Sunday, December 25, 2011
Questioning Enterobacter sakazakii (Cronobacter spp.)
In the developed country, the USA, two babies have died and one baby is recovering from what is believed to be an infection from an organism called enterobacter sakazakii reclassified recently as Cronobacter sakazakii. It is suspected that the infection was caused by contamination in powdered infant formula. As a precaution, various retailers have removed a particular brand of powdered infant formula (a Mead Johnson product-Enfamil Newborn Infant Formula the 12.5-oz cans, Lot #ZP1K7G) from their store shelves. The product has not been recalled.
The FDA in a letter written in April of 2002 to health professionals on Enterobacter sakazakii infections associated with the use of powdered infant formulas in neonatal intensive care units states, "The majority of cases of E. sakazakii infection reported in the peer-reviewed literature have described neonates with sepsis, meningitis, or necrotizing enterocolitis as a consequence of the infection, and the case fatality rate among infected neonates has been reported to be as high as 33%." (Other health authorities, such as the WHO give the fatality rate from 40-80%)
John Brooks,a microbiologist who specializes in food microbiology has stated at Food Safety News, "Cronobacter sakazakii is an environmental contaminant, which mostly affects only a small subset of the population, such as premature babies and infants under 1 year of age....Though it is ubiquitous in nature, only powdered infant formula and preparation equipment have been linked to C. sakazakii outbreaks among infants."
Sad and frightening news for many parents. I am deeply sad for the parents and deeply disturbed by some of the "comments" that fly around the internet creating more anguish and heartbreak for the parents of these infants. Our society has its illusions about almost everything, particularly regarding the food technology behind infant formula. It is not parents who created that illusion. It is an industry that makes billions. Blaming the victims is always easy but never the answer. The questions that need answering are why aren't we educating parents more thoroughly on the risks of infant formula feeding. Why isn't the medical community more aware of those risks? Fear? Fear of a billion dollar industry that has its tentacles in the medical, research, and educational communities? When industries make billions, there is an easy way to shut people up: pay them, employ them, gift them. It would all be fine, if this industry was really about "choice." But the industry's idea of choice is the loaded dice at a crap table.
I do have some questions about this bacteria. Why does Dow Chemical have a patent on this organism? Patent #4806636 called, Heteropolysaccharide produced by Enterobacter sakazakii filed in March of 1985. The abstract states, "The heteropolysaccharide has many uses as a suspending, thickening, or stabillizing agent, and is particularly useful as a frictional drag reduction agent in aqueous systems."
"Since it is a polysaccharide, preferred applications are where human contact or ingestion of the tea polysaccharide is possible. In addition to applications already mentioned, other uses include frictional drag reduction for irrigation or drinking water, spray drift control for herbicides and pesticides for food crops, spray drift control for forest fire fighting fluids, and the like."
Dow filed this in 1985. Enterobacter sakazakii was discovered in 1980 as a separate species. Did this patent become a product? The bacterial culture is fermented, genetic engineering is suggested. Is this a stable organism? Obviously from various reports this organism is prevalent in our environment. How did that happen? What has changed in our environment? How many consumers know that pathogens are genetically engineered to be used in products, some of those products are in foods that we ingest? Aren't infants more vulnerable?
I read with interest an article from Scientific American called, "Turning Bacteria into Plastic Factories." (September 2008) "A new company has found a way to produce polymers from genetically engineered microbes that feed on sugars, replacing fossil-fuel based processes." The company is working with E. coli.
Industry is playing with pathogens, rearranging genetic structures. How does one dispose of these new products? Throw them in the river, give them to the local dump? Even if the products never go to market, what do you do with the mistakes? Will it be like all our nuclear spent fuel rods that we don't know what to do with other than dump them into a hole in the ground? Or is it worse than this because there seems to absolutely no regulation?
There is a number of scientists who are very concerned about genetic engineering. The concern is that genetic engineering will create deadly superviruses. Their is the threat of antibiotic resistance. Genetic engineering uses antibiotic resistance markers that can readily transfer into our foods. There is the fear that it is genetic engineering that is causing a resurgence of infectious disease. Genetic engineering is causing more and more food allergies. What are the risks of genetic engineering for infants fed infant formulas that are derived from this dna technology? Here is an article on the higher risks for children.
I believe parents have to start questioning what is in that can of infant formula? How much is genetically engineered? What pathogens are they using to gmo this particular component? How many of these items use antibiotic resistance markers? Where are the long-term studies on the safety of this kind of food for infants, particularly the premature infant?
Copyright 2011 Valerie W. McClain