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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Should You Eat Meat?

Aired October 12, 2009 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, ground meat -- should you eat it?

Contaminated burgers have sickened, paralyzed and even killed some people who ate them, yet millions of Americans consume meat every day without consequences.

Should it be part of your diet?

Next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We have outstanding guests throughout the program to discuss this very important topic tonight.

Our first panel, Barbara Kowalcyk. Her 2-year-old son Kevin died of complications due to E. Coli infection in 2001. She's director of food safety at the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention.

Pat Buck Kevin's grandmother. She's Barbara's mother, a director of the Center, as well. She and Barbara are part of the documentary, "Food, Inc." Which will be released in theaters November 3rd.

Nicole Fenstermaker, her 7-year-old daughter Abby died from E. coli complications in May of this year.

And Bill Marler, he's an expert on foodborne illness litigation. He's been litigating on this issue since the Jack in the Box E. Coli outbreak -- E. Cali O -- E. Kila -- E. Coli outbreak -- outbreak in 1993.

My tongue got caught in my teeth and I could not see what I was saying.

A recent article on the front page of "The New York Times" headlined, "The Burger That Shattered Her Life," chronicled the story of 22-year-old Stephanie Smith. In the fall of 2007, her nervous system was ravaged. She was left paralyzed after unknowingly eating an E. coli-tainted ground meat patty.

Bill, I know you represent her.

What's her situation?

BILL MARLER, ATTORNEY FOR WOMAN PARALYZED AFTER EATING GROUND MEAT: Well, she just entered into a rehab center today. The kid wants to dance again. I think it's very unlikely, but she's going to give it a shot. She's going to be in for six months. They're going to work, you know, hard physical therapy, occupational therapy. But she's got a long road to hoe. She's got risk of kidney failure. She suffered brain damage. And, you know, whether she'll walk again is another thing.

KING: If this is a major problem, why aren't there more Stephanies?

MARLER: Well, there are more Stephanies. We grossly undercount the number of people that are sick.

KING: Why?

MARLER: Well, partly because, you know, we've really gutted the ability for the CDC, local and state health departments the departments to surveil foodborne illness. There are a lot of Stephanies. There's a lot of Abbies. There's a lot of Kevins. They just don't necessarily get tied to a particular hamburger patty.

KING: Barbara, what happened to Kevin?

BARBARA KOWALCYK, SON DIED OF E. COLI COMPLICATIONS: In August 2001, Kevin developed -- contracted E. coli 0157:H7 and developed hemolytic-uremic syndrome and basically went from being a perfectly healthy, beautiful child to being dead in 12 days. It was unbelievable.

KING: What had he eaten?

KOWALCYK: Most likely a contaminated ground beef. We were matched to a meat recall about the same time period and -- but we were never able to prove conclusively that he consumed that meat.

KING: You're her -- you're grandmother, right, Pat?

PAT BUCK, GRANDSON DIED FROM E. COLI COMPLICATIONS: Yes.

KING: When he died of it, what is -- what kills him?

What did he die of?

Is it poison through the system?

What is it?

What causes the death?

BUCK: Well, in Kevin's case, the E. coli pathogen entered his blood system. And once it gets into the blood, a cascading series of events sets up and you don't know exactly what part of the body is going to be attacked.

In Kevin's case, it was his intestinal track. So when you asked of what he died of, he died of gangrene of the large and small intestine, a condition that's 100 percent fatal.

KING: Painful? BUCK: Yes, very. It was very painful.

KING: What happened to Abbi, Nicole?

NICOLE FENSTERMAKER, DAUGHTER DIED FROM E. COLI COMPLICATIONS: Abbi contracted E. coli. But she was actually a secondary carrier. She...

KING: A secondary carrier, meaning?

MARLER: What happened, Larry, is her grandfather -- Abbi's grandfather went to a VFW hall and he ate a hamburger. And he became ill. And Abbi visited him in the hospital and Abbi contracted it by being in contact with her grandfather.

KING: Wait a minute.

This could be contagious?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is.

(CROSSTALK)

MARLER: One of the things...

KING: So she didn't have to eat the meat?

MARLER: No. Between 10 and 50 bacterium are enough to kill these children. Thousands of them would fit on the head of a pin. You can't see it, you can't taste it, you can't smell it. And secondary cases, unfortunately like Abbi's, can be fatal.

