Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Sunday, 26 June 2011

E. coli - is Organic farming the cause?

The e-coli outbreak in Germany was initially blamed by the German authorities on Spanish cucumbers, and only subsequently was it admitted that cause was bean sprouts, and most likely those being grown on an organic farm in Bienenb├╝ttel south of Hamburg. (See report)
Now the French have a similar problem, except that in this case they are trying to blame seeds from a British supplier.. However the company says that they have supplied hundreds of thousands of packets of these seeds throughout France, and this outbreak is more likely caused by local contamination. In any case, the seeds came from Italy!
This view is confirmed by Professor Hugh Pennington, a microbiologist from Aberdeen University,who said contaminated sprouted seeds tended to cause an outbreak of E. coli every year. "The seeds, the beans are contaminated when they're being grown - perhaps they get some animal urine on them,"

I would argue that one possible cause could be organic farming, and in particular organic fertiliser. I have always tended to be suspicious of the claims that organic fertiliser is better than chemical fertilisers, and I have never managed to taste any significant difference between organic and non-organic food which couldn't have been attributed to the freshness of the product.
So what is organic fertiliser? In my youth it was the droppings from the milkman's or greengrocer's horses; if it happened outside your house you rushed out with bucket and shovel to collect it for the vegetable plot. These days, my understanding is that some comes from sewage plants; certainly before I retired, I frequently saw tankers from the Thames Water sewage facility adjacent to Heathrow spraying the fields of nearby farms. Now Professor Pennington claims that e-coli could come from animal urine, I just wonder what might come from organic fertiliser.
Incidentally, it seems that the EU (including Britain) is to pay Spain compensation for their losses resulting from the initial German claim; I wonder what will happen if, as I suspect, the French claim is also wrong.

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