Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - November 2, 2006
* Why Silence Is Not An Option
* Tony Blair on Science, GM Crops
* Defending GM Grapevine Field Trail in South Africa
* Berlin Group on GM Crops In Developing Countries
* A Professor's Perspective on the Biotech Industry
* Seeds of Hope: Ag Technologiesin Rural South Africa
* Growing Greener Greens
* Biosafety of Plant Production
* Ontarians Appear to be Swallowing Organic Misconceptions
* Wild Boar May Have Caused Tainted Spinach Outbreak
* CDC Investigating Salmonella Outbreak; Lettuce, Tomatoes
* Euro Notes are Crumbling, Blame It on GM Cotton?
Why Silence Is Not An Option
- Editorial, Nature Biotechnology, October 2006 Vol. 24 (10), Page 1177. www.nature.com/nbt . Reproduced in AgBioView with permission of the editor.
'GM products will continue to be marginalized in Europe as long as industry remains silent.'
Organic baby spinach: could anything be more wholesome? According to the website of Earthbound Farm, the largest US grower of organic produce, "delicious organic salads, fruits and vegetables are grown with a concern for the things you value most-your family's health, the air you breathe, the water you drink and your children's future." Of course, "organic produce is never genetically engineered or modified" and "encourages an abundance of species living in balanced, harmonious ecosystems."
One of the species it encourages appears to be the food pathogen Escherichia coli O157:H7. As Nature Biotechnology went to press E. coli O157:H7 from fresh-picked spinach had caused 150 people in 23 US states to get sick, around 75 hospitalizations, including over 20 cases hemolytic uremic syndrome, one confirmed death (a 77-year-old woman) and two deaths that were suspected of being connected with 'fresh' spinach. In mid-September, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised consumers not to eat bagged fresh spinach and urged anyone who had and who felt ill to contact their physician.
A month earlier, the FDA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a joint press conference to announce that they had been notified by Bayer CropScience that trace amounts of an herbicide-resistant genetically engineered rice, LL Rice 601, had been detected in commercial long-grain rice. Before the resultant media furor died down, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth followed up with the news that they had found the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin gene in rice products imported into Europe from China.
In the meantime, both US agencies concluded that there were no human health, food safety or environmental concerns associated with LL Rice 601. And somewhat later, the Genetically Modified Organisms Panel of the European Food Safety Agency also concurred that genetically modified (GM) rice was not a human health risk. Nothing to see. Nothing happened. Move right along with your life.
Predictably, these events generated a good deal of media buzz. Food scares are always good copy, especially killer salads. But interestingly, for the organic product, none of the press stories suggested that all spinach was bad for consumers, that organic fresh produce per se was hazardous, that combinations of 'organic' and 'spinach' were simply a time-bomb waiting to go off, that greedy growers were seeking to hoodwink the public about the so-called 'health benefits' of organic salad or that the spinach varieties bearing the contamination had been bred by exposure to high levels of mutagenic radiation.
The same cannot be said of the coverage of LL Rice 601. Some stories suggested a worldwide ban was needed on imports of GM rice. Others that the food chain was "contaminated." And others that the biotech industry was "out of control." As Frank Zappa might have said, it was a 'rice-unapproved-illegal- contamination-weak-Chinese-regulationstaple- crop-dependency- Greenpeace-center-of-diversity-local-farmers multinational- forced-accident- environment-rogue-scientist unacceptable- monopolistic-monocrop-immediate-inquiry kind-of a- thang'.
Many of the myths about the hazards of GM food were repackaged from stories from previous years when unapproved varieties of transgenic corn (Aventis' Starlink and Syngenta's Bt10) ended up in the human food chain. Few of the stories presented a balanced picture.
One reason why this is the case is that the research community has all but disengaged itself from the debate. It seems that those who know the most have the least to say. And it's not hard to understand why. The important and true things that need to be said have been said many times before, and ignored many times before. The truth hasn't changed. So why repeat yourself?
But this supine stance risks marginalizing and misrepresenting biotech and its products in the public's mind-a phenomenon no better illustrated than by the UK's Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS). At the beginning of the decade, HLS' employees, shareholders, bankers and suppliers were the target of a vicious campaign of physical and economic intimidation by extreme animal rights campaigners. The response to the intimidation was silence. Many erstwhile HLS associates receded into the background or, rat-like, padded to quieter shores.
