Pork: The Other Dead Meat

Inhaling Pig Brains May Be Cause of New Illness

While the illness is similar to some known conditions, it does not match any exactly. Nor is the leading theory of its cause something medical researchers have studied. That is because the illness appears to be caused by inhaling microscopic flecks of pig brain.

“This appears to be something new,” Minnesota’s state epidemiologist, Ruth Lynfield, said last week.

The packing house, in Austin, Minn. (pop. 23,000), slaughters 1,900 pigs a day, working two meat-cutting shifts and one clean-up shift. Virtually everything is used, including ears, entrails and bone. The 12 sufferers of the neurological illness — most are Hispanic immigrants — all work at or near the “head table” where the animals’ severed heads are processed.

One of the steps in that part of the operation involves removing the pigs’ brains with compressed air forced into the skull through the hole where the spinal cord enters. The brains are then packed and sent to markets in Korea and China as food.

Investigators say there is no reason to suspect that either the brains or the pork cuts were contaminated. Their working hypothesis is that the harvesting technique — known as “blowing brains” on the floor — produces aerosols of brain matter. Once inhaled, the material prompts the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the pig brain compounds, but apparently also attack the body’s own nerve tissue because it is so similar.

Life just keeps getting more weird…

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