Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: September 20, 2006
* Eat Your Spinach
* Researchers say deadly bacteria may be in, not on, spinach
* Enjoy Organic Foods Including Spinach While Avoiding E. coli
* Environmental Heresies
* GM: Where's proof food is not safe?
* Canada assoc sees favorable EU ruling on GMO canola
Eat Your Spinach
- Wall Street Journal, By MARC SIEGEL, September 18, 2006
As news reports continue to focus on a spinach-induced illness caused by a single strain of Escherichia Coli bacteria known as 0157:H7, many of us tend to believe that our next bite of spinach will be our last. The facts don't back this up. With the FDA linking the outbreak to a single Natural Selection Foods processing plant in California, and with just around 100 people sick, 29 hospitalized and 14 with kidney failure across 19 states, the risks remain minimal. I could eat uncooked spinach all day and the overwhelming odds would be against my ever having a problem. The fear epidemic spreads faster than any bacteria.
This is not to say that there is no problem. By not effectively regulating the use of organic fertilizers or the content of an animal's feed, government agencies have allowed an unhealthy bacteria to go unchecked until it rears up and scares us. The FDA now has no choice but to temporarily ban spinach so that as few additional cases as possible occur.
The 157:H7 strain of E Coli, which can populate the intestines of cows, makes a toxin that damages human blood-vessel lining, causing bloody diarrhea. It can also lead to blood clots and kidney failure, especially in children. Cows lack the toxin receptors in their blood vessels, and so are asymptomatic carriers. The manure from infected cows can contaminate ground water or organic fertilizer. Since very small amounts are necessary for human infection, it is fairly easy to cause a limited outbreak, especially in farms that rely on manure for fertilizer. There have been at least 11 outbreaks of this E Coli in salad foods since 1995. No one knows the exact mechanism in each case, but possibilities include contaminated water, equipment or fertilizer. In 1999, nearly 1,000 people were infected, and at least two died after consuming water (believed to be contaminated by manure after a heavy rain) at a county fair in upstate N.Y.
The current outbreak is most concerning not because of its size, but its virulence. Almost a third of the sick have been hospitalized, with at least 15% suffering the rare -- and life-threatening -- kidney failure known as Hemolytic-uremic Syndrome. This virulence may be partly due to the way we raise cattle and process foods and other bovine products. Feeding antibiotics to cows in order to suppress bacteria can backfire by promoting new strains of drug-resistant bacteria. Not adequately testing fertilizer or controlling the entry of manure into our water or food supply is a factor in the spread.
Finally, it is also unwise to automatically consider everything organically grown to be safe, and food products that contain chemicals unsafe.
Dr. Siegel is an associate professor at NYU School of Medicine and author of "False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear" (Wiley, 2005).
Researchers say deadly bacteria may be in, not on, spinach
- Cox News Service, September 19, 2006, By JEFF NESMITH
WASHINGTON — Potentially deadly E. coli bacteria can contaminate edible parts of plants like spinach and lettuce through water absorbed by the plants' roots, scientists said Monday as federal officials reported that a new outbreak of the bacteria continues to spread.
The scientists' findings means that no amount of rinsing or careful handling can keep the E. coli out of salads and other foods in which raw vegetables are used if the pathogen is in, rather than on, plant leaves. It also poses new challenges for farmers seeking to ensure that their crops remain free of the contaminant.
More than 100 persons have fallen ill in recent days and one died after eating raw spinach contaminated with the ?O157:H7 strain of E. coli, according to Food and Drug Administration officials. A second death, of a person in Ohio, was being studied to see if it also was linked to the outbreak.
In a telephone briefing Monday evening, Dr. David Acheson of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had linked 114 cases of E. coli poisoning in 21 states to raw spinach. The states with the largest number of cases were Wisconsin with 32, Utah with 15 and Ohio with 10.
Three-fourths of the victims were women, which Acheson said probably resulted from the fact that women eat more raw spinach than men.
Acheson said FDA food safety investigators were visiting farms in California on Monday in an effort to determine what caused the contamination.
He said the FDA had concluded that "there is nothing in the epidemiology to consider this deliberate." He would not estimate the likelihood that the agency would ever know its precise cause.
He urged farmers to adhere to the agency's recommended "Good Agricultural Practices" as the best way to prevent E. coli contamination of fresh vegetables.
Following 19 other E. coli-related food-poisoning outbreaks since 1995, the FDA created a Lettuce Safety Initiative establishing stricter inspections of that farm industry. The initiative has been extended to spinach following the current outbreak.
Asked why spinach wasn't covered to begin with, Acheson said the agency had "focused our resources on the food ... for which we had seen the biggest problem."
If the E. coli pathogen is found to be inside the plant leaves, that might have serious implications for the burgeoning organic foods market.
Scientists at Rutgers University reported four years ago that they had shown that quantities of the bacteria sufficient to cause disease can be present in - rather than on - the plants' leaves.
"I am concerned from the findings that we have," said Karl Matthews, a microbiologist. "You can't wash the organism away from the crop. Even if it's washed several times, you're not actually washing away the organism."