KING: Did her grandfather die, too.

FENSTERMAKER: No. He came close to dying, though.

KING: But he lived?

FENSTERMAKER: He did.

KING: He had the meat...

FENSTERMAKER: Yes.

KING: But she died?

FENSTERMAKER: Yes. Yes. She died within six days of getting sick. She was perfectly healthy and six days later -- actually three days after she got sick, she had a stroke and her kidneys shut down, which is another HUS -- it's HUS.

KING: So you became activists, right, Pat and Barbara, started this foundation, the Center for Foodborne Illness?

KOWALCYK: Research and prevention, yes.

KING: The purpose of which is to?

KOWALCYK: To prevent foodborne illness through research, education, advocacy and service.

KING: Are you taking a stand against meat?

KOWALCYK: No. Actually, no. Our -- our -- we do not want to tell people what to eat or what not to eat.

KING: So what are you looking for?

KOWALCYK: We want consumers to have the educa -- the information they need to make educated choices about what they feed themselves and their loved ones. And we want better protections in this country for food. Americans believe that their food is safe and they have a right to know the -- the risks.

KING: Do you eat meat?

KOWALCYK: I eat certain meats.

KING: You?

BUCK: Yes, I don't eat certain meats.

KING: Do you, Nicole?

FENSTERMAKER: Certain meats.

KING: Bill?

MARLER: Since the Jack in the Box case, I've never had a hamburger. I have three daughters, 17, 14 and 10 and they've never had a hamburger.

KING: Why hamburgers?

MARLER: What happens in hamburger is the E. coli bacteria is in the guts of cows. And during the slaughtering process, those guts are nicked or there's fecal material on the hides. It gets on the red meat.

And when you cook a steak, assuming that steak hasn't been penetrated, you can kill the bacteria that's on the outside of the meat. It's not on the inside of the meat. But when you ground that meat up, that E. coli is in there. And that's why E. coli 0157:H7 -- that bug that killed these kids -- is an adulterant and is against the law. It is against the law to be in hamburger.

KING: So -- OK. So it's more likely in a hamburger than in a New York steak.

MARLER: It is. And so -- and then cooking -- cooking and handling that hamburger is difficult. It is difficult and that's what happens to these kids.

KING: Nicole, I know you'll be leaving us, because we're going to have two other guests, you must be awfully bitter.

FENSTERMAKER: I am, yes. It was an unnecessary death. It could have been prevented.

KING: And Pat?

Did you ever get -- you never get over it?

BUCK: No. You do not get over watching what I watched. And I knew the minute that Kevin died that my life had changed.

KING: You watched him die?

BUCK: No. We did not actually watch his death. He died of a third heart attack.

KING: All right. Pat and Nicole will be leaving us.

Bill and Barbara will remain.

We'll have representatives from the other side, as well.

What responsibility do you have when it comes to food safety?

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FOOD, INC." COURTESY MAGNOLIA HOME ENTERTAINMENT/PARTICIPANT MEDIA)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know if he knew what was happening to him. And I hope -- I don't know. To watch this beautiful child go from being perfectly healthy to dead in 12 days, it was just unbelievable that this could happen from eating food.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Remaining with us, Barbara Kowalcyk, the mother of the late Kevin. Hard to say that. And Bill Marler, the attorney expert on foodborne illnesses.

Joining us in Chicago, Patrick Boyle, president and CEO of the American Meat Institute.

And in Des Moines, Iowa, Elsa Murano, a Ph.D., former undersecretary of agriculture for food safety in the first term of the George W. Bush administration and professor for food microbiology at Texas A&M.

All right, Patrick, what's the reaction of the meat industry to what you've just heard?

PATRICK BOYLE, PRESIDENT & CEO, AMERICAN MEAT INSTITUTE: Well, clearly, these are tragic stories. And like anyone who has heard your guests tonight, my heart goes out to them and their families. I have a great deal of sympathy and -- and empathy for them.

To put the -- the situation in context, though, in the United States, Americans consume a billion meals a day -- the vast, vast, vast majority of them safely and enjoyably. And the -- the positive development here is that these kinds of tragic illnesses are decreasing in America. These illnesses are down 60 percent in the last 10 years. And the reason for that reduction in E. coli related illnesses is because the incidence of that pathogen in our beef products has dropped by 45 percent during that same 10-year period and that's not just a random development, Larry. It's because of investment, technology, research, more sophisticated process control.

