Each time a food borne illness outbreak occurs, fingers start pointing. When conventional eggs in the United States were found with salmonella, people claimed if they were organically raised this would never have happened. When organic bean sprouts from Egypt killed 30-50 people in Germany, critics claimed that if they were raised conventionally this would have never happened. On January 3, 2013 Mark Lynas, a journalist who has flipped flopped from being an anti-GMO advocate to a GMO advocate, gave a lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference, where he states “people have died from choosing organic, but no-one has died from eating GM.”
GASP! I almost punched something. Then I took a deep breath.
The point that Mr. Lynas was trying to make was that no one has died from GMO illness. This is true. There are not death certificates that say “death by GMO consumption.” Nor are there certificates that state “death by organic consumption.” Mr. Lynas is muddy waters with unrelated events. Mr. Lynas was somehow trying to prove that GMO crops were “safer” than organic, because they were GMO. To insinuate that GMO crops are protected from food-borne disease contamination is ridiculous.
The fact that the bean sprouts from Egypt were organic was irrelevant. The bean sprouts were contaminated by e coli. E coli is a type of bacteria that normally inhabits the intestine of humans and animals. E coli doesn’t care if it contaminates organic bean sprouts or GMO bean sprouts. E coli also doesn’t care if there are stringent audits and inspections (note the most recent leafy greens outbreak).
There is research to support that farm management practices commonly used by organic farmers or conventional farmers either encourage or discourage food-borne disease outbreaks, none of these findings are absolute. No side can claim they can prevent such outbreaks completely.
Using the bean sprout tragedy as a way to convince people that organic is unsafe is absurd.
So what does protect you from e coli, salmonella and the host of other food-borne illnesses? There are no absolutes. They are living organisms. But to protect yourself, make sure to wash your fruits and vegetables (both organic and conventional), cook meats to proper internal temperatures, and wash your hands, cutting boards and cooking utensils well.
On our farm, our milk lines which the milk passes from the cow to bulk tank, are sanitized before and after each milking. Our dairy has two state inspections each year to insure we are following sanitation and food safety regulations. This year we also had a surprise federal inspection. All our meat is processed at state and federally inspected butcher shops.
So there you have it. People have not died from eating organic; they have died from food contaminated with e coli, salmonella or other food-borne diseases.
The Lynas lecture is full of misrepresentation of many facts which cause me heart burn, but I felt the issue of organic foods killing people was the most pertinent to write about.
While the premise of the lecture was to promote co-existence between GMO supporters and organic supporters, all it did was diminish all the great achievements in organic farming to inter-cropping.
I really wish Mr. Lynas could visit our organic farm and see for himself that our family (using his words)
“hope(s) and strive (s) for ways of doing things differently, and hopefully better. (We are) Farmers who understand the pressures of a growing population and a warming world. Who understand that yields per hectare are the most important environmental metric. And who understand that technology never stops developing, and that even the fridge and the humble potato were new and scary once.”
Here are the links to other Organic Myth busters in my series:
I am sure there will be comments to this post. Please keep them respectful. I have full discretion to remove comments that attack people, are not respectful, and don’t add to the conversation.