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1206 PD: The E. coli bandwagon

Baxter Black Published on 08 December 2006

Combine E. coli 0157:H7, ‘naturally’ produced spinach, food poisoning, an organic foods purveyor and author, cows and the New York Times and you get, guess what? That’s right, evil factory farming! No surprise.

I have compassion for the ill and also for the California spinach growers. Like lots of farmers who are doing the best they know how, the roof still caves in on them. General Motors understands every time they have to recall a vehicle.

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It’s the same for the organic food producers who have found a profitable niche market. Nor can I hold the New York Times responsible. They print opinion pieces by all manner of partisans who pretend to know what they’re talking about and do not question their veracity.

I could blame the author of the misleading, op-ed piece in the New York Times in which she promotes her organically correct New York City grocery store and new book by blithely stating that the E. coli 0157:H7 food poisoning outbreaks could be prevented if we just stop “feeding grain to cattle.” In her article, she selectively quoted a research paper done in 1998 that examined E. coli bacteria shedding in cattle. They ran a study wherein grain was removed from the diet of cattle toward the end of the feeding period. A reduction in the shedding of E. coli was noticed, and the scientist postulated that this process could potentially be beneficial to food safety.

In the ensuing years, several studies have been done to test this hypothesis. To date, the results have been conflicting at best, event to the point that the scientist who did the original work said he would not be confident recommending it.

It took me several days, lots of phone calls, serious scrutiny of the data and a veterinary degree to interpret the facts. The facts contradict the simplistic solutions of the writer. But she has a personal and financial bias and cherry-picks what she wants to promote.

I do not know if she has the educational background to evaluate the information scientifically. If not, she cannot be held accountable. She can literally plead ignorance. If so, does that make her a bad person? Is a used car salesman bad for selling you a car he knows nothing about? No, they are not bad people. They are just part of the many who have added to the collective ignorance of the gullible and the dumbing-down of us all.

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What unfortunately is unspoken is that the search to discover the real answers for E. coli food poisoning and its prevention is ongoing and eventually will succeed. But, by that time, this same New York Times writer will have moved to another car lot maybe touting the benefits of unpasteurized milk or raw eggs. Who knows, as Barnum used to say, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” PD

Baxter Black on the edge of common sense

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