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:
How long does it take to be Organic
Organic Animals are Not Vaccinated
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.
Thanks Cindy 😉
GREAT post Emily!
Well said, even that grow in our little garden can make one sick if you don’t wash carefully. I speak from experience. Because I am curious how does one sanitize milk production tubes, my only milking experience is 50-55 yrs ago.
In simple terms we have a wash system hooked up to all our pipe lines. This gives me an idea for a new blog post 🙂 Thank you for reading!
Excellent! We All need to take responsibility for food safety, it only begins on the farm, and continues through the moment that product is served on our table.
You are very right Ellen.
Writing from strictly a consumer perspective, I think emotion and hyperbole abound on both sides. We consume equal amounts of organic and conventionally grown food in our home. In general I try to select locally grown, organic foods, and will choose local conventionally grown foods over organics from across the country. I love to know where my food comes from, but I also enjoy the first world comforts of tomatoes and avocados year round. In an ideal world, all of our producers would do their very best and feed us good, affordable food. Thank you for the work your family does to feed a hungry world.and thank you for taking the time to write about it. I do know that ultimately, food safety in our home depends on me, and the care I take in preparing and serving our meals.
Pam you are right. Sometimes the best way to prevent a food borne illness is to take proper precautions at home.
I spend a lot of time chatting online with backyard chicken owners. When the salmonella outbreak occurred two years ago there was a lot of finger pointing. Many indicted conventional eggs and felt that organic eggs were safer. Many claimed that intensive production methods caused the outbreak and something like that could never happen in their backyard chicken coop because they manage things “so much better”. I had to to tell many folks, mostly backyard chicken owners, that they were full of it. I asked them if their hens were completely isolated from rodent, flies, wild birds and animals. I asked them if they practiced routine vaccinations for their flocks. The answer to all of these question was an obvious “no”. I then explained to them that they were probably more at risk from their haphazard backyard egg operation than from any commercially produced eggs. My opinion was backed by some, but was not at all popular.
You are completely right Mike! I bet people were shocked to hear that from an organic egg farmer 🙂
Thank you, Emily! Well done.
Great work Emily and very proud of you for keeping your well deserved emotions from clouding your blog. The key to prevent most food borne diseases starts with our own GI flora. If we have healthy amounts of the proper probiotics in our guts, we tend to fend off exposure. However, bowel health in America is certainly at an all time low. Isn’t it odd that we now see commercials for probiotics, yogurt that has probiotics and their benefits. Just like your cows need certain bacteria for their unique GI, we are similar. The more the merrier in my experience and opinion.
As for GMO crops, they certainly may or may not be safer once harvested the organic. However, since the development of GMO crops the increased use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides being applied to them. So does dowsing billions of acres world wide with pesticidal chemicals to support the GMO products, which by the way come from the same chemical/agro company that sold the seed.
GMO makes for really cool science, with detrimental effects. GMO feeds to dairy cattle have proven to stop heats, effect male/female calf ratio, liver diseases and other unexplained illnesses. So the jury will always be out, because no one is going to provide “food safety testing” of GMO products and long term consumption.
For every farm, it starts with the soil. Living, breathing, drinking and active soils provide the best environment for any crop. If continued to be assaulted by tillage, pesticides, GMO “stacked” seeds and continuous cropping, the top soil will continue to be a medium for petroleum based fertilizers and pesticidal toxins. Hmmm…
Organic is a scam to make money. No better than other corporations. All out just for there own profit. Notice how organic more expensive. Who do you think is raking it in.
I am sorry to feel that way about organic food. We are part of the farmer owned Organic Valley Coop. I can only speak to what I know personally. Our Coop has a farmer board of directors who decide annually what the farmer pay price will be for that year. They into account feed prices, milk supplies and a living wage for the farmers. Yes, OVs milk is much more than a Walmart brand milk. This is because we farmers are paid a fair price. By supporting Organics, particularly Organic Valley, you are saying “yes, farmers deserve a price for their product that covers costs and gives them a living wage.”
I hope that you can support that too.
Now eating local is better. Fresher no long transportation refrigeration ruins food. Will pay more for local fresh where it counts.