After growing lettuce in soil that had been deliberately inoculated with E. coli O157:H7, Matthews washed the leaves in bleach but still found the bacteria inside the plant tissues.
He and other researchers concluded that the pathogen had clearly traveled to edible parts of the lettuce through the roots.
He said the research was not designed to determine how much contamination could have occurred, but whether it could happen at all. Even so, he said, in some cases the amount of E. coli found in the leaves was sufficient to cause disease.
In 2004 and 2005, the FDA's top food safety official told California farmers that they should do more to protect crops from the floodwaters that periodically strike the central Salinas Valley, the Associated Press reported. The waters are known to be subject to E. coli contamination.
"In light of continuing outbreaks, it is clear that more needs to be done," the FDA's Robert Brackett wrote in a Nov. 4, 2005, letter, the AP said. Suggested actions included discarding any produce that comes into contact with floodwaters.
Western Growers, a group representing 3,000 growers and shippers in California and Arizona said the new Lettuce Safety Initiative was not a response to any particular incident, and that "the basic standard for the industry is zero tolerance," said Tim Chelling, a spokesman.
No one has shown that organically produced vegetables are likely to be more vulnerable to this form of contamination than conventionally grown crops.
However, organic crops are nourished not with chemical fertilizer but with material that contains animal manure, usually the source of E. coli.
Federal regulations adopted for organic foods prohibit application of raw animal manure to crops within 120 days of harvest if the edible portion comes into contact with the manure. Raw manure is not allowed within 90 days of harvest of any food crop.
However, these regulations determine only whether a farmer qualifies for the Department of Agriculture "organic food," seal and are not enforced by food safety officials. Instead, private organizations approved by the department visit farms and "certify" them for the seal.
A California company that has been at the center of an outbreak of E. coli poisoning in raw spinach produces an organic line of fresh vegetables.
The company, Natural Selection Foods of San Juan Bautista, Calif., has recalled fresh spinach and products containing fresh spinach, and the FDA has advised against eating any fresh spinach until further notice.
Enjoy Organic Foods Including Spinach While Avoiding E. coli
- Organic Gardening Magic, Sept 20, 2006
With the recent E. coli outbreak attributed to the United States spinach crop one should take the proper precautions to avoid infection. There is no reason to sacrifice the health benefits of organic gardening if one adheres to the correct procedures.
Berkeley Heights, NJ (PRWEB) September 20, 2006 -- With the recent E. coli outbreak attributed to the United States spinach crop one should take the proper precautions to avoid infection. There is no reason to sacrifice the health benefits of organic gardening if one adheres to the correct procedures.
Root crops and leafy vegetables such as spinach and lettuce are most susceptible to infection when manure is applied directly to the soil. Because of this, manure should never be applied directly to a garden. Only composted manure should be applied for organic gardening and farming benefits.
If you choose to use your own compost you must ensure you do it correctly or you will run the risk of infection. The compost must be mixed regularly to be sure there is proper aeration to the pile and so that the entire heap has reached the required temperature. The temperature must reach at least 140° F during two five day heating cycles. A thermometer must be used to properly measure the temperature, do not estimate. The compost must be mixed between cycles. The compost should be allowed to sit for a few months before it is applied to your garden. Waiting the proper amount of time will allow the beneficial bacteria to effectively kill any harmful bacterial. Never use cat, dog, or pig manure as they may have parasites that can remain infectious to people.
Because commercially processed manure reaches much higher composting temperatures than homemade compost, it is significantly safer to use. Therefore it should be considered a best practice to make your home composts without manure. If you feel the need to add manure to your garden, commercially processed manure is the safest bet.
When it is time to add the composted manure into the garden, it is best to mix it into the soil before you plant and not leave it on the surface. This way the manure will not have direct contact with the crops. It is recommended that you apply composted manure at least 120 days before any crop harvest.
Spinach is unfortunately being left out in the fields as no one is currently willing to buy it. Farmers will continue to suffer until the source of the E. coli outbreak is specifically identified, and the fears of the consumers are put to rest.
To get started with organic vegetable gardening and safely enjoy all of organic gardening's health benefits Laura Fox has provided a free report at her site http://www.organicgardeningmagic.com.
The founder of The Whole Earth Catalog believes the environmental movement will soon reverse its position on four core issues.
- Technology Review, By Stewart Brand, Sept 20, 2006
"Over the next ten years, I predict, the mainstream of the environmental movement will reverse its opinion and activism in four major areas: population growth, urbanization, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power.
Reversals of this sort have occurred before. Wildfire went from universal menace in mid-20th century to honored natural force and forestry tool now, from "Only you can prevent forest fires!" to let-burn policies and prescribed fires for understory management. The structure of such reversals reveals a hidden strength in the environmental movement and explains why it is likely to keep on growing in influence from decade to decade and perhaps century to century.
The success of the environmental movement is driven by two powerful forces -- romanticism and science -- that are often in opposition. The romantics identify with natural systems; the scientists study natural systems. The romantics are moralistic, rebellious against the perceived dominant power, and combative against any who appear to stray from the true path. They hate to admit mistakes or change direction. The scientists are ethicalistic, rebellious against any perceived dominant paradigm, and combative against each other. For them, admitting mistakes is what science is.
