E. Coli Outbreak Linked to Organic Farming … Again

Although it’s not 100 percent certain at this time, German health officials are becoming increasingly certain that the recent E. coli outbreak there can be traced to an organic farm. According to this article from The Scotsman:

German-grown bean sprouts are the likely source of the deadliest E coli outbreak in modern history, according to agricultural officials.The outbreak, which has killed 22 people and made more than 2,000 ill across Europe, is thought to have originated at an organic farm in northern Germany. Lower Saxony’s agriculture minister, Gert Lindemann, said tests had shown the bean sprouts were the probable cause.

That’s not the first major foodborne illness outbreak linked to organic production, nor will it be the last. As I noted on John Stossel’s Fox Business channel show last November, the terrible 2008 outbreak of E. coli in was found to have come from organically grown spinach in California. And plenty of other examples can be found. After all, organic farming eschews synthesized nitrogen fertilizers, and instead relies heavily on the use of animal manures for soil nutrient replacement. And,  “[t]he use of animal wastes for fertilization of produce plants increased the risk of E. coli contamination in organic and semiorganic produce significantly.” There is a small but growing literature finding significantly greater presence of E. coli and other foodborne pathogens on organic produce. See here, here, here, and here, for just a few examples.

It’s worth remembering, of course, that while tragic, deaths from foodborne illness are quite rare in industrialized countries like Germany and the United States considering the hundreds of millions of meals that are eaten every day. But while modern, technologically-advanced agricultural production practices are often blamed for heightening the risk of food contamination, scientists know that most of the real threats are all natural products of Mother Nature. More often than not, new technologies and modern practices tend to increase food safety, not decrease it.