So we are making significant progress...

KING: What do you...

BOYLE: ...in taking a very safe food supply and making it even safer.

KING: Would you say, Patrick, that you're on the way to eliminating E. coli?

BOYLE: I don't know if we can actually eliminate it in a raw product. The incidence level is less than one half of 1 percent of the beef product. So it's already extremely low. There are two steps available to eliminate E. coli in the beef supply -- in the ground beef supply. One is through irradiation, which is not widely used. And the other is through proper cooking of the product.

KING: All right, Elsa, you're former undersecretary of agriculture for food safety.

What do you make of what we've heard from Barbara and Bill?

ELSA MURANO, PH.D., FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE FOR FOOD SAFETY: Well, first, I will tell you that Barbara has to be commended because she is turning a tragedy into a call for action. And I've known Barbara for -- for several years and have admired the way that she has tried to do something in -- in the wake of what happened to her family, which it -- it's just tragic, simply tragic.

But I will tell you that, really, what -- what you have to -- to do is try to eliminate or minimize as much as possible human error, which is really all we can control, really, because E. coli -- this particular E. coli is going to be found in the intestinal tract of some animals, of some cattle. It might end up on the surface of meat carcasses. So the meat industry tries to be as careful as it can not to allow that contamination to take place. And it is the USDA's job to verify that they're doing everything possible to prevent that.

But it can happen. It does happen, as clearly it has been shown.

KING: Then you are not...

MURANO: So what the meat industry then tries to do -- yes, sir?

KING: Yes, I'm sorry. Elsa, in other words -- Bill, are you saying -- you're not saying they're deliberately doing this?

MARLER: Oh, no.

KING: You're allowing for human error?

MARLER: No, no, no. But -- but the fact of the matter is, is that during the Clinton administration and in, frankly, during the time that Dr. Murano was in office, E. coli -- the numbers of E. coli illnesses and deaths did decline. You know...

KING: Well, isn't that encouraging?

MARLER: It was. But there's been -- unfortunately, there's been a pretty significant increase over the last three years.

KING: Why?

MARLER: Well, that's a difficult thing to know. I mean I think it has a lot to do with...

KING: What -- what -- Patrick said it's down 60 percent.

MARLER: Well, it depends on how you want to look at the statistics and we've got a statistician here. So I'll let Barbara jump in.

KOWALCYK: Well, not...

KING: That's not a true figure?

KOWALCYK: No. In my opinion, it's misleading. And I'm not going to go into all the statistics behind the problems with that data. But basically, it's a misuse of data. The data that I believe Patrick is talking about comes from USDA's regulatory testing program, which was not designed to do -- for year to year comparisons or designed to give us an idea of what the prevalence of pathogens in the food supply are.

KING: I've got to take a break.

Elsa, I thank you for your input.

Patrick will be coming back to us.

We reached out to the United States Department of Agricultural in connection with the issue of food safety. Secretary Tom Vilsack provided a lengthy statement, saying, in part: "News stories about Stephanie Smith and others like her, who have suffered severely as a result of foodborne illness, represent a situation that USDA finds unacceptable. These tragic stories highlight the work we still need to do to improve the nation's food safety system. Recognizing the importance of the food safety issue, President Obama established a food safety working group within 60 days of taking office. As chairs of that working group, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and I led a thorough review of the entire food safety system top to bottom to look for gaps and failures in the system and identified improvements to prevent such foodborne illness tragedies. We issued our first finding on July 7th and immediately began to implement significant policy changes and we'll not rest until we have dramatically reduced the number of foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths."

The full statement from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is posted on our blog, CNN.com/larryking.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back.

With us now is Colin Campbell. Dr. Campbell is professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University, a long time researcher on the effects of nutrition on long-term health and co-author of "The China Study."

In New York, is Dr. Nancy Rodriguez, professional of nutritional sciences, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Connecticut, director of sports nutrition in the Department of Sports Medicine.

We're going to get a brief statement from each, take a break and then come back with more details.

Dr. Campbell, you believe that even if animal-based proteins -- meat, dairy, etc. -- are free from contamination, you don't think people should eat them?