But that was never going to be the end of the story. Encouraged by apparent victories, the protestors then switched their attention to plans to build new research facilities at the Universities of London, Cambridge and Oxford, which in turn were hastily scrapped or shelved. It thus became apparent that a completely legal, highly ethical and statutorily compulsory trade was fast becoming impossible to practice in the UK.
In 2003, the UK biotech industry finally found a voice. Its lobby group, the BioIndustry Association, together with its pharma equivalent, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, lobbied Tony Blair's government. They repeatedly and insistently pointed out that animal testing was highly regulated and compulsory for pharmaceutical and many other products destined for human use. They clearly outlined the necessary actions that the government should take, and two years later obtained changes to the law that made it illegal to stop persons going about lawful business or to harass them at home.
This may sound draconian, but the reality, of course, is that criminal measures are hardly ever invoked. Once government has clarified its position and outlined the consequences of misdeeds, the middle ground is reclaimed. As a result, illegal protesters, rather than the industry, have been marginalized and public support for animal rights extremism is dwindling.
In public forums and in politics, the debate is not about convincing your opponents of the error of their ways. It is about establishing your arguments and your position in the center ground. Silence, nonengagement and navel gazing will not reestablish the facts about GM products in the public's consciousness. There is a basic truth that bears repetition: and that is that basic truths bear repetition.
Interview: Tony Blair on Science
- NewScientist.com, Nov. 4 2006; Issue 2576, page 50-51. Excerpts... Full interview at
Listen to Tony Blair - Podcast at http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page10326.asp
* How do you bridge the gap between science as an academic interest - discovering more about the universe and science as a commercial enterprise?
- You need a certain amount of pure research, and the excitement and creativity of scientific discovery. But if you also have universities and research centres sufficiently in tune with what is going on in the private sector, then hopefully discoveries will be made that have a real utility. I want to create a sense that when people are moving into science and research they are moving into an area that is going to have a big economic payback.
Is there a danger in making science so close to business that you lose that sense of scientists as impartial - or is that idea past its time?
The more enthusiasm and inspiration you get around science, the more people realise that there are practical applications of science that are immensely exciting and rewarding. That generates support for the whole field of science. There are difficult issues to do with conflicts of interest that come up from time to time but I think that pales into insignificance given the huge boost that comes from science, for example when developing practical ways of meeting the challenge of climate change.
* You've been in power during two extraordinary science-related occurrences: the refusal of people to accept genetically modified crops, and the refusal of parents to have their children vaccinated with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. What have you learned from those experiences?
- The first is to be very careful about the media and its reporting of these things. The reporting of MMR was disgraceful. There was no real scientific basis for the allegations that were made and it's caused a great deal of difficulty. GM, I think, is a different issue. We've also had stem-cell research, where the outcome has been rather different and more positive. The lesson I've learned is that it's best to start with the public good. In the GM debate, I used to say to people that a lot of the lifesaving drugs now being produced are the product of the same type of science as GM crops. If we'd started through medicine and then looked at the other aspects of GM, we would have made it an issue to do with the public good rather than with letting American companies in, which is what it seemed to be for some people. This is why scientists need to interact with the public to explain things. Once you explain these things, people at least see another point of view.
* In certain areas, we seem to be moving away from rational thought, whether it's the rise of fundamentalist religious beliefs or the use of unproven therapies. Do you see this shift?
- I don't. I think most people today have a rational view about science. My advice for the scientific community would be, fight the battles you need to fight. I wouldn't bother fighting a great battle over, say, homeopathy. It's not going to determine the future of the world. What is going to determine the future of the world is the scientific community explaining the science of genetics and how it develops, or the issues to do with climate change. There is a dimension that concerns and frightens scientists, let alone other people, because as the science progresses there are so many possibilities. Genetics, for example, is immensely exciting, but there will be massive questions around it. This is why the scientific community has got to come out and engage in a very strong and deep dialogue with wider society.
Genetically Modified Grapevine Field Trail in Stellenbosch, South Africa
Reply to the Objection of Biowatch and ACB to the intentional trial release of genetically modified grapevine plants into the environment at Welgevallen, Stellenbosch.
