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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...865.html?sub=AR

Natural Selection Foods, the huge industrial organics operation written about at length in Michael Pollan's book, _The Omnivore's Dilemma_ is being blamed for the current outbreak of e-coli illness in bagged spinach. So much for the automatic assumption that organically-grown food is better for you...

My guess is that it was probably caused by inadequately composted manure being used as fertilizer. I'll be interested to hear what Michael Pollan has to say about this. He views the whole industrial organic paradigm with a great deal of suspicion and concern in his book, so he has earned the right to say: "I told you so!"

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This is the BS issue of Whole Foods and the organic food industry. Industrially produced food is bad. Organic or conventional! Of course it's cheap. What is needed is the realization that sustainability is what we should be talking about. We need food production processes that will allow us to keep producing food for 100's of years without the massive use of artificial OR naturally occuring inputs. Mechanized food production is a recent phenominon and many places that follow its practicea have stripped the vitality out of their soils and are now marginal.

When food is produced on mass scale, if there is a contamination problem, the contamination problem is on a mass scale. That is a simple fact. Mass prodiced foods kill and sicken, and kill and sicken in large numbers. It doesn't matter if they are organic or conventional. and the larger trhe production, the harder it is to actually monitor every part of it. Every year people die from industrially produced foods in the US.

When food is prodced on an industrial scale, the harm to the environment goes up astronomically. Earthboud farms organic methos are no different then the methods of conventional industrial produicers except in the respect of what chemicals thay put on their porduce: theirs are naturally occuring chemicals and not synthetic. While this is an improvement, the rest of their process is an industrial one.

Horizon Milk is just huge dairy agribusiness with a cute organic label. Organic Valley's farming practices are far more humane and in accordance with the spirit of the original organic movement. But guess who gives more money to the OTA and who had a larger voice in the Organic Standards? Horizon. The standards, while not allowing all of Horizon's practices, basically allowed Horizon to make some trivial changes and sell their industrial milk product as organic. Even Organic Valley is a huge concern, but at least they struggle with the integrity of their process. Horizon always was designed to be a huge brand and to sell out to a big agribusiness (Dean Foods) and their efforts ahve always been how to do the least possible to still keep their brand image intact and Organic on the label.

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...865.html?sub=AR

Natural Selection Foods, the huge industrial organics operation written about at length in Michael Pollan's book, _The Omnivore's Dilemma_ is being blamed for the current outbreak of e-coli illness in bagged spinach. So much for the automatic assumption that organically-grown food is better for you...

My guess is that it was probably caused by inadequately composted manure being used as fertilizer. I'll be interested to hear what Michael Pollan has to say about this. He views the whole industrial organic paradigm with a great deal of suspicion and concern in his book, so he has earned the right to say: "I told you so!"

I thought of the Pollan book too when I saw this story, even before they linked it to a particular company. I'll be interested to see where this goes.
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Interesting.

Most things I have heard suggest the water used for washing as the likely agent.

The strain of e-coli they have identified is found in the intestines of cattle. The washing water could, I suppose, have come from a shallow well which became contaminated by nearby cattle, although it seems odd that their processing facility would be located close enough to a cattle herd that well water would have become contaminated, presuming that their washing water came from a well that was 1) shallow enough to be contaminated by manure on the surface; 2) unfiltered. Nothing else has been identified as contaminated. Is spinach the only thing they wash there?

Whereas, in order to kill bacteria, fresh manure must be fairly carefully composted so that it reaches a high enough temperature to render it harmless and safe to use as fertilizer. That seems like a more likely point in the chain of events involving potential contact with cattle manure that quality control could have broken down. It seems possible that a contaminated batch of fertilizer was used for a crop of spinach and not any other of their produce. According to the article, the spinach they have just tested from that company is not showing up contaminated, so it was a previously harvested crop that was the problem.

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This whole thing is just media scare tactics getting the better of you, and it's pissing me off.