COLIN CAMPBELL, PH.D., PROFESSOR EMERITUS, CORNELL UNIVERSITY: No, I don't. I think the closer we get to a plant-based diet -- I should say a whole foods plant-based diet, the healthier we're going to be for all of us.

KING: Why -- if we could eliminate the contamination, why would we be healthier?

CAMPBELL: Well, I should say something about myself. Incidentally, I came from a background on a dairy farm milking cows and then eventually ended up in graduate school now more than 50 years ago, attempting to promote the idea of the good old American diet -- high on protein and -- and all the rest, and high in animal foods.

And so I got into my research program, that was to last for many, many years, funded by NIH and learned something that I didn't expect to see. It's a -- it's a long story. I especially...

KING: Briefly, what is -- what was the conclusion?

CAMPBELL: Well, the conclusion was that the closer we get to consuming a whole foods, plant-based diet the healthier we're going to be on all accounts.

KING: OK. Dr. Rodriguez, you believe that animal proteins can and should be a part of the diet, correct?

Why?

NANCY RODRIGUEZ, PH.D., PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: Yes. I think that animal proteins provide essential nutrients that you are able to get in a unique package of foods for, let's say, about 200 calories -- a three ounce serving of meat. You are able to get good quality protein, essential nutrients that are packaged along with vitamins and minerals that are needed for growth and development throughout the life cycle.

And I think that when you make a choice to eliminate those animal products from your diet, it becomes a challenge, particularly for certain vulnerable populations, such as infants and children, to get those nutrients in.

KING: Is -- is the E. coli thing an aberration?

RODRIGUEZ: I don't think so.

KING: So then shouldn't you be concerned about it?

RODRIGUEZ: I think that, again, after hearing the earlier guests on the show, that's outside of my area of expertise. As a -- a nutritionist, you want people to be smart in the way that they purchase and handle their foods and prepare them. And if they are to follow those directions and pay attention to some of the educational information that the earlier guests were talking about providing, the food system should be safe and the inclusion of animal proteins and those essential nutrients that they provide should be consumed without a problem.

KING: All right. We'll have Dr. Campbell's response in a minute.

Do you think a healthy diet includes meat?

That's our broad question tonight.

Go to CNN.com/larryking and tell us what you think. We'll be sharing your comments later in the show. The debate continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: All right, Dr. Campbell, Dr. Rodriguez says it's OK.

How do you respond?

CAMPBELL: No, I -- I disagree. A plant-based diet -- a whole foods plant-based diet really has all the nutrients that we actually need at optimum levels of intake. And what we learned early in my career, that instead of protein, especially animal protein, being a good nutrient, so to speak, and creating good health, what we learned is that we could actually turn on cancer development by simply increasing the level of animal protein intake above the amount of protein that we really needed. We could turn it off by simply taking it away.

And that started a whole series of studies looking at all kinds of questions related to -- to this idea that cancer could be turned on with the consumption of animal protein. And as time passed, we learned, for example, that blood cholesterol levels would increase by increasing animal protein intake and all the other nutrients that come with it. We could -- we could learned that the body tended to produce acid that would create problems that, in turn, lead to a loss of calcium from bones which, in turn, would increase osteoporosis.

And so it was a long series of studies for many, many years that -- that really clearly indicated to me that I had to change my own practices and my own (INAUDIBLE)...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Dr. Rodriguez, what's a consumer to do?

Here are two experts, both of you experts in nutritional biochemistry and the like, and this is night and day?

What do we do, Nancy?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think that I would respectfully disagree with some of the comments that Dr. Campbell just made, in that if you were to look at getting the essential amino acids or the building blocks of proteins from solely a plant-based diet -- for example, the 25 grams of proteins that you can get in three ounces of meat for 200 calories, it would take one-and-a-half cups of black beans, seven tablespoons of peanut butter for 350 and almost 700 calories respectively. And the quality of that protein would still not be the equivalent of what you're going to find in animal proteins like beef and eggs and dairy.

In the context of research in people, some of the work that we have done has clearly shown that you can increase the animal protein intakes in the diets of young adults and athletes without any detriment to their cholesterol level.

KING: So are you saying vegetarians are not as healthy as others who are not?

RODRIGUEZ: No. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that you can make a conscious choice to pursue a vegetarian lifestyle. If you do that, you need to recognize that by eliminating animal products from your diet, you're going to have to be diligent about getting in some of the essential nutrients that Dr. Campbell has referred to, such as those amino acids or iron, zinc and, in the case of dairy products, calcium.