The grapevine biotechnology research programme of the IWBT focuses on understanding and ultimately improving disease resistance in grapevine in support of environmentallyfriendly production practices. The South African wine and grapevine industries have supported this research since 1998 for its strategic potential and prospective economic importance. The research has established the IWBT as one of the major centers internationally where grapevine transformations and biotechnology research are conducted.
The ultimate products that we envisage for our research programme are transgenic grapevines with increased resistance to fungal pathogens and thus the decreased need for fungicide in the production of healthy vines. There are, however, currently no genetically modified grapevines or grape-derived products commercially available in South Africa.
Several transgenic tobacco, Arabidopsis and grapevine plant lines have been developed in the research programme and have been analysed in the laboratory and in the green house. The transgenic grapevine populations now need to be evaluated under field conditions and the IWBT has initiated the process to obtain legal permission to conduct a field trial.
Field trials are the only effective method to accurately assess transgenic grapevine plant performance because of the inability to reproduce seasonal field conditions and the extremely poor flowering and fruit bearing ability of these plants under greenhouse conditions.
Full document at http://academic.sun.ac.za/wine_biotechnology/
The Berlin Group on Genetically Modified Crops In Developing Countries
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India firstname.lastname@example.org, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org
The Commission on Green Biotechnology is a constituent of the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities (UGASH). The InterAcademy Panel (IAP), a worldwide network of 92 Academies of Sciences, with its Secretariat in Trieste/Italy, advises citizens and politicians in their home countries on current problems of global relevance. The 'Berlin Group' are the participants of a workshop on 'Genetically modified crops in developing countries', jointly conducted by UGASH and IAP in Berlin (May 27-29, 2006). The Berlin Group has now issued a Statement that is being circulated for adoption by various academies in Europe and elsewhere.
The Berlin Group has taken the position that 'Molecular engineering of crops has brought revolutionary advances in agriculture. In just ten years since their introduction, many GM crop varieties have been grown on about 5 per cent of all global arable cropland in 21 countries by 8.5 million farmers, 90 per cent of them being resource-poor. Some developing countries have benefited from GM crops and are now in position to affirm their need and their will to adopt GM crops'. Based on this assertion, the Berlin Group states that:
1. Foods from GM crops are more extensively tested than any other and have been shown to be as safe as, or even sometimes safer than, foods derived from the corresponding conventional plants. Ten years of human consumption and extensive nutritional testing amply support this conclusion. Any food, GM or not, may certainly involve some risks for human health. There is presently not the least scientific and/or medical evidence that the risks possibly entailed by the former would be higher than those entailed by the latter.
2. The environmental impact of GM crops is no greater than that of traditional crops. In some cases GM crops have diminished the negative effects of current agricultural practices. Insect-resistant cotton requires substantially decreased applications of chemical pesticides while herbicide-tolerant crops permit no-till practices, cutting energy use and promoting healthy soils. Seed-incorporated technology is particularly suitable for small farmers in developing countries. GM crops resistant to pests and diseases reduce farmers' exposure to chemical pesticides, particularly when applied by hand sprays. The successful cultivation of GM cotton in the developing countries shows how subsistence farmers have significantly increased their income and improved the quality of their life.
3. In both developed and some developing countries, organic farmers have already been operating in an environment subjected to influences from neighbouring activities. With proper separation safeguards, the presence of genes encoding GM traits in organic products is trivial. Nothing in GM agriculture prevents organic farmers from pursuing their normal practices. There is no evidence-based justification in the rules of organic farming to exclude the use of GM crops.
4. GM crops can make a major global contribution to the quantity and quality of food. In developing countries, farmers suffer major crop losses caused by insects and diseases. GM technology has already shown that such losses can be significantly reduced, leading directly to improvements in food quality and safety (e.g. insect-resistant maize has appreciably lower levels of highly carcinogenic fungal toxins).
5. Just as each consumer ought to have the right to adopt or reject GM food, farmers should be able to decide for themselves whether to plant conventional, organic or GM crops. For such a choice, appropriate regulations including labelling of GM products must be in place, and such regulations should be proportionate and not excessive. The safety assessment procedures now enacted in developed countries for GM crops and products result in needlessly high costs and hinder the application of this valuable technology to the many crops grown in the developing world. For developing countries to have access to crop biotechnology for their own agriculture, international and non-profit organizations must help governments to formulate appropriate regulations and assist with the training of personnel to administer them.
