Saturday, June 20, 2009

When Crap Hits the Fan

Yesterday we received another of these endless reports of a new food being infected with E. coli. Ever since 1982 when E. coli was first detected, we've been treated to a stream of such reports. This time around the culprit appears to be Nestle Toll House cookie dough. What in the hell is going on here?

According to the CDC, many forms of E. coli "cause disease by making a toxin called Shiga toxin. The bacteria that make these toxins are called “Shiga toxin-producing” E. coli, or STEC for short. " STEC is most commonly found in the intestines "of ruminant animals, including cattle, goats, sheep, deer, and elk." The organism doesn't make the animal sick, but, if it comes in contact with humans, that's another story entirely!

So, if E. coli is found in these intestinal tracks, how then does it infect such things as lettuce, spinach, sprouts and cookie dough? My guess is through the advent of infected manure. You see, our food and safety regs in this country leave a lot to be desired. The cattle industry (where most of the E. coli originates) has a powerful lobby and they don't like having too many constraints placed on them. Hey, it cuts into their profit margin!

During the butchering process, they might be a little lax in their approach and, before you know it, we have infected manure. The unsuspecting farmer buys the infected manure and uses it on his crops or handles the manure and doesn't wash up properly and cross-contamination is born.

There are two solutions to this widening problem. First, there should be greater health and safety safeguards at rendering plants. We also need more inspectors and they need to show up unannounced -- too often they let folks know they're coming far in advance. When companies are found in violation of the regs, hefty fines need to be levied.

Of course, as an activist vegetarian, I prefer option #2 -- ban the use of animal manure altogether! Unfortunately, since our world is filled with meat-eaters, I don't think this will happen anytime soon.

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