Friday, September 22, 2006

It's the cows, stupid.

So when I first heard about this spinach e coli thing, I thought: "Huh. How ridiculous. E coli comes from cow sh*t which not so mysteriously ends up in cow meat that people then eat. How funny that people are going to continue feeling safe eating (US) beef (I'll just quote Fast Food Nation: "There's sh*t in the meat"), but are now going to AVOID eating one of the healthiest things we could possibly consume: spinach." I didn't think much more about it, until I came across this article:

Indeed, this epidemic, which has infected more than 100 people and resulted in at least one death, probably has little do with the folks who grow and package your greens. The detective trail ultimately leads back to a seemingly unrelated food industry — beef and dairy cattle.

...

Where does this particularly virulent strain come from? It’s not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new — that is, recent in the history of animal diets — biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms. It’s the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach, growing on neighboring farms.

...When cows were switched from a grain diet to hay for only five days, O157 declined 1,000-fold.

This is good news. In a week, we could choke O157 from its favorite home — even if beef cattle were switched to a forage diet just seven days before slaughter, it would greatly reduce cross-contamination by manure of, say, hamburger in meat-packing plants. Such a measure might have prevented the E. coli outbreak that plagued the Jack in the Box fast food chain in 1993.

Unfortunately, it would take more than a week to reduce the contamination of ground water, flood water and rivers — all irrigation sources on spinach farms — by the E-coli-infected manure from cattle farms.

...There remains only one long-term remedy, and it’s still the simplest one: stop feeding grain to cattle.

California’s spinach industry is now the financial victim of an outbreak it probably did not cause, and meanwhile, thousands of acres of other produce are still downstream from these lakes of E. coli-ridden cattle manure. So give the spinach growers a break, and direct your attention to the people in our agricultural community who just might be able to solve this deadly problem: the beef and dairy farmers.

Nina Planck is the author of “Real Food: What to Eat and Why.’’

1 comment:

Ricki said...

Nice having someone research this latest scare. so thank you!!I guess spinach is safe cooked. So we can still support the farmers. Subject of special interest to Donna so emailed her text only. We all need to know it's not our organic farmers at fault.