6. It is frequently argued that farmers growing GM crops loose their freedom when they are obliged to buy their seeds annually. However, in most developing countries farmers are accustomed to using farmer saved seeds that is in many cases allowed by law, and this could also be applied to GM cultivars.
The Berlin Statement denounces the unsupported arguments used against GM crops and calls upon governments and environmental NGOs to end unjustified campaigns against GM crops.
Such a firm and positive stance covering all contingent issues is most welcome, more particularly since it comes from Europe, often cited as vehemently anti-GM.
A Professor's Perspective on the Biotech Industry
- James Wachai, GMO Africa, Oct. 31, 2006 http://www.gmoafrica.org
Last week, I bumped into a blog entry by Stephen Zavestoski. Mr. Zavestocki authors the blog, The Curious, http://curiousstall.blogspot.com/index.html and is an Associate Professor and Chair, Sociology and Environmental Studies, at the University of San Francisco.
In his latest post entitled, Monsanto: Africa's Johnny Appleseed? Mr. Zavestocki questions the companyís phrenetic drive to introduce Combi-pack - a package containing hybrid maize seed, fertilizer and herbicide - to African farmers. Mr. Zavestocki jokingly challenges Monsanto to extend its benevolence to India, as if it's not already there with genetically modified (GM) Brinjal.
I would be overstating facts if I confess to have successfully deciphered Mr. Zavestockiís motive of authoring this entry. But I do suspect that he was driven by the anti-multinational biotech companies rhetoric that has become too much common to many people.
Upon reading Mr. Zavestockiís post I did make a comment, not in defense of Monsanto, but in support of Africa's right to experiment on new agricultural technologies such as biotechnology.
This is what I wrote:
"I really can't understand why people like you make noise when companies likeMonsanto, DuPont, and Sygenta seek African markets for GMOs. Critics of geneticallymodified food like you seem to be at home when Monsanto and others sell theirhigh yielding genetically modified seeds to American, Mexican, Chinese, Spanish,Argentineans, name them, farmers.
I see nothing wrong with Africa experimenting on genetically modified crops. After all, Africans have and continue to eat genetically modified foods from America. America is, perhaps, the largest donor of relief food. American laws dictate that all relief food must be requisitionedlocally. And it happens that most crops grown in the US are genetically modified. What's wrong with Africa growing its own genetically modified crops instead of relying on the US?
I have not heard of any America rush to ER for consuming genetically modified food. And no scientist, to date, has produced a scientific report attesting to the dangers of genetically modified food. All this fuss about Monsanto and other multinational biotech companies attempting to dominate Africa's agriculture is too much ado about
nothing. And by the way, we Africans don't need anti-technology activists from the West to tell us what's good or bad for us to eat. Apparently, the noisiest gang on GMOs, themselves, eat them day in day out. "
Visibly stung by my comment, Mr. Zavestocki, did send me this reconciliatory e-mail. And because there was no disclaimer not to share it with a third party, I hereby republish it:
Thank you for your comment on my post at The Curious Stall. I have never been to Africa, and although I do my best to buy and eat only organic (i.e., non-GMO) food, it is inevitable that I consume food that came from GMO grains. So you are right, I am in no position to tell Africans what kind of crops they should or should not plant, and I hope that my post did not sound as if this was my intent.
Also, you may be right that no one has died of a disease related to eating food from GMO crops. In terms of human health and the environment, my concerns have to do with long-term impacts, and GMOs simply have not been around long enough for us to know what their impacts will be. As for Africans consuming the GMO grains the U.S. gives as relief, there have been cases of African countries rejecting shipments from the U.S. because they contain GMOs.
I'm thinking of Zambia, which rejected GMO maize from the U.S. in2002. I think GMO seeds have some potential promise, but I would like to see biotech companies find ways to integrate the use of these seeds into existing agricultural systems. Too often the industrial, and therefore very expensive, nature of GMO-based farming means that small-scale farmers ( e.g., less than 4hectares) are either forced to embrace more energy, labor, and land intensive farming practices or to sell what little land they have.
So, ultimately, for me, it is about the use of power. And biotech companies misuse their power in many instances in order to ensure markets for their products. I cannot say whether this has happened in Africa, not having visited there and not having read sufficiently about the use of GMOs in Africa. But in India, I know that this has been the case.
