pay attention to proper hygiene and quality control

    - it proposes to launch an enormously broad application of this bacterium-killing virus when only a select target group (mentioned in the article) needs it. When meat leftovers containing this virus are disposed of, they will spread this virus throughout compost heaps and perhaps even into sewage sludge, providing a great opportunity for billions of bacteria to encounter this virus in great dilution under a variety of conditions. Who is willing to bet that no bacteria will develop immunity? In this closely resembles the same irresponsible attitude that was a the bottom of the American habit to prescribe Penicillin indiscriminately for everything from coughs, colds, to sprained ankles. A habit that led directly to the emergence of the current nasty strains antibiotic-resistant bacteria (MRSA comes to mind).

    - there are no safeguards against the emergence of a new strain of Listeria that might develop and that is resistant to this particular virus.

    - bacteria live in an ecosystem with competitive pressures. If you remove one bacterium (Listeria) you create an open invitation for any bacterium that isn't targeted by this specific virus. What are the chances that we will be surprised by a newspaper article decrying the death of 100 elderly because they had (sprayed) luncheon meat in which very rare but virus-immune bacteria had developed (and had chance to develop because standards of hygiene went down and the meat was kept out of the fridge for say 24 hours)

    In summary I am pessimistic about applying this virus on a grand scale:

    - it's a sizeable intervention that isn't really needed, because with proper hygiene and fresh produce you will not have difficulties for ordinary healthy people, and those with a weakened immune system or special vulnerabilities can simply take special care.

    - due to its intended broad and indiscriminate application, there are no safeguards whatsoever against this novel anti-bacterial weapon not being blunted by allowing billions of bacteria to encounter in in great dilution, develop immunity, and pass that immunity on to their colleagues (which is a known mechanism in bacteria).

    - it only seems to benefit the producers of this virus by creating competitive pressures to use it if your competitor does so too (which is of course their good right, but not necessarily beneficial for society as a whole)

    • Can a bacteria develop "immunity" to a bacteriophage on any reasonable timescale? One would think that the virus itself would continue to adapt to "try and keep up with" the changes in its host. Remember that we're not talking about a static drug molecule, here--these things can change.
      • Yes, I'm afraid that bacteria can develop resistance to bacteriphages. See e.g. http://www.phages.org/PhageInfo.html [phages.org]

        The authors of that webpage note that development of resistance can be countered by changing the phages. This means that whoever produces that Listeria killer would have to keep changing it.

        It also states that bacteriophages are extremely bacterium-specific. Therefore I conjecture that we may see a mutant strain, or possibly another bacteria altogether, profit from the ecological niche cre

  • by TheLink (130905) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @03:15PM (#15941456) Journal
    If you don't regularly get contaminated food you shouldn't have to use stuff like this at all.

    If it is pretty rare that dangerous bacteria get into your food, why should it be good practice to have viruses added to certain "foods" 100% of the time? Think about it.

    This is just like the other stupid idiocy (salmonella etc) which the food industry seems to get away with. Go read this: http://www.cspinet.org/reports/polt.html [cspinet.org]

    Excerpt: "Despite increasing rates of food poisoning from Salmonella and Campylobacter during the 1980s, and continuing high levels today, the poultry industry has maintained processing practices that actually increase the percent of contaminated products. Instead of minimizing the contamination in processing plants, the poultry industry relies on consumers to cook the problem away."

    The real problem is not bacteria in food. The real problem is the food industry treating food just like any other "fuel" - if it meets regulations XYZ then it's fit to be consumed. AND the FDA etc allowing them to do so.

    With attitudes like that you get practices like feeding feathers to cows - which was stopped because, brilliantly, they feed leftover cows to chickens too, so with the BSE scare, the risk of leftover cows ending up being swept off the floor with the feathers and re-fed to cows was a bit too high to be politically/economically viable.

    And then the USA complains when the Japanese refuse their beef or their rice or whatever.

    This is just like going to a restaurant and getting crap served to you, but FDA approved crap, with FDA approved viruses squirted on it so that all the dangerous bacteria has been killed, following industry "best practices".

    Even if it is legally edible and meets all the regulations, it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth one way or another.