I would also, you know, say that if you were to look at some of the more recent work that's been done with protein -- and it's not excessive amounts. They're well within the recommended ranges of protein that we should be eating. The newer data actually indicates that eating more protein with adequate calcium is not a detriment to bone.

KING: All right...

RODRIGUEZ: ...and a number of studies have shown that it's beneficial to cardiovascular disease, to weight management, improvement in blood glucose control...

KING: All right, let me get...

RODRIGUEZ: ...in diabetics and even, some recent work has indicated that higher protein intake might be associated with reduced blood pressure and hypertension.

KING: Let me get...

RODRIGUEZ: So in total...

KING: I've got to...

RODRIGUEZ: ...it may improve.

KING: I've got it, Nancy.

We've got to get a break and come back...

CAMPBELL: I...

KING: Our guests will remain.

The case for eating or not eating animals, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Dr. Colin Campbell and Dr. Nancy Rodriguez remain.

Joining us now in New York, Anthony Bourdain, the chef and best- selling author and the host of "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel.

Also in New York, Jonathan Safran Foer, the best-selling author. In fact, an article adapted from his forthcoming book, "Eating Animals," was in Sunday's "New York Times" magazine.

Anthony, you're the chef. Are you saying people can eat anything? Meat's OK?

ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CHEF: I think we're -- if you look at our basic design, we are designed -- our design features are we have eyes in the front of our head. We have fingernails. We have eye, teeth and long legs. We were designed from the get-go, we have evolved, so that we could chase down smaller, stupider creatures, kill them and eat them.

That said, we may be designed to eat meat. We are not designed to eat fecal choliform bacteria. I think the standard practices of outfits like Cargill and some of the larger meat processors and grinders in this country are unconscionable and border on the criminal. KING: Wow. Jonathan, you're a vegetarian, right?

JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER, AUTHOR, "EATING ANIMALS": I've been an on and offer vegetarian since I was a kid. The impetus for my thinking about farming issues was when my wife became pregnant with our first child, and I faced the prospect of having to make food choices on someone else's behalf. Being a Brooklynite who knew very little about where my food comes from, it took me three years to fill out a complete picture of what animal agriculture really is.

KING: And your stand is?

FOER: It's probably not that different from Anthony's, although I might phrase it a bit differently. I'm not all that interested in what humans seem designed to eat or what is quote, unquote natural, because the entirety of human progress is defying what's natural. If we're so concerned with what was natural, we wouldn't be in this TV studio right now having this conversation.

The thing that's really important that Anthony said is that there's a certain kind of meat, which is produced on factory farms, that is in every single way unconscionable. It's unconscionable to feed to our children because of the health. It's unconscionable because it's the single worst thing we can to do to the environment by a long shot. And it's unconscionable because of what we're going to animals who are raised on factory farms.

What Anthony didn't say, and I wish he had, is that 99 percent -- upwards of 99 percent of the animals that are raised for meat in this country come from factory farms. When we're talking about meat, when we're talking about the meat they sell in grocery stores, when we're talking about the meat we order in restaurants, we are effectively talking about factory farms.

I think it's a wonderful thing for someone with a reputation and as much intelligence as Anthony has to come out against factory farms. The crucial part of the picture is to say to America, this is almost everything.

KING: Anthony, you want to respond?

BOURDAIN: My major area of concern is the chopped meat. You know, supermarket quality fast food quality, pre-chopped meat. Those practices, if you read the Times article that came out recently on this most recent e. Coli outbreak, it's truly terrifying. The stuff they're putting in these burgers would not be recognized by any American as meat.

KING: Wow.

BOURDAIN: That said, I would counter Jonathan's argument just with one word: bacon. It's so delicious.

FOER: I have a counter to that, which is I would say, sex, it's so wonderful. That doesn't mean we have sex with everyone we want to have sex with. Part of being a civilized -- BOURDAIN: Not simultaneously, no.

FOER: Anyway, it's funny that the argument for refraining from eating meat is often cast as a sentimental one, where I would say it's exactly the opposite. Sentimentality is the valuing of our feelings over our reason.

KING: Hold it. I want to get Nancy and Colin back into this when we come back. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK):

KING: Since Anthony was critical of some food packing companies, Patrick Boyle will be back with us in the next segment to counteract that. Nancy, are you impressed with any of these arguments?

