Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Frankenfood linked to E. coli deaths!

Not really. But imagine if the spinach believed to be behind the outbreak of deadly E. coli had been genetically modified spinach. Of course the “green” opponents of genetic engineering would have a field day with it. It would be trumpeted all over the world how GM food was “killing” people. But the spinach linked to this outbreak was organic and the “greens” love organic so they are deathly silent in this case.

Now I have nothing against organic though I won’t eat it myself. I find it too pricey and know that there are no additional health benefits from eating it. I won’t begrudge others the right to eat it if they wish provided they respect my right to eat frankenfoods if I wish.

The number infected in this outbreak is now up around 130. The rise should slow significantly and stop any hour now. And we are lucky that only one person died from this outbreak (that I know about). But one television station is reporting that the federal government has said this outbreak of E. coli is the 20th such since 1995 which is linked to lettuce or spinach. I hope that figure is wrong. And I feel sorry for the farmers here, especially the ones who had nothing to do with the spinach in question, who are hurting. Some, no doubt will go out of business.

But I also remember the environmental extremists who made up the Alar scare with bogus science and lies to push their agenda. No one got sick from the use of alar which was a preservative, not a pesticide like some anti-science green groups claimed. Apple producers suffered because of an orchestrated media campaign that scared consumers with lies. No one had got sick. No one died. Unlike the E. coli outbreak we have just seen. People lost their jobs, businesses went under because of the alar fraud.

The problem exists because organic food requires manure. Some is applied directly and some through composting. Composting usually kills the E. coli bacteria. But it doesn’t always. And some new strains of E. coli are heat resistant so the composting process may not kill it especially as routinely applied.

So what should we do?

First, don’t apply the daft “precautionary principle” which says don’t act unless something is proven safe. Organic food will never been proven “safe” all the time. Nothing is. That is something the “greens” need to learn. Everything has risks. Organic has risks and so do regular foods.

Use a “cost/benefit” perspective instead. For the vast majority of people, over the majority of time the benefits from eating vegetables far outweigh the risks. This is true for conventionally grown crops and equally as true for organic crops. Neither has the benefit over the other except the cost advantage for conventional foods.

Don’t buy the bullshit that “natural” is good for you. Sometimes it is and sometimes it most certainly is not. E. coli is very natural. Using man-made fertiliser has some risks and so does using manure. Over all I think the risks are less with man-made. If you think otherwise fine for you -- buy the more expensive stuff. I don’t mind.

Remember that what is true about organic and convention crops is also true for genetically modified crops. There is no health risk from GM foods. If a food were genetically modified and grown with manure it would present exactly the same risks as that of organic foods grown in the same manner or for conventional produce using manure.

Remember that eating vegetables saves lives. For one poor woman her vegetable killed her due to unusual circumstances not routine circumstances. Even with 20 outbreaks of E. coli since 1995 we are talking about something that causes problems for a very small number of people nation-wide. And the lives saved by eating vegetables, especially due to their anti-carcinogenic properties, well outweigh their risks. When health experts say the crisis is over eat your veggies. It will be good for you and help get an industry back on it’s feet where it should be.

And in the future don’t pass judgement on the eating preferences of others. Don’t try to ban conventional, organic or GM products. Don’t assume that one is better than the other. If you are convinced one is better then go with it but leave others free to make their own choices as well. In this panic we need to keep perspective and use common sense. But that is the very opposite of what "greens" advocate when it comes to genetic modification.