I hope you read my words with an open mind, and know that I am not an anti-technology activist. I am someone who is deeply concerned about the impact that the American way of life is having on people around the world. And I am equally concerned with finding ways to help people in the developing parts of the world live healthier and happier lives.
What comes out of Mr. Zavestockiís e-mail is that some people appreciates the benefits of genetically modified food, but they are reluctant to allow those in need to access them. I see nothing wrong with biotechnology companies marketing their genetically modified seeds to poor regions of the world like Africa.
Seeds of Hope: Agricultural Technologies and Poverty Alleviation in Rural South Africa
- Karol Boudreaux, Enterprise Africa! Policy Comment no. 6, Sept. 8, 2006
Enterprise Africa! has released its third research publication Seeds of Hope: Agricultural Technologies and Poverty Alleviation in Rural South Africa, a study examining how the Combi-Pack, an innovative product of the Monsanto Company, is helping to combat hunger and poverty in rural South Africa.
"The farmers call the Combi-Pack, Xoshindlala, a Zulu word that means 'chase away hunger,'" reports the study's author, Karol Boudreaux, "because they believe the product helps them chase away their hunger by offering them higher crop yields on their small holdings."
Despite having the largest economy in Africa, many of South Africa's citizens grapple with poverty. For rural residents especially, poverty is pervasive, and hunger a very real threat. Government efforts to improve the lives of smallholder farmers and other rural residents are slow to bear fruit.
Enter the private sector, specifically Monsanto South Africa, with the Combi- Pack, a box containing enough maize seed, herbicide, and fertilizer to plant ? hectare of maize. Combi-Packs are part of the phenomenon known as marketing to the "bottom of the pyramid." Large corporations design and sell products and services to very low-income consumers, billions of individuals who as a group have substantial purchasing power.
Farmers in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces who use Combi-Packs along with no-till, or minimum-till, agriculture have increased maize yields. Now, the farmers raise enough maize that they can feed their families and then sell the excess, earning money to fix homes, buy clothes, and pay school fees.
Furthermore, Combi-Packs combined with no and minimum till agriculture have had beneficial effects for the environment, reducing erosion, and conserving water. Swelekile Alina Nkosi, a farmer in Mlondozi in rural Mpumalanga, enjoys these benefits. "I'm so happy with this way of farming. What will happen when I'm old I don't know, but one thing is good, and that is now there's no water cutting through, so my soil is conserved."
Combi-Packs will not solve all the problems of rural poverty. Land tenure insecurity, high banking costs, and rigid labor laws continue to plague the farmers. However by creating and selling the Combi-Pack, Monsanto is doing something that critics of globalization might find surprising: a multinational company is helping to drive away hunger and better the lives of the rural poor.
Download "Seeds of Hope: Agriculture Technologies and Poverty Alleviation in Rural South Africa (PDF)" at http://www.enterprise-africa.org/Publications/pubID.2774/pub_detail.asp
Growing Greener Greens
- Calestous Juma, Guardian Blog (UK), November 2, 2006 http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/calestous_juma/2006/11/adapting_to_climate_change.html
'If developing countries are to respond to the challenges raised by the Stern review, cooperation at an international level is a must.'
The Stern review on the economic impacts of climate change rightly emphasises the importance of technological innovation in responding to climate change. It calls for the "development and deployment of a wide range of low-carbon technologies" to cut carbon emissions.
In addition, developing countries will need to be accompanied by innovations that help developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The report says that "declining crop yields, especially in Africa, could leave hundreds of millions without the ability to produce or purchase sufficient food".
Responding to such challenges will entail expanding the diversity of crops as well as flexibility of cropping systems. Developing new crops and changing farming systems may take generation and so the challenge is finding ways to utilise all the available technologies.
Africa has the capacity to diversify its agriculture by bringing many of its "lost crops" (grains, vegetables and fruits) into wider commercial use. This may involve the use of agricultural biotechnology to adapt crops to new ecological conditions.
For example, genetic engineering and other conventional technologies may be needed to develop drought-tolerant crops for regions with reduced rainfall. But doing so will entail considerable international cooperation involving African scientists and their counterparts in the rest of the world.
Similar arguments can be made regarding the design and maintenance of infrastructure. African countries will need to incorporate ecological considerations into the design of infrastructure. For example, the design of ports and other facilities will need to take into account variations in temperature and rainfall.
