You don’t want Toxoplasma. I’ve been asked many times about the risks and the risk factors. There are a lot of wrong assumptions about, and a lot of wrong advice, but today I see that the Food Standards Agency is getting it right.
That article still puts too much emphasis on pregnant women, I think. The risks to the unborn child are very real and very important. But anybody carrying Toxo is at risk and it’s very common. It’s one of the world’s most common parasites. It can infect any warm-blooded vertebrate, including us, including many of our pet species and including many of our food species. But it’s a candidate for the title of ‘World’s least-familiar parasite’. Had you even heard of it? I hadn’t until I started looking for funds to support my PhD on Toxo in sheep.
The levy boards supporting red meat industries in Britain (EBLEX, QMS and HCC) were forward-thinking enough to fund my work. While I was there, Glenn McConkey’s team found a biochemical mechanism which started to explain how Toxo affects human behaviour. As for how it affects your risk of dying if you get HIV, or if you have an organ transplant… well basically, you don’t want Toxoplasma.
Anybody learning to cook pig meat learns to serve it well-done. That advice came about because of Toxo in this kind of meat but when pigs are reared indoors, there’s less risk of Toxo. Sheep meat on the other hand? Well I love a good lamb dinner. But I like it well-done. So does every farmer I know. The levy boards put recipe cards on butchers’ counters and I say that if you like lamb, then buy lamb, cook lamb and eat lamb.