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The media is buzzing over the spinach crisis, caused by an outbreak of the potentially lethal bacterium E. coli O157:H7. A curious yet widespread claim is that, because some of the spinach so far identified as contaminated came from organic farms, organic farming is unsafe. It's a curious claim, because scientists understand pretty well where the O157:H7 is coming from: the bellies of factory-farmed cows. Their manure, as it turns out, is now crawling with the critters. As this New York Times op-ed puts it:The same newspaper that published that editorial has a story today titled "As Children Suffer, Parents Agonize Over Spinach," the purpose of which seems to be scare the living daylights out of anyone with a small child.Where does this particularly virulent strain come from? It's not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new--that is, recent in the history of animal diets--biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms. It's the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach, growing on neighboring farms.
In many cases, it crept up with frightening force after what had seemed a harmless, even healthful meal--a spinach salad with walnuts, a sandwich layered with spinach or, as for the Krause family, a baked, boneless, skinless piece of chicken on a small bed of spinach. Then what had seemed a simple bout of diarrhea in the morning often led to a harrowing, bloody race to the emergency room by midnight.This melodramatic article by Monica Davey serves up abundant, clinical, sickening detail about the effects of E Coli, without mentioning anything about causes. ("'In the course of one week, he went from this healthy, lively little boy to a boy in a hospital bed fighting for his life...he turned yellow and gray, literally. It was shocking and terrifying and unbelievable to watch.'") Aside from ghoulish exploitation and a good rubberneck at others' misery, Davey appears, with this contextless story, to want parents to switch their children's diets to Keebler cookies, frozen pizza, and other "safe" foods.
And around the country, some families still wait by bedsides, wondering which foods they could ever again feel safe giving their children, what the government or the spinach industry could have done to protect them, and, most of all, whether their loved ones will ever fully recover.
"Here you think you’re feeding your child a great, healthy meal," Dennis Krause said sadly. "But here I was, poisoning him."