NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Organic Food May Be Toxic To Your Health

March 6, 2000

The bacterium E.coli has become a hot issue since a virulent new strain emerged in recent years. It can kill even a healthy victim, and survivors may suffer permanent damage to kidneys, liver and vision. Paul Meade of the Centers for Disease Control estimates 25,000 serious cases a year in the United States and 250 deaths.

Even ordinary E. coli can be dangerous -- however, the vicious strain is not only more dangerous but is also heat-resistant. That means organic farmers' traditional composting guidelines -- designed to heat manure used as fertilizer to 130 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for two months -- may not consistently kill the bacterium.

ABC News recently tested the safety of both organic and conventional foods for a Feb. 4 segment of its news magazine show "20/20."

  • The network found no pesticide residues on either the organic or the conventional food -- indicating the conventional farmers were properly using pesticides.
  • ABC's tests found most vegetables free of both E. coli and salmonella; however, sprouts and spring mix tended to be contaminated with bacteria and the organic produce was significantly more dangerous.
  • In fact, the organic sprouts and spring mix were twice as likely to have E. coli contamination.

The Organic Trade Association says consumers should simply wash their produce to avoid infection; but food safety experts recommend washing organic produce with a nontoxic mix of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide.

Irradiation with cobalt or an electrostatic device is the surest way to stop E. coli. The World Health Organization and health authorities of at least 40 countries have approved it, but when the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently proposed organic food standards that would have permitted irradiation, they were flooded with more than 200,000 protests from organic farmers and consumers.

Source: Dennis T. Avery (Hudson Institute), "Natural Food Doesn't Always Mean Safe Food," BridgeNews, February 22, 2000.


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