Wednesday, June 15, 2011 - Europe's Organic Food Scare

Factory farms have their own problems, but this example provides a counter-weight to the “organic is always better” argument. - Opinion: Europe's Organic Food Scare

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German Greens and their European Union acolytes have long fought scientific advances in food production and protection. After a spice manufacturer in Stuttgart employed the world's first commercial food irradiation in 1957, West Germany banned the practice in 1959 and has since allowed few exceptions. So it's no small scandal that the latest fatal E. coli outbreak has been linked to an organic German farm that shuns modern farming techniques.

But both harmful and harmless E. coli strains are present in the intestines of most animals, as well as human beings. No amount of standardizations or certifications will guarantee E. coli's eradication from food.

The best practice for doing so would be, well, irradiation, which involves sending gamma rays or electron beams into meat, poultry and produce. The process can deactivate up to 99.999% of E. coli, and was declared safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration almost 50 years ago. Even so, less than 10% of the global food supply is irradiated.

The problem is largely that the term "irradiation" sounds like what might have happened to Blinky, the three-eyed fish that Bart Simpson caught downstream from the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in a 1990 "Simpsons" TV episode. Yet study after study has turned up no evidence that zapping food with low doses of radiation damages human health.

This latest E. coli outbreak is painful real-life evidence that natural foods are not always better, nor safe for consumption.



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