Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Letter to the Editor

Here's a letter that was published in today's Dallas Morning News (I've taken out the author's name, although the paper did print it):

Naturally, it's a gamble

Re: "Tainted spinach illnesses grow – 109 E. coli cases listed; mixed greens among more brand recalls," Monday news story.

If the food is naturally grown, it's fertilized only with manure – the prime host for E. coli. So it seems that parasitic poisoning is a risk whenever you buy foods grown organically.

Say what you will about food grown with chemical fertilizers, but they don't harbor E. coli from fertilizer.

Here's the response I just emailed in:

As a Collin County Master Gardener intern and an organic gardener, I was deeply disturbed by XX's letter criticizing the use of organic methods in light of the recent spinach-related E. coli outbreak. My first thought was "Gee, I wonder what chemical company he works for?"

First off, Mr. X is premature in blaming cow manure. On Page 6A of the very same edition in which his letter ran, investigators revealed they still had no idea what the source of the outbreak was. It could be contaminated water in the area, unsanitary harvesting practices...lots of things.

Secondly, the FDA issues guidelines for composting manure before it's used on crops. No organic gardener or farmer in their right mind uses uncomposted cow manure on food crops. Composting, when done correctly, kills dangerous pathogens in the manure.

Lastly, Mr. X's statement "If the food is naturally grown, it's fertilized only with manure" is dead wrong. There are many, many FDA-approved organic fertilizers out there that farmers use, including rock phosphates, fish emulsion, seaweed and more.

For someone so concerned about manure, Mr. X seems quite comfortable spreading it around.

I'll agree that organic farming probably needs better regulations, though. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the farms are neglecting to compost properly or whatever.

And here is an interesting study I found while doing my research. Molasses can make your compost tea grow bad pathogens all over again. Interesting. Howard Garrett's popular product Garrett Juice is a mixture of compost tea, molasses and other stuff. I wonder if he's seen this study.

Lastly, if I was a conspiracy theorist-type, I'd wonder seriously if this whole spinach/E. coli thing was cooked up by someone who wants to either bring down the organic farming industry or maybe deal a blow to Wal-Mart and their recent organic food efforts. Not that I'm a fan of Wal-Mart either.

But it kind of makes you think. Maybe because these organic farms are struggling to keep up with demand, they're not composting properly, workers aren't washing their hands, etc. Who knows? I'd hate to see organic food standards lowered as much as I'd hate to see the organic "trend" stymied.

I just started some spinach seeds the other day. When in doubt...grow your own.


lisa said...

Compelling post...since they remain "unsure" of the source, it makes me wonder if perhaps the beleagered beef industry could be shifting some blame...although I love beef and spinach myself...it could easily be one plant, even one line worker, not washing their hands...whatever...for sure, anybody who blames "organics" VERY likely works for a chemical fertilizer company...or has definately not done their homework!

Gardenista said...

I always laugh when thinking back to the urban Vancouver folk I heard of whose conception of organic vegetable gardening was actually defecating in their garden! They showed up in an emergency room with a bottle containing the worms they passed. Obviously, doing things organically takes knowledge about how to do it right!

Unknown said...

Great letter. I hadn't thought of a beef promoter or Walmart launching an anti organic gardening campaign. Your letter was one of those 'I never thought of that' moments. Thanks,

Jan Goldfield