The latest research from the University of Minnesota renews concerns that organic produce has higher bacterial risks than conventional fruits and vegetables. The Minnesota researchers found significantly more E. coli and more Salmonella bacteria on organic produce than conventional.
But the researchers themselves say, “Don’t worry.” They say that finding more E. coli bacteria on organic foods fertilized with manure doesn’t mean the organic stuff is more dangerous. Instead, it merely “supports the idea that organic produce is more susceptible to fecal contamination.”
Ah, well that’s reassuring, isn’t it? No really nasty E. coli, just more fecal contamination. Don’t you feel better now?
The Minnesota researchers are hiding behind technicalities and their epidermis is showing. They looked for E. coli O157:H7, the nastiest of the illness causing strains of E. coli, but didn’t find any. Instead they found only generic, non-pathogenic E. coli. Yet for decades, food safety authorities have used the increased presence of generic E. coli as a red flag for risk because the nasty strains are rare and so difficult to detect on produce.
The researchers themselves note that while medical detectives have “found very strong evidence” linking 19 E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks to specific produce, “very few have been successful in isolating O157.” Two other studies examining over 4,000 produce samples didn’t find any O157 either.
But we don’t have to consider hypotheticals. The researchers found real Salmonella on organic lettuce and green peppers but not on conventional foods. All Salmonella in food is potentially pathogenic. Doesn’t that mean that the organic stuff is more dangerous? No, say the researchers, because the prevalence of Salmonella in the organic foods was “very low.”
How low? They found Salmonella on 0.4 percent of organic samples (2 out of 476), making the organic foods in this study a 1 in 250 Salmonella crap shoot . . . er, lottery. Want to play? The jackpot is diarrhea, typhoid fever, and Reiter’s Syndrome that causes joint pain and painful urination that can last for years after the initial Salmonella infection.
The Minnesota group reveals their bias by making much of the fact that produce from certified organic farms had only 4.3 percent E. coli contamination compared to 11.4 percent for non-certified organic farms. On this basis, lead researcher Francisco Diez-Gonzalez says that “the good news is that if you are certified, you chance of fecal contamination decreases significantly.” Yet the certified organic contamination rate was still nearly three times higher than the conventional (although sample sizes were too small for this difference to be considered significant on a strictly statistical basis).
Organic food activists (including many activist researchers entrenched in liberal university halls) have claimed organic food superiority for years in their efforts to mold society and scare consumers into buying their politically correct fare. Now their farcical faÃ§ade is crumbling.
Just last year, the UK’s Food Standards Agency tested 33 corn meal products for a cancer-causing fungal toxin called fumonisin. The European Union has established a new safety limit on fumonisin of 500 parts per billion. All six organic corn meals tested by the FSA failed the new standard, with an average contamination rate nearly 20 times the limit. Two were so heavily contaminated that they carried one third of the fumonisin dose known to cause cancer in laboratory rodents.
Four years ago, angry organic food activists tried to have John Stossel fired from ABC TV’s “20/20″ for a segment he did highlighting the higher risks from organic foods grown in manure. But the concern about manure and bacterial contamination of organic foods was originally raised in 1997 by a physician with the Centers for Disease Control, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The Minnesota research along with previous research conducted at the University of Georgia indicates that current USDA rules fall far short of adequately protecting organic food consumers from bacterial risks. Why is it that organic consumers are still at greater risk seven years after the CDC first questioned the safety of organic manure use?