RODRIGUEZ: I think that the point that's being made is that in the context of the diet, that beef can be a good component and provide nutrients, and with the exception of some of these issues that are surrounding really processing preparation --

KING: How about ground beef?

RODRIGUEZ: You know, as a mother and as a nutritionist, I don't have a problem feeding my son a hamburger off the grill. I follow the guidelines that, again, we spoke about earlier. I'm very careful and cautious. I cook it the way it should be cooked. We're able to enjoy that. I know he's getting for those calories, a lot of nutrients.

KING: Dr. Campbell, what on Earth is wrong with that? If you cook it right and you like meat, what's wrong with it?

CAMPBELL: That's not the issue, Larry. What Dr. Rodriguez said before, I couldn't disagree more. I used to teach some of that stuff 30 to 40 years ago. Then we started a massive big research program in the laboratory, in human studies, did a very large study in China. And through the years we published hundreds of papers that all got peer reviewed.

What we learned from that experience was one of the biggest myths we now confront is this belief that somehow we have to consume animal- based protein. Plant protein is enough. A whole foods plant-based diet provides enough protein, enough of the other nutrients. We don't need to start substituting this really good stuff that prevents cancer, prevents heart disease, prevents osteoporosis, by sort of dumping in some animal foods or processed foods, maybe made out of plant fragments.

Quite frankly, it just doesn't work.

KING: Colin, if we listen to you, that destroys a whole industry, right? The meat industry would be gone?

CAMPBELL: We can have an industry to replace an industry. IN other words, there's other industries, vegetable and fruit growers associations and things like that. That's doable. We're not going to do it overnight, anyhow. Let's face it. I think we need to be honest about what the research shows, because one of the things that a plant- based diet does that's not generally known -- we can cure heart disease in advanced stages.

My good friend, a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Caldwell Esithen (ph), actually took a bunch of people who were basically given up by their physicians 23 years ago. And he used this diet to actually cure heart disease.

KING: Anthony, does this argument by Dr. Campbell impress you? Would you be hesitant about -- or would you be much more careful about, as a chef, the way you cook meat?

BOURDAIN: Well, first, it's a silly argument. Cargill is America's largest single company, I believe. To blithely talk about, well, we can replace it with lettuce growing I think is a little ridiculous.

People eat meat because it's delicious. Let's not forget the pleasure aspect of this argument. People eat meat because they like it. It tastes good. It smells good when it's cooking. I think to -- people are going to disagree along those lines alone, regardless of the health aspects.

I will say this, I think certainly we could eat better in this country. It would probably not be a bad thing if we ate less meat, if the ratio of animal protein to vegetables changed along the lines of the Chinese model. That would probably be a good thing for our waistlines and our general health. But to talk about eradicating meat is silly.

KING: Let me get a quick call in. Ocala, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Yes, hello. How are you?

KING: What's the question.

CALLER: Isn't the leading source of e. Coli over the last five years been through agriculture, leafy vegetables, red peppers and even peanut butter?

KING: Is that true, Nancy?

RODRIGUEZ: There have been studies that have been reported outbreaks and there have been recalls with regards to e. Coli contamination of lettuce and vegetables. Yes, even peanut butter.

FOER: Nancy, surely you know the CDC has said all of those, the primary source was animal agriculture. It may be true that the vehicle was spinach. But if we're wondering where e. Coli -- we know where e. Coli comes from, right? It comes from poop. It's not coming from the spinach. It's coming from run off from factory farms.

RODRIGUEZ: I wouldn't argue with that. I would say that, again, that's pretty much outside of the realm of my expertise and why I'm here. I think that all of those foods, spinach, peanut butter, lettuce, beef, they all comprise a healthy diet. And you know, four to six ounces of lean protein is well within what's recommended. From my perspective as a nutritionist, I believe that, you know, meat can be one of those sources of lean protein and not be problematic.

KING: Colin, Nancy coming back with us. Thank you to Anthony and Jonathan. Patrick Boyle and Bill Marler will be returning. What do you think about eating meat? It's your turn. We'll hear what you think in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We have been asking what you think about meat. Do you think it's part of a healthy diet? Our David Theall is here with what you've been saying on the LARRY KING LIVE blog. David?

