Blame industrial animal operations for disease outbreaks among humans
Posted by Xeno on February 23, 2009
In 2006, spinach was pulled off store shelves for a month because some of it contained E. coli.
As a physician, I am profoundly troubled by this situation. Salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter — national outbreaks of foodborne illnesses are coming fast and furious, and federal officials seem to be scrambling just to warn consumers, let alone head off these problems at the source. Perhaps that’s because regulators aren’t focusing on the underlying problem.
Salmonella and E. coli are intestinal bacteria. But spinach has no intestine. Neither do tomatoes. And neither do peanuts.
When produce becomes tainted, it’s usually because feces from an infected animal contaminated the fertilizer or irrigation water used in the fields. As a recent Pew Commission Report on industrial farm animal production noted, untreated animal waste harboring pathogens contaminates air, water, soil and crops. Farm animal waste was the identified cause of the 2006 spinach E. coli outbreak, according to an investigation by the FDA.
The government must acknowledge that the original source of this salmonella outbreak is not peanuts — it’s our out-of-control factory farming system.
Americans now eat more than 1 million animals per hour, and as demand for cheap meat grows, thousands more factory farms, feedlots and other agribusiness operations are popping up across the country. A single factory farm often houses hundreds of thousands of animals and produces as much waste as a small city. In fact, factory farm runoff is the biggest water pollution problem in the United States. And the animal waste in this runoff contains pathogens that can be 10 to 100 times more concentrated than in human waste.
… I hope policymakers will take immediate action in protecting our food supply and investigate animal agriculture as the original source of this salmonella outbreak. But while we’re waiting, consumers can help curtail factory farm pollution by simply opting for meatless meals. If more of us followed a plant-based diet, the number of animals on farms would decrease. This health change would help reduce everyone’s risk of foodborne illness. It wouldn’t hurt our cholesterol levels either.
Editor’s Note: Barnard is a medical doctor, nutrition researcher and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
Peanuts have no intestines.