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Friday, October 13, 2006

You Can Thank Industrial Agriculture for E. Coli - by Abrahan Paulos

The recent E. coli bacteria scare has had grocery stores, both local and nationwide, pulling spinach off their shelves and throwing it away. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the State of California have determined that the spinach implicated in the outbreak grew in California counties. The first illness associated with this outbreak occurred on August 2, although most illnesses reported to date cluster from August 26 to September 12.

To date, 183 cases of illness due to E. coli have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)–-including 29 of a form of kidney failure called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)–-as well as 95 hospitalizations and one death (FDA).

E. coli is usually a harmless bacterium that is abundant in the digestive systems of healthy cattle and humans, and if your spinach salad happened to be carrying the average E. coli, the acid in your gut is usually enough to kill it. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, some people can develop HUS. HUS is most likely to occur in young children and the elderly, which was the case of the only death in the recent outbreak, of a 77-year-old woman in Wisconsin.*

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CONTINUED:

E. coli O157-H7 is a by-product of grain-based feeding to dairy and beef cattle in an attempt to fatten them up quicker at a lower cost. The cow's digestive system and acid balance is designed to break down grass, not high-production, refined rations that is the practice of large-scale, industrial agriculture. Irrigation water can also carry E. coli contamination; fields can be contaminated with raw sewage from flooding. This recent outbreak, and past deadly problems with contaminated meat, are a direct by-product of producing cheap, unhealthy cattle.

The agricultural area of California where this latest contamination crisis originated, produces 74 percent of the fresh-market spinach grown in the United States, and many other fresh-market vegetables. It is contiguous to many Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, managing thousands of dairy cows.

The nine bags of baby spinach now linked by DNA testing to outbreak were "conventionally grown spinach and not organic." They came from one of the farms that supplies spinach to Natural Selection and were sold under the Dole label, according to Samantha Cabaluna, spokeswoman for Natural Selection.

This problem is suggestive of large-scale, industrial agriculture.

The concentration of much of the nation's food supply in a given region, and the accelerated increase in imports from developing countries, puts our nation's food security and health at risk. Also many of the pathogens now penetrating the food chain due to industrial agricultural practices are becoming resistant to many antibiotics due to their widespread use in livestock production. This industrial farming is the reason E. coli quickly spread to 20 states.

The safety that a locally based food system provides is clear. Not only could the spinach have been tracked and the outbreak contained quickly if it was locally grown, local farmers and their facilities could have been visited and assessed in a much more timely manner.

Regardless of scale, all organic food has a compulsory inspection required, so tracing back a product in the event of food contamination or questions of certification are achievable. This compulsory inspection trail does not exist for conventional food. When growing organic food, the application of raw manure is strictly regulated and sewage sludge is prohibited. Most organic manure is composted prior to application, a practice that greatly reduces risk and improves environmental protection.

Can E. coli-free spinach be grown locally, safely, and healthy much of the year? Yes indeed, it is now being done by small and medium-sized producers in the Midwest and throughout much of the Northeast. So, what's stopping the growth? Easy. Artificial economies, subsidies, and compromises in quality in a greedy and harmful effort to produce cheaper and cheaper food.

Abraham Paulos is the communications assistant at WHY (World Hunger Year). Founded in 1975, WHY is a leader in the fight against hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. www.worldhungeryear.org
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SOURCE:
You Can Thank Industrial Agriculture for E. Coli

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