DAVID THEALL, LARRY KING LIVE PRODUCER: Larry, in a word, no. That's what we're hearing tonight on the blog. Most of the people we're hearing from tonight are saying that, no, they've cut out meat. We are hearing from others of course.

On our quick vote, we find that the majority of people say they're trying to improve their diets over all.

Larry, you have two young boys. Let me ask you this -- this comes from the blog -- when is the last time you heard a nine-year-old say, more halibut and broccoli, please? That's from a mother who says she's trying to get her child to eat a little more healthy.

We also have a question for Dr. Campbell from the blog, Larry. This is at CNN.com/LarryKing. Jump into the blog conversation with us. Dr. Campbell, this person says it's pretty clear to him that humans evolved over millions of years as hunters and meat eaters. He asks, are you saying that humans evolved in the wrong direction?

CAMPBELL: No, I'm not saying they evolved in the wrong direction. In recent years, perhaps. But we don't know how much hunting and how much gathering really was done in the distant past. All I know is that the research that we now do, based on the biochemistry, the physiology that's going on in regards to disease formation, it's very clear to me -- it's a very complex kind of biology, but it's very clear to me that we were largely a gathering society, if you will.

We did not consume. I've really convinced of that. That's not the way evolution worked.

KING: David, thanks, man. Thank you. Dr. Campbell will come back with us. So will Nancy Rodriguez. Patrick Boyle returns, representing the meat industry, and Bill Marler, the litigant. We're open 24/7. Keep your comments coming. More after this.

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KING: Dr. Campbell, Dr. Rodriguez remain. Returning, Patrick Boyle, president and CEO American Meat Institute. He's in Chicago. And here in Los Angeles, the famed attorney Bill Marler.

Patrick, what do you make of what you heard? I know the chef was a little critical of Cargill. That's a major meat packing company. What's your response in general to what we heard so far?

BOYLE: I think some of the comments have been grossly uninformed about the industry and our products. This industry, the member companies of the American Meat Institute, of which Cargill is one, have invested tens of millions of dollars over the last ten years in research programs to make our products safer. And they've shared the results in a non-competitive environment, so we can spread the knowledge throughout the industry.

They have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in new technology, equipment, interventions, to make our meat products safer, as I outlined at the top of the hour. And hamburger is compromised of trim from more expensive pieces of meat like tenderloins and roasts. It's perfectly safe, perfectly wholesome. It's produced under the continuous inspection of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One other comment if I might, Larry. The whole comment about factory farming, from my perspective, that's a negative reference to high volume, low cost, efficient meat and poultry processing facilities, that give Americans an abundant variety of safe and wholesome products at a very reasonable price. The lowest price in terms of disposable income spent of any terms of developed country in the world.

KING: Mr. Marler, you may respond.

MARLER: I think --

KING: He says they're doing everything they can.

MARLER: I think what we have to really pay attention to, and Secretary Vilsack better think about that -- first secretary of Agriculture in my lifetime, and probably everyone's lifetime, that said his goal is to drive the number of illnesses and deaths to zero.

KING: Don't you think that --

MARLER: Patrick, they do. Patrick and I would both agree that they need to do better. They need to do more testing. They need to be completely open with their test results. We need to be able to go online and see what Cargill's test results for e. Coli are. We need to see their noncompliance reports when the USDA inspects them. Those things should be online.

KING: Patrick, do you agree?

BOYLE: I don't agree that a private company's test results should be publicly available through the government, for example. But the noncompliance reports to which Bill refers are available through the Department of Agriculture because they're public documents.

The Department of Agriculture conducts 15,000 tests for e. Coli each year. Those test results are aggregated, and made available to the public. That's why we know the incidence of e. Coli in ground beef has dropped significantly in the last ten years.

KING: Bill?

MARLER: The bottom line is that those documents are very hard for the public to get ahold of. In the time of Obama, the time of us all caring for each other, those sorts of documents need to be online, just like Twitter and just like Facebook. You need to get it out there to the public, Pat. That's the kind of stuff the public has a right to know, so people can make good decisions about what kinds of food to eat.

KING: Most people are not harmed by hamburger patties.

MARLER: Absolutely. The industry has done a very good job. But it's difficult when you focus your attention on Stephanie and you focus your attention on Kevin and you focus your attention on Abby. Like the secretary of agriculture said, until we get this down to zero, we have to keep working.