    Instead of debating whether the viruses are potentially harmful or not, we should consider whether what's happening in the food industry is harmful or not.

    What next? You guys are going to continue eating such industrial output, like it and think it's "wonderful new technology", "Approved by the glorious FDA"? Now that's what I call disgusting. Believe me, what is disgusting is not the viruses or the bacteria, and I'm the sort who eats and likes all sorts of stuff (some of it apparently has appeared on Fear Factor).
  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @03:25PM (#15941489)
    that cherry picked US canned tuna for it's studies to show low mercury levels, so I'm a little worried about this. The sheer number of known carcinogens in the American diet worries me. Aspertame, Sodium Nitrate, Potasium Bromate; the list goes on and on. The argument is always either a) you're not getting enough to harm you or b) it's all naturally occuring anyway. Neither idea takes into account that a) if you eat a lot of prepared foods (like most poor Americans) you get way more than most studies allow and b) is it really a good idea to add more of a naturally occuring carcinogen to a diet? Wouldn't that raise your intake above natural limits? I've been gradually trying to clean up my diet, but it's hard. Real hard. Try to buy bread without High Fructose Corn Syrup or Hydrongenated Vegetable oil for less than $4 dollars/loaf, for example. Cheap lunch meats all have Sodium Nitrate, cheap flavoring agents Potasium Bromate, cheap fish is high in Mercury. Fresh vegetables, chicken and ocean fish are _not_ cheap when eaten as much as the fda recommends. At .50 cents a serving, 6 searvings a day 30 days a month that's $180 dollars a month just on vegetables. The average American only gets $100 /month for his food budget in most families (average grocery bill for a family of 4 if $400/month). You can't really live off bread anymore either, over farming has taken a lot of the necessary nutrients out of the soil and then the wheat that made that possible. All and all, I'm appalled and frightened by my food supply, and things like this aren't encouraging.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by k98sven (324383)
      ..that cherry picked US canned tuna for it's studies to show low mercury levels, so I'm a little worried about this.

      Uh, right. So since there's been more than one case of Police corruption, I better be worried whenever they arrest someone.

      The sheer number of known carcinogens in the American diet worries me. Aspertame, Sodium Nitrate, Potasium Bromate; the list goes on and on.

      Aspartame and Potassium bromate haven't been conclusively shown to be carcinogens. In particular the evidence for aspartame is quite
  • by thrill12 (711899) on Saturday August 19, 2006 @03:54PM (#15941596) Journal
    Moderators, before reading this post or even comprehensing its contents, mark me FLAMEBAIT please and get off with it.

    For the interested parties, read on...

    What is it nowadays (..) in the US that makes food-safety a non-issue with regards to new technologies ? Often Europe is being seen as "the old world", where we boycot a lot of products from countries 'without reason'. Europe is 'old-fashioned', 'isolates' itself, is perhaps even 'afraid to try new things'. I wonder if this is true and whether we didn't learn anything from our mistakes.

    There was a time when heroin was made into a medicine [wikipedia.org] by a medical company in Europe. And there was a time when asbestos was used as a flame retardant, only to be discovered by the US none the less that it was in fact sickening. [wikipedia.org]

    It seems that we live in a brave new world now, in which these things are no longer deemed as important. We are back 100 years again, and this new technology (bio-engineering) has taken hold of us. When we finally get bitten by it, and I feel that on the current way there is no escaping this - independent of the above article which could indeed prove to be quite harmless as said..- will we open our eyes again ?

    Maybe Europe is old-fashioned, and we should experiment with ourselves more often. Who knows what good it will bring.

    Europe is probably too narrow-minded, and boycotting products will only delay the inevitable.
    But still, I wonder what will happen if any of these brave new products does turn out to be "faulty". Will it backlash and totally invert current stance towards bio-engineering, negating all the hard and good work that HAS been done in this field - for which there is no denying ?

    Perhaps, for the sake of the field of bio-engineering, we should guide the technology along better - give it time to grow up like any living thing in its earliest stage of life. And when we have guided it along, we - Europe - will come to find that it is indeed a brave new world, a world which we should embrace.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter

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