There are a great many more environmental romantics than there are scientists. That's fortunate, since their inspiration means that most people in developed societies see themselves as environmentalists. But it also means that scientific perceptions are always a minority view, easily ignored, suppressed, or demonized if they don't fit the consensus story line......."
"Along with rethinking cities, environmentalists will need to rethink biotechnology. One area of biotech with huge promise and some drawbacks is genetic engineering, so far violently rejected by the environmental movement. That rejection is, I think, a mistake. Why was water fluoridization rejected by the political right and "frankenfood" by the political left? The answer, I suspect, is that fluoridization came from government and genetically modified (GM) crops from corporations. If the origins had been reversed -- as they could have been -- the positions would be reversed, too.
Ignore the origin and look at the technology on its own terms. (This will be easier with the emergence of "open source" genetic engineering, which could work around restrictive corporate patents.) What is its net effect on the environment? GM crops are more efficient, giving higher yield on less land with less use of pesticides and herbicides. That's why the Amish, the most technology-suspicious group in America (and the best farmers), have enthusiastically adopted GM crops.
There has yet to be a public debate among environmentalists about genetic engineering. Most of the scare stories that go around (Monarch caterpillars harmed by GM pollen!) have as much substance as urban legends about toxic rat urine on Coke can lids. Solid research is seldom reported widely, partly because no news is not news. A number of leading biologists in the U.S. are also leading environmentalists. I've asked them how worried they are about genetically engineered organisms. Their answer is "Not much," because they know from their own work how robust wild ecologies are in defending against new genes, no matter how exotic. They don't say so in public because they feel that entering the GM debate would strain relations with allies and would distract from their main focus, which is to research and defend biodiversity.
The best way for doubters to control a questionable new technology is to embrace it, lest it remain wholly in the hands of enthusiasts who think there is nothing questionable about it. I would love to see what a cadre of hard-over environmental scientists could do with genetic engineering. Besides assuring the kind of transparency needed for intelligent regulation, they could direct a powerful new tool at some of the most vexed problems in the field.
For instance, invasive species. Most of the current mass extinctions of native species is caused by habitat loss, a problem whose cure is well known-identify the crucial habitats and preserve, protect, and restore them. The second greatest cause of extinctions is coming from invasive species, where no solution is in sight. Kudzu takes over the American South, brown tree snakes take over Guam (up to 5,000 a square kilometer), zebra mussels and mitten crabs take over the U.S. waterways, fire ants and fiendishly collaborative Argentine ants take over the ground, and not a thing can be done. Volunteers like me get off on yanking up invasive French broom and Cape ivy, but it's just sand castles against a rising tide. I can't wait for some engineered organism, probably microbial, that will target bad actors like zebra mussels and eat them, or interrupt their reproductive pathway, and then die out."
FUll article at:
GM: Where's proof food is not safe?
- GLOUCESTERSHIRE ECHO, September 19, 2006
Madam - Cherry Lavell urges us (Echo, September 14) to write to Defra in protest against government plans to extend the production of GM crops.
Her fourth paragraph reads: "This is no mindless Luddite opposition, because there is increasing scientific evidence that GM can damage both human and animal health."
Now, if one understands Luddite to mean ill-informed resistance to technological advance, then I suspect GM protesters have a case to answer.
Precisely what scientific evidence is there that GM food is harmful?
My biology degree (a rather good one) is now over 40 years old but I hope I could cope with most of the difficult words in whatever Cherry Lavell is able to quote.
Meanwhile, Americans have been eating GM maize and soya, and products derived from them, for over seven years without any reliably reported damage to their health.
Earlier this year at the town's Science Festival, Lord Taverne commented that in the US, land of litigation, he knows of no individual or group who has successfully brought a legal action against producers of GM food.
So, Ms Lavell, precisely what is the evidence you refer to?
John Ricketts, Lynworth.
Canada assoc sees favorable EU ruling on GMO canola
- DOW JONES, 18 Sep 2006
Winnipeg -The European Union's Agricultural Council failed to reach a consensus on whether to allow the importation of certain genetically modified, or GMO, canola varieties in a vote Monday, confirmed an official with the Canola Council of Canada, or CCC.
The lack of decision should lead to a default approval from the European Commission, said JoAnne Buth of the CCC.
The proposal now will go back to the European Commission for a decision, said Buth. "We're expecting that they will approve that event," she added.
The event, which is contained in Bayer CropScience's (506285.BY) InVigour hybrids, has already passed the E.U.'s safety evaluation, and no issues were found with regard to human or environmental safety. The E.C. has always made its decision based on the safety evaluation in the past.
"This is a big step," said Buth.
While one more GMO event no longer in commercial production must still be approved before Canada will be able to ship canola to Europe, she said the approval of the Bayer GM traits would mean that all of the GMO canola currently in production in Canada would be approved by Europe, as Monsanto's RoundUp Ready varieties are already allowed.