KING: No one would disagree with that.

MARLER: And that's what needs to be done. And I don't think the industry can set back and think that they're doing a good job.

KING: Some more comments from Colin Campbell and Nancy Rodriguez, along with Patrick Boyle and Bill Marler right after this.

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KING: We have a call in San Diego, hello.

CALLER: Hello?

KING: Yes, go ahead.

CALLER: I would like to know how the American meat industry can possibly assure the American public that all meat is safe and free from Mad Cow, BSE, when, in fact, here in the United States, we test less than one percent of all of our cattle annually? Why don't we do it like Japan and other countries, and test 100 percent of our cattle?

KING: Patrick?

BOYLE: Excellent question. We do extensive testing here in the United States for BSE. We have been looking for BSE since the early 1990s. It took us well over a decade to find one in Washington State. And that cow happened to walk across the border from Canada.

Since we found that first one, we've done extensive testing. But we target our tests. We target it on the high-risk animals. Basically, older animals in our cattle population. The nature of the BSE disease is that it does not evidence itself until about five or a six-year period. So it doesn't make any sense, like Japan, for example, to test animals of all ages. You're not going to find it unless you look at the high-risk population of cattle. And that's what we've done very successfully here in the United States.

KING: Dr. Campbell, are you tilting at wind mills?

CAMPBELL: No, I'm not. I mean, I would have said a few years ago that was the case. But, quite frankly, most of my lectures recently have been through medical schools and medical conferences. And I'm finding among the professionals a lot of excitement about some of these ideas.

You know, one of the issues here that we tend not to understand is this whole concept of what is nutrition. We tend to think of nutrition as the effect of individual nutrients, like supplements. They don't work in the long run.

I'm talking about whole food, how nutrients work together to create health and prevent disease. And now we even know we can actually treat disease and cure disease using the same approach.

There is on the horizon -- let me show you, Larry -- some information about nutrition now that we're going to hear about in the next year or two. I have to say, it's going to knock the socks off some folks.

KING: Dr. Rodriguez, are you open to listen to Dr. Campbell?

RODRIGUEZ: Sure. I think I would make two comments. One is that you just have to be cautious in taking information from, for example, the China Study and oversimplifying it and extending it to people, when it's more complex than that. It's not just what we eat. It's how we live our lives.

And I believe that when you're looking at living a long, healthful life, that certainly animal proteins, which are the foundation of life and what we do, can fit in that healthful approach. And some of the recent studies, again, from my lab and others, peer reviewed science, using whole foods that include beef, dairy, eggs in the diet, have shown that there is some benefits to the muscle, without any detriment to cholesterol levels, benefits, perhaps, to Diabetes management and high blood pressure.

So that we have to sort of, I think, consider all foods in total in the context of good health and well-being.

KING: What is a lay person to do with all this?

MARLER: I think what the lay person needs to do is spend a little bit more time putting pressure on their Congressmen and senators to pass some food safety legislation that's been hung up in the House and the Senate. It's time that, you know, we do spend more time making sure that companies who produce food for our kids are inspected regularly, that they take proper precautions and test products appropriately. KING: Patrick, do you oppose that legislation?

BOYLE: Well, the legislation actually applies to companies that produce food under FDA's jurisdiction, not meat poultry companies that are very intensely regulated by USDA.

KING: Patrick, are you optimistic that you'll improve the situation regarding e. Coli and victims?

BOYLE: I am, Larry. The beef supply is safer today in terms e. Coli incidents than it was five years ago. It was safer five years ago than it was ten years ago. We continue to make enormous investments in technology and process controls.

The industry itself conducts millions of e. Coli tests within our plants to better understand the effectiveness of our interventions. We need more interventions.

For example, five years ago, the American Meat Institute petitioned USDA to allow us to use irradiation on the exterior carcasses. Five years later, the department has yet to commence a rule making to determine if we can utilize that technology.

KING: We're out of time.

BOYLE: We need good responses from USDA.

KING: Thank you all very much. Bill Frist has written a blog exclusive for us about why he became a United States senator when he had a thriving career as a heart surgeon. Check it out on CNN.com/LarryKing. We have had over six million hits on our blog and 200,000 comments. If you're not on the LKL blog, you're missing out.

Tomorrow night, Craig Ferguson. Now, Anderson Cooper and "AC 360."

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