The United States ALONE averages 73,000 cases and 61 deaths from O157:H7 E. coli each YEAR.

And suddenly everone's worried about 100 cases and a single death? That's one tenth of one percent of the cases.

It's just convenient that there's someone to blame and someone's industry to ruin. Look what an AVERAGE number of shark attacks did to several town's tourist industries. Look what a handful of Mad Cow cases did to the beef industry.

At what point does one death fail to outweigh billions of lost dollars, lost jobs, lost livelihoods, and ruined lives of workers?

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This whole thing is just media scare tactics getting the better of you, and it's pissing me off.

The United States ALONE averages 73,000 cases and 61 deaths from O157:H7 E. coli each YEAR.

And suddenly everone's worried about 100 cases and a single death? That's one tenth of one percent of the cases.

It's just convenient that there's someone to blame and someone's industry to ruin. Look what an AVERAGE number of shark attacks did to several town's tourist industries. Look what a handful of Mad Cow cases did to the beef industry.

At what point does one death fail to outweigh billions of lost dollars, lost jobs, lost livelihoods, and ruined lives of workers?

Dan

The product in question is sold in over 70% of the stores in the country. If there was a systemic problem with Earthbound, the outbreak could ahve been devastating. This is not a small minimscule probability as they had already shown that there was a breakdown in their controls and safety process.

The Jack in the box case in the early 90's cost 4 people their lives and over 600 people were sickened enough to require medical attention. Many needed to have long term care well after their release from the hospital.

There was an outbreak of Lysterosis from Sara Lee Ball Park Franks that killed 22.

Just because we have not yet had an outbreak that has killed hundreds or thousands, don't believe that i cannot happen. ECOli 0157 is an old strain, but it seems to becomming more virulent over time (possibly due to agribusiness' indiscriminate use of antibiotics in factory farming). The first reported deaths were in the 1980 (IIRC) and now there are 60 deaths according to the statistic you quote. I think if you extrapolate this out the numbers would grow vry dramatically.

What can we do? We can follow the cost benefit model and say "its just a few people and heck, we lose 50,000 in traffic accidents each year". Or we can follow the precautionary principle and say "lets minimize this and change the growth curve before we are facing thousands of deaths from this highly preventable issue". Or we can look at the root causes of the evolution of the virulent strains of e coli and stop them before we are faced with completely resistant forms of bacteria that will threaten large amounts of people.

If people were getting their pre washed spinach from small producers spread out geographically there is still the likilihood that there would be some e coli outbreaks. But these outbreaks would be very limited in size. The risk from the outbreaks would be very much centered on those personally responsible for the safety of that food. With a large agribusiness situation, the risk is controlled not by those who own the enterprose but by those who manage it. Not one of the managers in the Sara Lee were penalized personally and Sara Lee paid a fine of $200,000. Read about it click.

Cheap food allows for a larger population size in this country. It also has consequences in our health profile (we are 38 in the developed world in our health outcomes despite being number one bar far is health spending). 38th! We suffer from 100,000' of deaths from easily preventable conditions. Our use of high fructose corn syrup in this country is linked with increases of diseases of all types.

We have a choice when we spend out food dollars and the choices we make will have a large repercussion on these issues.

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1) Dan-The media reports the facts-you would have them ignore this because it's only one death? Your reaction is hysterical (both meanings), not the reporting.

2) Dean-I think it is simplistic to berate an entire sector of the agriculture business because some cowsh*t might not have been treated properly.

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2) Dean-I think it is simplistic to berate an entire sector of the agriculture business because some cowsh*t might not have been treated properly.

When food is manufactured on a huge scale, problems can occur on a huge scale. This is just not the case with small scale production. The problem with agribusiness is that when the large, politically connected companies make huge mistakes that result in large numbers of illness and deaths, there is little or no consequence.