Finally, governance systems will need to rely on knowledge-based decision-making. It will take smart governments, informed leaders and strong international technology partnerships to steer countries and regions through the challenges of adapting to climate change.
Biosafety of Plant Production: Technology, Development, Innovation, Environment and Health
- November 23, 2006, Marche Polytechnic University, Rome, Italy
Organized in collaboration with UNIDO, COST and SAPIO Research Award. The meeting is linked with the international academically accredited course based on a combination of distance-learning and on-campus training sessions.
The training programme is of twelve months duration and leads to an academically accredited Diploma. It is distinctively interdisciplinary with students and faculty from natural & social sciences and the law. The programme is supported though a technical cooperation project under the aegis of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
Applications can be submitted until 12 November 2006 http://ingweb.unian.it/Agraria/Engine/RAServePG.php/P/2770130214.
- Prof. Bruno Mezzetti, Dipartimento di Scienze Ambientali e delle Produzioni Vegetali, Universitŗ Politecnica delle Marche, Via Brecce Bianche 60100 Ancona, Italy
Ontarians Appear To Be Swallowing Organic Misconceptions: Poll
- Canada Newswire, November 1, 2006
Ontarians mistakenly view organic fruits and vegetables as superior to conventionally-grown produce with respect to safety and nutritional value, according to a survey conducted by public opinion research firm POLLARA, Inc.
The poll found that a large majority of Ontario residents wrongly believe that organic produce means crops are grown without any kind of pesticide use, among other common misconceptions.
"This shows that people in Ontario have come to view organic produce as superior to conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables on a variety of counts, but that's not necessarily the case," said Lois Ferguson, a registered dietitian and member of the CropLife Canada Food Protection Council.
Among the key findings of the survey of Ontario residents:
* 86% of respondents believe that the term "organic" means grown without the use of any pesticides. FACT: many so-called "natural" pesticides are widely used in organic farming.
* 67% think organic produce is safer to eat than conventionally-grown produce. FACT: the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ensures that all foods, regardless of production method, are safe to eat according to Health Canada guidelines.
* 52% say organic fruits and vegetables are more nutritious than conventionally-grown foods. FACT: Numerous scientific studies have shown no conclusive proof that either type is higher in nutrients than the other.
"It's important that consumers understand the true facts when making decisions in the grocery store," said home economist Mary Wiley. "If people are opting to pay higher prices for organics, that's fine - but they shouldn't be doing it based on misconceptions about greater nutritional value or safety compared to the conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables which most Ontario farmers produce."
The survey, commissioned by CropLife Canada, was conducted by POLLARA Inc. in early September, in conjunction with POLLARA's monthly omnibus poll of Ontarians on a variety of issues.
Wild Boar May Have Caused Tainted Spinach Outbreak
- HealthDay News, Oct. 26, 2006 http://www.forbes.com
Health authorities are investigating whether wild boar may have played a role in the E. coli outbreak in September that sickened 204 people in 26 states and one Canadian province, and left three people dead.
In addition, they announced at a Thursday night press conference, nine samples of the bacteria found on one ranch in California's Salinas Valley match both the contaminated fresh spinach and the human "isolates" from the outbreak. "Clearly, we have positive results on one property that are helping to refine our investigation,"
Dr. Kevin Reilly, deputy director of the prevention services division for the California Department of Health Services, said. "We have not closed any possibilities on three other [nearby] ranches, but the information is accumulating that our environmental findings are consistent on this one property."
The E. coli samples were found in a water sample in a creek, in the gastrointestinal tract of a wild boar on the property, and from cattle fecal specimens. None of the nine positive matches came from a nearby spinach field that was the source of the contaminated produce, Reilly said.
That leaves one significant unanswered question: How did the E. coli get from the ranch to the spinach field?
The answer may be the wild boars.
"Animals, wildlife and water were in close proximity to the field," Reilly said. "We have evidence for fences torn down, wildlife going into the actual spinach fields themselves. That's where the investigation is centered right now. There's clear evidence that the pig population has access and goes onto the fields. Is that the ultimate means of contamination or is that one potential means, including water and wildlife? We're still investigating that."
Meanwhile, officials are continuing investigations into three other ranches in the Salinas Valley. Several E. coli samples were found there, but none matched the outbreak strain when put through more advanced genetic testing.
