NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 19, 2006

Organic spinach appears to be the culprit behind a 20-state outbreak of deadly E. coli poisoning, casting further doubt on greens' claims that "organic is safer," says Investor's Business Daily (IBD).

  • Organic growers, including the spinach farm suspected in the E. coli outbreak, use fertilizer made from manure rather than synthetic chemicals. 
  • Dangerous bacteria such as E. coli can be found in animal waste; and composting -- unlike pesticides -- doesn't always kill the bacteria.

California-based Natural Selection Foods, the country's largest grower of organic produce, has recalled its packaged spinach throughout the United States.  Its best-known brand, Earthbound Farm, grows the organic spinach found in packaged salad fixings that have become a mainstay of restaurants and supermarkets.

Earthbound's "earth-friendly alternatives" to chemicals include recycled plants and "sometimes animal waste materials."  These materials include chicken manure and "pelletized bat and bird guano," raising questions about the risk of not just E. coli, but also avian flu, says IBD.

EPA studies show no health damage from trace consumption of pesticides in produce, but E. coli can kill.  And this outbreak is no isolated case.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fruit and vegetables are responsible for more large-scale outbreaks of food-borne illnesses than meat, poultry and eggs:

  • Produce accounts for 6 percent of the outbreaks, up sharply from previous years.
  • Organically grown lettuce, sprouts, green onions, tomatoes and melons (bacteria thrive on melon rinds) appear to be especially troublesome.
  • And as more school cafeterias go organic, more kids are getting sick; a 2002 federal report revealed that the number of school-lunch outbreaks caused by E. coli and salmonella doubled between 1990 and 2000.

Source: Editorial, "When Spinach Is Bad For You," Investor's Business Daily, September 19, 2006.


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