Mad Cow, a disease that killed and sickened many, not just one or two, but possibly 100's in europe before stringent measures were put in place, was due to agribusiness' parctice of feeding ground up dead cow to cows. Blood meal and bone meal are not part of the diet of cows naturally. Our govenerment actually requires the use of antibiotics in cows in interstate trade. These antibiotics are not given just to sick cows but to all cows in large part because of the effect on growth. There is no such thing as an antibiotic free cow due to laws supported by agribusiness.

Its not just food safety either. Just remember that Kraft Foods is behind the Codex Almentarius which would, among many other grievances, ban the importation of raw milk cheese to the US. No more reggiano, emmentaler etc not to mention the already harsh restrictions currently in place on raw milk cheeses. THis despite the almost pristine track record of raw milk cheeses. In the 5 known food illness outbreaks I studied with regards to raw milk cheese (the only 5 known at the time), none were actually due to raw milk cheese. They were due to cheeses that were supposed to be pasteurized and only imporperly done so or cheeses labeled unpasteurized and actually improperly pasteurized. Yet I cannot enjoy a commercially imported raw milk brie or fresh robiola, thanks to agribusiness.

The vast waste of water in the west, and the salinization problems of the arizona dessert where agribusiness grows freaking vegetables (amny at one time gorwm by an organic agribusiness) are yet another example.

I could go on....

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Dan

The product in question is sold in over 70% of the stores in the country. If there was a systemic problem with Earthbound, the outbreak could ahve been devastating.

The Jack in the box case in the early 90's cost 4 people their lives and over 600 people were sickened enough to require medical attention. Many needed to have long term care well after their release from the hospital.

There was an outbreak of Lysterosis from Sara Lee Ball Park Franks that killed 22.

Just because we have not yet had an outbreak that has killed hundreds or thousands, don't believe that i cannot happen.

Fear mongering and wild speculation. You provide data that indicates deaths at a ridiculously miniscule level and claim we are at risk for a massive outbreak.

Lightning is killing more people than your great threat.

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Fear mongering and wild speculation. You provide data that indicates deaths at a ridiculously miniscule level and claim we are at risk for a massive outbreak.

Lightning is killing more people than your great threat.

Remember the first reported deaths from e coli were in the 1980's. If we take the 4 deaths in the Jack in the Box caseas the first oputbreak, and look at simple exponential growth in the deaths, the numbers gorw to 1000 deaths a year in 2024 and over 10,000 in 2029.

Agribusiness is responsible for trans fat, which is highly associatred with heart disease, which kills more people than smoking in the US. We don't have good studies on trans fat because of opposition lobbying by the agribusiness industry, but the evidence out there specifies that there is no sale level of trans fat in the diet yet it took years and years of consumer advocacy to get transfat even listed on the sides of processed food, and then it was listed in a way that combines naturally occuring trans fats with chemically created ones.

Its your money. Eat up at Jack in the Box and eat all the chemically laced meats you want. But we face a world where almost all known antibiotics have resistant strains of bacteria that they can no longer fight and there are few if any companies involved in the research on antibiotics any more. Its too easy to invest in the changing of a single molecule of lipitor to make a new version which can get patent protection for more years. I will also add that I take lipitor and it has given me the prospects of longer life. But making sure the country used antibiotics in the most sparing of ways would also add to our life spans. Agribusiness uses antibiotics indiscriminately and we now have huge amounts of resistant bacteria. Many of these strains developed on farms (like ecoli e0147;s current form which is commmon on farms with cattle operations).

Again, you are doing a static cost benefit analysis looking at today's data without looking at trends. This is the same logic used by those who down play global climate change and other problems we face.

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For an interesting point of view, at ground level--this was forwarded to me from an on-line newsletter:

http://smallfarms.typepad.com/photos/farmer.andygriffin.html

I asked Andy Griffin from Mariquita Farms, if I could reprint his story here about

what is really going on in Spinach-Land:

Deborah Schot, a reporter from the L.A. Times, called me to ask for

an opinion about the e-coli outbreak in prepackaged fresh spinach

that has killed one person and sickened hundreds more.

