Friday, October 13, 2006


Cattle Ranching And E. Coli

Ever since the E. coli outbreak started, organic food activists have been saying that it probably came from a cattle ranch, and meat-industry spokespeople have mocked them for it:

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has so far been unable to pinpoint the source of the E. coli O157:H7 in fresh bagged spinach, more than 180 people in 26 states have been infected, and one person has died during the last two weeks. Worse, CDC reported that more than half of the people infected ended up in the hospital — nearly double the typical rate in O157:H7 incidents. About 15 percent of those patients developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, again a rate that is "higher than normal." It's enough to qualify the outbreak as a major food-safety failure. On the part of the meat industry, to listen to some of the harsher media critics. In other words, the spinach isn't responsible for the outbreak; cattle producers and meatpackers are. That's because E. coli O157:H7 is associated with cattle manure, and that's enough evidence to convict producers and packers.
Well, guess what?
Cattle manure collected from a California ranch under investigation by federal and state authorities contains the same strain of E. coli that killed three people and sickened nearly 200 in a recent outbreak linked to tainted spinach, federal and state food safety officials said Thursday. “We know where the E. coli comes from,” said Dr. Kevin Reilly of the California Department of Health Services.
We certainly do. And what about the idea, advanced by the meat-industry apologists, that the deadly bacteria came from human workers in organic-spinach fields pooping on the produce? Well, at least one person who is an actual food safety expert was quick to shoot down that thought:
Joan Rose, a microbiologist and food safety expert at Michigan State University, said she was not surprised by Thursday’s finding that the E. coli came from animal feces. “If you start to look at the pathogen levels even in untreated sewage, it’s minor compared to animal waste,” Ms. Rose said, dismissing the notion that a field worker with poor hygiene could have spread the bacteria. “One person can’t touch that much spinach.”
Back to you, meat-industry folks.

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