ENJOY YOUR VEGETABLES. AVOID E. COLI

Remember 2006 when suddenly everyone was afraid to eat spinach because there were reports of contaminated greens in a couple of taco restaurant chains.  It turned out to be contaminated iceberg lettuce that caused at least 276 cases of illness and 3 deaths.

How much good produce had to be thrown out because people were rejecting vegetables then – when they should have been boycotting their CAFO (concentrated animal feeding organizations)-grown meat.  Providing cheap meat is a very toxic process.

Our need for so much meat is poisoning us. (photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/toastforbrekkie/4483386068/ )

Here we go again.  This time in Germany where some infected vegetable matter, originally thought to come from sprouts, have killed 22 people and infected at least 2,200.

“I’m stating clearly that for the federal government, the fight against E. coli is the highest priority,” said Ilse Aigner, the German agricultural minister, adding that Germans should continue to avoid bean sprouts, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers until the source of the E. coli outbreak, which is among the deadliest in modern history, is found.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Europeans are avoiding fruits and vegetables and costing farmers $44 million a week.

The Journal concludes that researchers believe the strain behind the outbreak could have formed from a genetic recombination of two different E. coli bacteria, producing an unusually virulent bug, the World Health Organization said last week, citing preliminary genetic-sequencing data.

Irrigation patterns in a small part of the Westlands Water District in California's Central Valley. Vigorously growing crops are dark green. Light tan areas surrounding SkyTruth logo, on west side of Interstate 5 (Westside Freeway), are untilled grasslands. Dark brown areas on east side of the interstate are the pens and waste lagoons of the Harris Ranch Beef Co. feedlot, a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation that "finishes" cattle for slaughter. (photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/skytruth/4306330065/

According to the Cornucopia Institute, this nightmare is a direct result of the overconsumption of meat and the demand for cheap meat that keeps cattle and other animals jammed in CAFO feedlots being force fed corn in crowded conditions.

These strains of E. coli, which may now have morphed into something that didn’t exist before and are highly toxic.  Cows evolved to eat grass, but on feedlots they are given high-grain rations that change the pH in their rumen.  This has been linked to the creation of new and more deadly E. coli pathogens.

These pathogens get from the cows’ rumens into us when their manure lands on plants that we eat.  It happened in 2006 when the containment “ponds” of liquid poop leaked into neighboring vegetable  fields.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency photo

Often that manure is spread deliberately.  Both conventional and organic agriculture use manure as fertilizer, but organic farms compost manure, which kills the pathogens.  Much conventional farming does not.  I suspect this is a particular issue with large agricultural enterprises that supply the grocery stores.

I prefer to get my vegetables from my local farmers’ market.  I do this mainly because I want to help strengthen the local food shed, but I get an added benefit that I know my food was not grown next to the CAFO that the agribusiness food grower also owns.

 Do you know who grew your food and where it comes from? 

Do you feel comfortable about that source?

Do you think you will still be getting your food from the same place in 10 years?

 Check out this chart compiled by Cornucopia Institute on recent sprout recalls in the U.S..

Brand Name Product Organism Conventional or Organic Date
Caldwell Fresh Foods Alfalfa Sprouts salmonella Conventional 5/21/2010
Chang Farm Bean and Soy Sprouts Listeria monocytogenes Conventional 5/28/2009
Chang Farm Bean and Soy Sprouts Listeria monocytogenes Conventional 7/14/2009
Calco Brand Alfalfa sprouts Salmonella Conventional 4/23/2009
Kowalke Family Sprouts Alfalfa sprouts Salmonella Conventional 7/6/2009
Specialty Farms Alfalfa sprouts Listeria Organic 7/23/2010 and 7/29/2010
Snow White Food Alfalfa sprouts Salmonella Conventional 8/19/2010
Living Foods Alfalfa sprouts Salmonella Conventional 10/7/2010
Louie’s Various sprouts Salmonella Conventional 3/30/2011
Jonathans Alfalfa sprouts Salmonella The original recall, based on positive test results, was limited to conventional.  The recall was expanded on to include organic, as a precaution.  (no organic products tested positive) 4/19/2011 and 4/24/2011

10 recalls – 9 because conventional sprouts tested positive for contamination.

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9 replies

  1. What size was the organic operation listed. Organic farms can still be huge monocultures which also leads to problems with contamination. Small scale mixed farming is much better for us and much better for the environment and is more efficient despite the rhetoric, when the inputs and subsidies are taken into account.

    • Very good point, Joanna. I don’t have the facts on this, but I suspect the organic company that got busted was a big one. I prefer to get my food from local farmers at the market.

  2. Hi Denise,

    Food safety is a hugely important issue, and so misunderstood. For me, buying organic produce locally, from small farms, makes perfect sense. (And growing what I can.) I’m reading Ben Hewitt’s new book now, Making Supper Safe: One Man’s Quest to Learn the Truth About Food Safety — it’s a fascinating analysis. (I’m actually doing a giveaway of this book and Ben’s first book, The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food. If you haven’t read either, I hope you’ll throw your name in to win.)

    I believe that the solution lies in making choices to get closer to our food.

    I’m so happy to have found your blog! You’re doing important work. Thanks so much for sharing it all with us.

    Eleanor

    • It sounds like we are very much on the same page, Eleanor. I just looked for Making Supper Safe in the Madison library system. It’s not there, but there is another book by Hewitt, so I requested that, and am looking forward to it.

  3. It’s neat that you are helping get the book out that way. I’m hoping my library will have a copy soon. I can usually find just about everything in our system of shared libraries here in Southwestern Wisconsin.
    Benjamin Franklin is my patron saint for inventing the lending library.

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