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August 8, 2000


Manure and the Precautionary Principle


That would be all well and good if the composted manure was all treated
sufficiently to destroy all the e.coli 0157:H7 bacteria present, but it is
not. When I raised this issue in the UK last year, I contacted the Soil
Association to see if they had any procedures to ensure that farmers using
their label were taking sufficient steps to avoid contamination. The
response I got was that the Soil Association has guidelines which if
followed to the letter would indeed ensure that there is no e.coli in the
composted manure. Unfortunately, they don't (or at least did not at the
time) perform random checks on accredited farms to assess the presence of
e-coli or other bacteria. So, people buying Soil Association accredited
produce must rely on the honsety of the farmers rather than the certifiers
of the label. This in my view rather undermines the purpose of labelling,
which is to provide consumers with some evidence of quality. Anyhow, I'm
willing to accept that most Soil Association farmers do in fact follow
the guidelines they are told to follow. But how do we know? Surely, we
should be applying the precautionary principle here: 'where there are
threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific
certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective
measures to prevent environmental degradation':

People are part of the environment, so killing them would constitute
envrionmental degradation

Possible death is both serious and irreversible damage

There is a threat, since contamination is quite possible

We lack full scientific certainty since full scientific certainty cannot
be achieved, ever

Banning organic food (why stop at banning the use of manure?) would be
cost-effective because organic food is more exepensive than conventional
food and is generally more environmentally damaging because f the larger
amounts of land used in its production


Subj: Trewavas on "organic"
Date: Tue, 8 Aug 2000 2:50:33 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "jcummins"

Prof. Trewavas provided references that he seems to believe implicate
"organic" practices in the use of manure. We all know that organic
certification does not allow the use of manure but instead demands that
only compost be used on crops sold as "organic". In the references
provided by Trewavas there is no direct evidence that compost was a source
of toxic E coli instead most of the studies implicated runoff from cow
pastures or even human produce handlers.

Raw manure is used in North America but only by farmers who are not
certified organic producers. It seems as if Prof. Trewavas is joining the
agricultural producers who spray liquid manure on produce then ridiculing
organic producers who employ compost. Certainly the use of raw manure
should be outlawed on any farm. However, organic producers have not
allowed use of raw manure for many years. If Trewavas has evidence that
compost spreads E coli 0157 let him bring that evidence forward. The
repeated claim that people who eat raw vegetables or green butter live an
"organic" lifestyle is scandalous and cheap.

Pof. Joe Cummins

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

Dear All

You will have heard a great deal about the supposed non existence of
organic food contamination by E.coli
0157 from the organic community and how Avery was not telling the truth,

Well the following are alternative scientific references in part by the
CDC to Avery's compilation.

I think this should finish the matter if we can get the organic community
to bother to look at the data.
However I do agree that there is no comparative data on the likelihood of
contamination from organic or
conventional. It remains a strong suspicion that emphasis on animal
manure by the organic community is
more likely to cause contamination but I think large amounts of data
would be required to prove the point.
However the cases which do occur indicate that organic or natural food is
not necessarily the pristine
product that organic supporters would like us to believe.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outbreak of Escherichia coli
0157-H7. Infections associated with drinking unpasteurised commercial
apple juice, British Columbia, California, Colorado and Washington.
October 1996. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1996: 45;975. Centersfor Disease
Control and Prevention. Outbreak of Escherichia coli 0157-H7. Infection
and cryptosporidiosis associated with drinking unpasteurised apple cider,
Connecticut and New York. October 1996. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1997:
46; 4-8.

This one of earlier interest. Besser RE Lett SM Weber JT et al. An
outbreak of diarrhea and hemolytic
uremic syndrome from Escherichia coli 0157-H7 in fresh pressed apple cider
JAMA 1993. 269; 2217- 2220.

The following are on lettuce. I don't know whether any of these account
for the 1996 statistics in the
Avery CDC list.:

Davidson R. Proctor, P. Preston M et al.al Investigation of a lettuce born
Escherichia coli 0157-H7
outbreak in a hospital. IN; Program and abstracts of the 36th Interscience
conference on antimicrobial
agents and chemotherapy: September 15-18, 1996; New Orleans La. Abstract

Ackers,M. Mahon B, Leahy E et al. An outbreak of Escherichia coli 0157-H7
infections associated with
leaf lettuce consumption. J Infect Dis 1998. 177; 1588-1593.

MerminJ. Mead P. Gensheimer K, Griffin P. Outbreak of Escherichia coli
0157-H7 infections among boy
scouts in Maine. In: Program and abstracts of the 36th Interscience
conference on Antimicrobial agents
and Chemotherapy; September 15-18, 1996; New Orleans, La Abstract

Hahn CG Snell M, Jue B et al. Escherichia coli 0157-H7 diarrhea outbreak
due to contaminated salad,
Idaho. 1995 In: Program and abstracts of the 45th Annual Epidemic
Intelligence Service conference;
April 22-26,1996. Atlanta, GA. page 18.

Finallyone from europe:

Verotoxinogenic Citrobacter freundii associated with severe
gastroenteritis and cases of hemolytic uraemic syndrome in a nursery
school; green butter as the infectinon source.

Schape, H. Prager, R, Streckel W, et al. Epidemiol Infect (1995) 114,
41-450. green butter is of course
organic parsley butter.

There are others in the UK associated with drinking unpasteurised milk,
eating vegetables from a manured
garden (organic manure). But of course E. coli 0157 infections come from
conventional food as well.

Anthony Trewavas FRS
Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology
Mayfield Road
University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh EH9 3JH
Phone 44 (0)1316505328
Fax 44 (0)1316505392
email Trewavas@ed.ac.uk
web site http://www.ed.ac.uk/~gidi/main.html
To view the web site simply click on the address