And yes, I have an opinion. I think the F.D.A. employee that I heard

on the radio yesterday urging people to play it safe and not eat

fresh spinach is ignorant.

Although the victims got sick by eating spinach from a sealed bag

it's wrong to seize on spinach as the culprit in the controversy; it

makes more sense to look at the processing and handling of

pre-packaged greens in general.

Put another way, it's the harvest procedures that were followed, the

pre-washed claim made for the greens, and the bagged environment the

greens are in that are the relevant issues, not the specific variety

of leafy greens that were actually contaminated at some point during

the harvest and post harvest handling. By fingering any spinach as

suspicious, even bunched fresh spinach, the F.D.A. isn't educating

anyone, or solving the problem. They're just spreading fear on a

national scale.

The L.A. Times called me because I'm a farmer and I'm quick with a

sound bite, but also because I have a background in the baby spinach

and salad business. Back in the dark ages when I started farming

organically people bought their spinach in bunches and their salad as

heads of lettuce. My first career in farming was in the production of

the then new baby salad greens and baby spinach. We harvested the

crops by hand, washed them, and packed them loose in unsealed bags.

In 1996 my partners and I sold our company, Riverside Farms, to the

company that became Natural Selections, which happens to be the

company at the heart of the current controversy. Their packing plant

was once the packing plant for our farm, though it was a lot smaller

and less sophisticated back then. Our former label, Riverside Farms,

was one of the labels pulled from the shelves this week. Ready Pac

and Earthbound Farms, two of the other labels pulled, were labels

that I once grew and harvested raw products for so, for me, this bad

news has a personal angle.

When we harvested baby greens by hand at Riverside Farms the workers

dipped their knives periodically in buckets of antiseptic solution to

clean them. We were unsophisticated then, compared to the way the

industry is today, but we knew that any bacteria on the knife could

contaminate the wound in the leaf where it was severed from the plant

at the moment of harvest.

We also knew that baby salad greens that were harvested by dirty

knives were far more likely to break down quickly in the cooler, even

after being washed, because the wash process, no matter how good,

can't really remove bacteria that has been introduced into the leaf

by a dirty blade.

Riverside Farms had a state of the art wash line for 1995. but we

went the way of the dinosaurs in part because we couldn't afford to

pay the escalating labor costs of a unionized crew of hundreds of

salad cutters when our competitors were going to be harvesting tons

of product cheaply with machines. Not long after we went out of

business harvesting machines became the industry standard.

All in all, an argument can probably be made that the big harvest

machines probably cut the product even cleaner than individual

workers can, especially if some individual harvester is sloppy and

careless. But, by the same token, if the cutting blade on a

harvesting machine isn't properly cleaned tons and tons of product

can be contaminated by a filthy blade during the course of the

day-not just tons and tons of baby spinach, but tons and tons of ANY

PARTICULAR LEAFY GREEN VEGETABLE, ORGANIC, CONVENTIONAL, OR

OTHERWISE, that is being harvested.

Let's say some contaminated product makes it out of the field into

the shed. The equipment in the large salad plant wash-line is all

stainless steel, and the wash water that has been chlorinated to

reduce bacteria levels. If the factory puts so much chlorine in the

water that even potential bacteria pockets in the damaged tissue

along the cuts of the leaves is killed the "fresh" salad greens will

have been chemically contaminated into a swampy mess that smells like

a municipal swimming pool.

(When I smell the odor of ammonia that comes out of the sealed bags

of those nasty little carrot plugs that are so popular I want to gag.

When the day comes that someone gets sick from eating them and the

F.D.A. tells people not to eat any carrots I'm going to sue! Think of

all the bunched spinach growers losing their shirts because some fool

at the F.D.A. doesn't distinguish between packaged spinach that's

"conveniently" been "pre-washed," and a bunch of spinach that needs

to be cut from the stems and cleaned in the sink before being eaten.)

