In March 2011, an article published by Science 2.0 “Organic Food Lovers Should Avoid Raw Bean Sprouts” highlighted the danger of eating raw bean sprouts. Full of vitamins and minerals bean sprouts may well be, but also full of bacteria!
Grown in an environment of warmth and humidity that encourages bacteria to grow bean sprouts have already been traced as the cause of salmonella poisoning in thousands of people and this was during the two years prior to this current outbreak! In Japan in 1996, tainted radish sprouts killed 12 people and made over 10,000 very ill.
Authorities in Germany say they should have conclusive evidence today on the origins of the horrifying E. coli outbreak that has killed 22 people and made thousands very ill. All evidence suggests this has been traced to the bean sprouts grown on an organic farm in Germany.
E. coli is normally associated with undercooked meat so how worried should we be about this current outbreak?
Although a very serious and nasty bug, this is a localised outbreak in Germany from what appears to be from one single source. Lower Saxony Agriculture Minister Gert Lindermann told the Associated Press that there was a possibility that the water used to grow the sprouts which are grown with steam in barrels at 38 degrees Celsius, was contaminated.
So the question now to be asked is: how safe is organic? ~
With pesticide residues lower in organic food, many believe eating organic is similar to eating food prepared in ancient times without any contamination but what may not be realised is that food contamination by micro-organisms producing fungal poisons was widespread in those “good old days” and modern regulations now help prevent this but not entirely.
Argument against organic farming:
Fungicides help lower the risk from fungal poisons ‘” mycotoxins ‘” in normal food but not organic food which is one of the reasons why organic food is hurried out into the market once harvested. Fresher produce is often the appeal of organic food but long-term exposure to fungal poisons can cause respiratory problems, irritable bowel syndrome, bladder and kidney pain, vision problems, headache and memory loss.
Crop varieties used by organic farmers are chosen for their suitability to a farmer’s geography and climate. Many of these crops acquire their genes from different species through laboratory procedures; these aren’t natural plants and they cannot survive in fields unless they are constantly cultivated. How safe is genetically modified food? So far there have been no long-term tests to prove the safety of GM products however some potential dangers suggested are that they can cause resistance to antibiotics or allergic reactions and the natural toxins in plants may be enhanced through this procedure.
Cow and pig manure used by some organic farmers may be infected with E coli bacterium that lives in the guts of cattle. This infection can kill humans or leave them with damaged kidneys.
Sulphur is occasionally used by organic farmers as a pesticide. Sulphur contains lead which can be transferred to the food that we eat.
E. coli can be found in human and livestock feces and this can spread to produce through farm workers who do not practice good hygiene and also through animal waste in fields as well as in irrigation water. More manure is used in organic farms than other farms however it should be noted that the German farm that produced the bean sprouts responsible for the current outbreak did not use manure.
Argument “for” organic farming:
All food that is labelled “organic” must be produced according to strict regulations.
The laws and regulations governing organic production in the USA and Europe are complicated and comprehensive, covering certification, record keeping, organic production and handling, land requirements, soil fertility and crop nutrient managements, seeds and planting, crop rotation, pest weed and disease management, origin of livestock, livestock feed, living conditions and health care practice, packaging of products and the list goes on.
The conclusion: Organic foods can be just as safe and just as harmful as any other method of farming.
Advice for anyone buying salad is: be sure to wash all vegetables before you eat and be sensible about following hygienic practices in food preparation. If you have any worries concerning this current outbreak, visit your GP.