February 26, 1999
by Dennis T. Avery
Experts say that increased consumption of organically grown, unprocessed foods produced without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or preservatives may also be contributing to the problem.
"‘Organic’ means a food is grown in animal manure," noted Robert V. Tauxe, MD, MPH, chief of the CDC’s foodborne and diarrheal diseases branch, at the 36th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, also held in New Orleans.
Studies have found that E coli can survive in cow manure for 70 days and can multiply in foods grown with manure, unless heat or additives such as salt or preservatives are used to kill the microbes.
But there are essentially no regulations related to the use of animal manure in agriculture, said Tauxe, who predicted that oversight of the problem will ultimately be instituted by some government agency.
"We got rid of human waste in our food and water, and I think we’re going to have better control in the future of manure in our food and water," he said.
"Medical News and Perspectives"—January 8, 1997, Journal of the American Medical Association 277:97-98
The current unwillingness of the CDC to discuss or address this information is particularly disturbing. The disproportionately high share of confirmed E. coli O157:H7 cases attributed to organic and natural foods would seem to warrant closer study to enable the appropriate governmental and private institutions to fully protect consumers’ health. Yet Sharon Hoskins of the CDC told Alternative Agriculture News that the CDC did not have any such research currently in the works, nor was it planning to conduct any in the future because such research was "not warranted." "We are not planning any research on organic and natural foods," Hoskins said.
Quotes of Ms. Hoskins in the Wallace Institute press release also imply that she had tried to contact the magazine and the author, presumably to correct Mr. Avery’s "error." She is quoted as saying, "We have tried to contact the magazine and have never been able to speak with anyone at American Outlook, including the editor. There has been no response." In fact, Ms. Hoskins left a single voicemail message, and repeated attempts to contact her over a two-week period were unsuccessful. Ms. Kay Golen, director of media relations at the CDC and Ms. Hoskins’s immediate supervisor, eventually responded to Hudson staff inquiries on February 26. When a Center for Global Food Issues researcher requested that she refer future callers about Mr. Avery’s article to the CDC data on E. coli outbreaks for 1996, Ms. Golen refused, indicating that she needed to look at the issue more closely.
As noted earlier, the CDC data is all that we have on the risks of E. coli 0157:H7 infections inherent in organic and natural foods, and it clearly warrants further study and discussion. It is incumbent upon government agencies and proponents of organic farming to determine for certain whether these foods are more dangerous than conventionally grown meats and produce, and then to publicize the study results widely. We hope that Dennis Avery’s American Outlook article and subsequent discussion will spur that process along.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.
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