If the wash line procedures manage to kill 99.9% of all the offending

bacteria, there is still a real problem due to the tons and tons of

greens being processed over a short period of time. Inevitably, a

significant amount of contaminated product could go out to consumers.

A psychologist might be able to do a better job than I in telling you

why so many people feel comforted when they see their food coming to

them in sterile looking sealed plastic bags covered in corporate

logos, nutritional information, legal disclaimers and "use by" dates.

"It's convenient," they say. It is true that the open piles of washed

baby greens that were once the norm in supermarkets and farmers

markets were vulnerable to post harvest/ post wash contamination.

Those sneeze guards over the pizza parlor salad bar aren't there for

nothing.

But I'll tell you that every sealed bag of pre-washed greens is like

a little green house. The greens inside are still alive, as are the

bacteria living on them. If the produce in the bag is clean, great,

but if it isn't the bacteria present has a wonderful little sealed

environment to reproduce in, free from any threat until the dressing

splashes down and the shadow of a fork passes over. Frankly, I think

convenience is overrated.

When my partners and I sold our salad washing company we sold the

assets, the equipment, the leases, the receivables etc. but we also

sold the right to compete. For five years I was contractually obliged

to seek a way in agriculture that didn't have anything to do with my

previous experience in baby salad greens.

I wasn't sad to leave the big farm and the salad factory behind.

Those years were fascinating for me, but stressful, and the more

sophisticated everything became the more alienated I felt. I was out

of my league. I turned to farmers markets and then, when that way of

business didn't prove to be sustainable <http://tinyurl.com/n4ftg>

Julia and I turned to the C.S.A. format, later joining forces with

Stephen and Jeanne at Higher Ground Organics

<http://www.highgroundorganics.com/>.

Maybe giving people a mixed box of seasonal vegetables that they have

to wash and prepare isn't "convenient," the way shipping thousands of

cookie cutter boxes of salad out of a factory door is. And maybe it

isn't "convenient" for our supporters to have to wash their carrots

or trim the coarse stems off their chard. But that's cooking, and

cooking is a happy, healthy, balanced and therapeutic chore.

I will be curious to follow the news and see what the inspectors

discover in their search. If it turns out that I'm wrong, and it was

the spinach that was what gave shelter and sustenance to the

e-coli-and the problem is not due to a slip-up in harvest or post

harvest sanitary procedures on the factory farms- I'll be the first

to admit to ignorance.

But for now I'm going to call my seed dealer and order some spinach

seed; it's probably on special today, and it grows well in Hollister

in the fall.

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ECOli 0157 is an old strain, but it seems to becomming more virulent over time (possibly due to agribusiness' indiscriminate use of antibiotics in factory farming)..
I thought e. coli was present in the intestines of most animals, including humans,and it would be difficult to digest food without it (the phrase "symbiotic relatioinship" comes to mind). What impact do antibiotics have on e. coli if the antibiotics are not targeted at e. coli?
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I thought e. coli was present in the intestines of most animals, including humans,and it would be difficult to digest food without it (the phrase "symbiotic relatioinship" comes to mind). What impact do antibiotics have on e. coli if the antibiotics are not targeted at e. coli?
There are more symbiotic organisms living in your body right now (~10^14) than there are cells of your own (~10^13). Many of these organisms ARE e. coli, of many strains. If you want to say "hi" to the little buggers, there are 100 billion to 10 trillion in the feces you pass each day (I hope no one plans on reading any of the food-related threads after that).

Not among the e. coli living inside you are one of the many virulent strains, including the now infamous O157:H7, which produces an enterohemorrhagic toxin (use your imagination).

As to whether the antibiotics fed to animals are specifically targetted to AVOID e. coli I cannot say, although I can't imagine they would be. Whenever you take penicillin some of your little friends will die, but do not mourn them - many more will be born.

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I thought e. coli was present in the intestines of most animals, including humans,and it would be difficult to digest food without it (the phrase "symbiotic relatioinship" comes to mind). What impact do antibiotics have on e. coli if the antibiotics are not targeted at e. coli?

