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March 8, 2000


"Each side has its myths" (AgBioView)


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com/

(I have consolidated three responses on this issue below here....CSP)

From: Andrew Apel

As the editor of AgBiotech Reporter, and having followed the organic vs.
biotech controversy closely over the years, I can state conclusively that
the Centers for Disease Control have never performed the mythical study
purporting to reveal the dangers of organic produce. Officials with the CDC
and the US Food and Drug Administration have made remarks which imply that
'organic' food is less safe than conventional food, but that is the extent
of their involvement in the issue. It is generally agreed that,
politically, organic food is too contentious to make a government study of
its safety advisable. In addition, the linkage of the organic movement with
activists increasingly prone to 'direct action'
concerns those who might be inclined to perform such a study in the US.

I should add, however, that studies in Great Britain have shown an elevated
risk of foodborne illness is associated with organic foods. The claimed
eightfold increase in risk, however, appears to be apocryphal in any event.

The problem with communicating with consumers about scientific matters and
risks is a direct result of widespread misapprehensions regarding
scientific 'truth.' Consumers are accustomed to viewing scientific truth as
absolute and unqualified, a view not shared by scientists who know that
truth is just a theory that fits the facts until something better comes
along. Accordingly, consumers perceive scientific statements about risk and
possibility as waffling. They prefer to see their scientists as absolutely
sure about the absence of risk (an unproveable negative proposition) as
they imagine them to be.

Kindest regards,
Andrew Apel, editor
AgBiotech Reporter

From: "KLEIN, ANDREW J [AG/1000]"

I have to jump in on this one. As a long time regulatory scientist involved
in risk assessment, I would definitely say that science can, unequivocally,
say a technology or product is safe. What we cannot say, of course, is that
a product or service or technology is risk-free. Airline travel is safe,
automobile travel is safe, depending how you look at it one is safer than
another, but neither is risk-free.

I too would like documentation on the CDC E-coli reports.

The above comments are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or
position of my employer.

Drew Klein
From: Tom DeGregori

to Bob McGregor and other list members

Before replying to Bob McGregor, I would like to thank the many people who
took the effort to respond to my inquiry on EMS and L-trytophan. All the
information will be put to good use and has also been passed onto others
who will be using it also.

Bob McGregor is right in that we all have myths and if we are to remain
credible, it is always important to root out our own as well as expose
those of others. But I think that he choose the wrong illustration with
"organic" food and foodborne pathogens. If one checks various issues of the
CDC's journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases (available online at CDC.gov),
particularly, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol. 3, No. 4,
October-December, Special Issue - The National Conference on Emerging
Foodborne Pathogens: Implications and Control, March 24-26, 1997,
Alexandria, Virginia, USA, one will find that that illness and death from
foodborne pathogens has been increasing. The major causal factors
identified by various authors, other than eating out, were either from
organic food or the lifestyle associated with it.

The figures that Dennis Avery gave on the ABC program 20/20, came right
from an EID article. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention attempted to "better quantify the impact of foodborne diseases
on health in the United States." They "compiled and analyzed information
from multiple surveillance systems and other sources." They estimated that:
"foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000
hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Known
pathogens account for an estimated 14 million illnesses, 60,000
hospitalizations, and 1,800 deaths. Three pathogens, Salmonella, Listeria,
and Toxoplasma, are responsible for 1,500 deaths each year, more than 75%
of those caused by known pathogens, while unknown agents account for the
remaining 62 million illnesses, 265,000 hospitalizations, and 3,200 deaths."
(Mead et al., 1997)

Mead P.S; L. Slutsker; V.Dietz; L.F. McCaig; J.s. Bresee; C. Shapiro; P.M.
Griffin and R.V. Tauxe (1999). Food-related illness and death in the United
States, Pp. 607-625 in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol. 5, No. 5,

The Director's Report from the Scottish Crop Research Institute 1998/99
Annual Report has the following observations:

Organic farming increases risks of

"faecal contamination not only of foodstuffs but also of waterways, food
poisoning, high levels of natural toxins (e.g. aflatoxins) and allergens,
contamination by copper- and sulfur (contaminated with lead)-containing
(Hillman, 2000, 28, see also BBC, 2000d)

This has resulted in:

"production of blemished, diseased and irregular produce of low consumer
and food processor acceptability, low productivity, and creation of
reservoirs of pests and diseases."
(Hillman, 2000, 28,

Hillman, J. R. (2000). Report of the director, pp. 11-44 in SCRI (Scottish
Crop Research Institute) 1998/99 Annual Report, Invergowie, Dundee,
Scotland, January.

Other useful sources are:

Tauxe Robert V. (1997a). Emerging foodborne diseases: An evolving public
health challenge, pp. 425-434 in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol. 3, No.
4, October-December, Special Issue - The National Conference on Emerging
Foodborne Pathogens: Implications and Control, March 24-26, 1997,
Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

Tauxe, Robert V. (1997b). Does organic gardening foster foodborne
pathogens: In reply, p. 1680 in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical
Association), Vol. 277, no 21, June 4.

I could add innumerable articles from JAMA and other sources on the dangers
of eating raw sprouts even if they have been washed with chlorine.
Irradiation could provide an effective remedy but thanks to massive
protests from the true believers, irradiation is not permitted if a product
is going to be labeled "organic."

One can go to the Hudson Institute website and find Dennis Avery's defense
where he provides the CDC data for his calculations which turn out to be a
substantial if not gross understatement of the risk from "organic" food and
not an overstatement as his critics assert. Dennis Avery never claimed
that the CDC did a study but he correctly claimed to be using their data.

I hope tha Bob McGregor's comments spark a lively interchange but I believe
that he is wrong on this one. We do need continually to check and
challenge our own assumptions if we are to critisize others for not doing
the same.

Tom DeGregori