"It is not unusual or unexpected that we would find E. coli associated with domestic cattle and/or wildlife but, to date, we have not matched it up with the outbreak strain other than on the single ranch," Reilly said. The ranch, which authorities did not identify, included a beef cattle operation and fields where spinach and other ready-to-eat produce were grown. The proximity of fresh produce fields to farm animals has long been a concern to agricultural and health authorities.
CDC Investigating Salmonella Outbreak; Lettuce, Tomatoes are Suspected as Carriers
- Annys Shin, Washington Post, Nov. 1, 2006 http://www.washingtonpost.com
Health officials suspect lettuce and tomatoes in a nationwide outbreak of salmonella that so far has sickened 171 people in 19 states, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday.
The spate of salmonella infections comes as federal and California state investigators are still searching for the cause of September's deadly spinach-borne E. coli outbreak, the 20th episode of foodborne illness linked to leafy greens in 10 years.
Investigators believe the salmonella outbreak has already peaked but they do not know the precise cause and have not linked it to any particular product, brand or distributor. But some food safety experts said that with so many cases and no source yet identified, the outbreak could widen. The typical produce-related outbreak involves an average of 43 people.
Salmonella infections cause 1.4 million cases of illness and 400 deaths in the United States every year, according to the CDC. Within 12 to 72 hours of infection, salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that last four to seven days. It can be fatal for young children and the elderly. Most healthy adults recover.
Like E. coli, salmonella is a bacterium commonly found in warm-blooded animals that finds its way to the food supply through animal feces. It can be killed by thorough cooking. Washing can reduce the number of bacteria but may not get rid of all of them.
Salmonella infections are most often caused by eating undercooked meat, poultry or eggs, or other foods that have been become cross-contaminated through contact with raw meat or poultry. People have also become infected with salmonella after eating tomatoes, cantaloupe and alfalfa sprouts.
Eleven outbreaks of salmonella have been associated with tomatoes since 1990, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Illness linked to produce is a growing concern among food safety experts as Americans consume more fresh fruits and vegetables, on the recommendation of the federal government. Consumers are now more likely to get sick from a produce-related outbreak than from any other food source, said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the CSPI.
Every year, about 76 million people contract foodborne illnesses in the United States. About 325,000 of those cases require hospitalization, and 5,000 people die.
Several previous salmonella outbreaks have been associated with fresh fruit and produce. Last year, Orchid Island Juice Co. of Fort Pierce, Fla., recalled unpasteurized orange juice after 15 people fell ill. Salmonella-tainted Roma tomatoes sickened 561 people in 18 states and Canada during the summer of 2004.
Salmonella, which has also been found on almonds and pet reptiles, is more common than E. coli, said Larry Beuchat, a researcher at the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. "Salmonella is present in a number of warm-blooded animals and reptiles in large numbers," he said. "There are larger number of reservoirs in nature than there are of E. coli."
The Euro Notes are Crumbling, Blame It on GM Cotton?
A BBC story this morning says that "some euro banknotes of various denominations have been disintegrating". http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6109634.stm
Perhaps because they are made up of GM cotton? (see below) I wonder how long before some activist group picks up on this?
Euro Notes Are Genetically Modified, Scientists Reveal
- Mark Henderson, The Times (London) January 01, 2003
Sceptics who derided the euro as an artificial currency have been right all along: its banknotes are printed on genetically modified cotton. Though the European Union has some of the toughest GM regulations in the world, it has ignored the transgenic fibres in its own currency. The engineered banknotes are not even labelled. Most modern banknotes are printed on cotton-based paper, as it is both highly durable and difficult to forge. Sterling uses a mixture of cotton and linen rag, while the euro is 100 per cent cotton.
The biotechnology of the single currency has been revealed by Klaus Ammann, of the University of Berne in Switzerland, and Oliver Rautenberg, of the German company BioLinX, who have even designed an alternative 20-euro note that advertises its genetically engineered contents. "The central bank will not acknowledge it, but it is inconceivable that there is no GM cotton in the euro," Dr Ammann said. "The single currency is genetically modified." The ECB said that it could not say whether GM material was used. "We buy banknote paper of the highest quality, which is made from 100 per cent cotton, but we do not provide specifics on the ingredients," a spokesman said.