(NaturalNews) The meat industry has been misusing data to make it appear that E. coli contamination of meat is decreasing, said Barbara Kowalcyk of the Center for Foodborne Illness, Research and Prevention.
Executives from the American Meat Institute (AMI) have claimed success in the beef industry's efforts to reduce contamination with the dangerous E. coli strain O157:H7. According to the AMI, inspection data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service show a 45 percent drop in E. coli prevalence between 2000 and 2008.
Yet Kowalcyk calls this is a misuse of data never intended for "year-to-year comparisons."
"USDA's E. coli ... testing program is strictly regulatory and was not statistically designed to estimate the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in raw ground beef," she said.
Although a 45 percent drop is in fact found in the data, Kowalcyk notes that different facilities were tested and different testing methods used each year. She called the AMI's conclusion as valid as comparing a person who weighed 300 pounds in 2000 to a different person weighing 150 pounds in 2008, then concluding that the average weight of the U.S. population had dropped 50 percent.
"I don't think it's possible to draw any conclusions about the prevalence of E. coli from these data," she said. "This is not a small issue, this is a big one."
The AMI has also cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data showing a 44 percent drop in the rate of E. coli infections between the same years. Yet rather than comparing individual years as the AMI suggests, the CDC actually compared 2008 data to composite rates for 1996-1998 and 2005-2007, in order to account for changes in population size and other variables.
In comparison with the 1996-1998 composite, 2008 saw a 25 percent decrease in E. coli infection, Kowalcyk said.
"However, when comparing the 2008 ... data to the 2005-2007 composite, E. coli O157:H7 infections have not changed significantly."