Antibiotics destroy beneficial bacteria as well as pathogenic strains. That's why lots of people eat yogurt or kefir, which has acidophilus, after a course of antibiotics taken for an infection--to restore beneficial intestinal flora.

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According to Michael Pollan, the manner in which beef cattle are raised and the ingredients in their feed predispose them to strains of e-coli that they wouldn't necessarily get if they were in pastures eating grass. Starting with corn, an unnatural food source for cattle, and going through all the other additives in their feed, which could include things like chicken droppings (intentionally), their digestive tracts are set up to get sick. Standing in their waste in the feed lots, and being crowded together so their exercise is limited, create significant stress on their bodies and immune systems. As I understand it, they are given antibiotics as a precaution to prevent them from becoming ill in this situation, but that can have the effect of producing bacterial strains that are resistant to those antibiotics.

I did appreciate Mr. Griffin's point of view. I think I understand the problem and the issues much better for having read that interview.

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According to Michael Pollan, the manner in which beef cattle are raised and the ingredients in their feed predispose them to strains of e-coli that they wouldn't necessarily get if they were in pastures eating grass. Starting with corn, an unnatural food source for cattle, and going through all the other additives in their feed, which could include things like chicken droppings (intentionally), their digestive tracts are set up to get sick. Standing in their waste in the feed lots, and being crowded together so their exercise is limited, create significant stress on their bodies and immune systems. As I understand it, they are given antibiotics as a precaution to prevent them from becoming ill in this situation, but that can have the effect of producing bacterial strains that are resistant to those antibiotics.

I did appreciate Mr. Griffin's point of view. I think I understand the problem and the issues much better for having read that interview.

Nina Planck had a very good editorial in the Times on Thursday pointing out that this particularly acid- resistant e-coli strand was prevalent in cows fed on grain rather than grass/hay and that the problem may have come from groundwater contaminated by leakage from factory farming manure lagoons.

http://ninaplanck.com/index.php?article=e_coli

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Michael Pollan weighed in in yesterday's New York Times magazine. I'm excerpting the first paragraph and providing a link to the article:

The Way We Live Now

The Vegetable-Industrial Complex

By MICHAEL POLLAN

Published: October 15, 2006

Soon after the news broke last month that nearly 200 Americans in 26 states had been sickened by eating packaged spinach contaminated with E. coli, I received a rather coldblooded e-mail message from a friend in the food business. “I have instructed my broker to purchase a million shares of RadSafe,” he wrote, explaining that RadSafe is a leading manufacturer of food-irradiation technology. It turned out my friend was joking, but even so, his reasoning was impeccable. If bagged salad greens are vulnerable to bacterial contamination on such a scale, industry and government would very soon come looking for a technological fix; any day now, calls to irradiate the entire food supply will be on a great many official lips. That’s exactly what happened a few years ago when we learned that E. coli from cattle feces was winding up in American hamburgers. Rather than clean up the kill floor and the feedlot diet, some meat processors simply started nuking the meat — sterilizing the manure, in other words, rather than removing it from our food. Why? Because it’s easier to find a technological fix than to address the root cause of such a problem. This has always been the genius of industrial capitalism — to take its failings and turn them into exciting new business opportunities.

Full article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/15/magazine...r=1&oref=slogin

(The link seems to work for me, but if you have trouble, PM me and I'll try again).

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Anyone else see the commercial with the president of Taco Bell declaring the e.coli outbreak over and reassuring us that they are working with health officials and produce suppliers to make sure it never happens again? Very weird commercial. Chalupas for everyone!

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Anyone else see the commercial with the president of Taco Bell declaring the e.coli outbreak over and reassuring us that they are working with health officials and produce suppliers to make sure it never happens again? Very weird commercial. Chalupas for everyone!
Here's an enhanced version. Very weird advice they're getting from their crisis communications staff if their "message" is so easy to parody.
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