E Coli, Cucumbers and the Consequences of Modernity

May 30, 2011

Tudor Rickards

Update: The initial reports of the source of the E-Coli deaths in Germany last week [May 2011] were later revised pending more careful analysis. An excellent review from CTVNews provided an informed view of the outbreak

Tim Sly, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at Ryerson University in Toronto, notes that this epidemic appears to be due to a double whammy: salad vegetables that haven’t been cooked (which would normally kill off most E. coli bacteria) and the use of organic growing methods.

“Organic foods are by definition fertilized with animal droppings and that’s where E. coli exists,” Sly noted in an interview with CTV.ca.

“We’ve been prophesying for a long time that as people move into organic foods, we’re going to get more of these (outbreaks).”

He says E. coli tends to be a surface contaminant that can simply be washed off. But if someone doesn’t wash their vegetables thoroughly, there can be problems.

“If you’re going to be eating organic food and you’re going to be eating them raw, you do need to exercise much more sanitation and hygiene, with washing and peeling. Which is something that we should be doing anyways,” Sly notes.

Initial post

The BBC reported that cucumbers infected with the E-Coli bacterium had produced deaths around Europe. The infections may be seen as another dilemma of modernity and its consequences.

The death toll in Germany from an outbreak of E.coli caused by infected cucumbers has risen to at least 10. The cucumbers, believed to have been imported from Spain, were contaminated with E.coli which left people ill with hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS).

Modernity and its consequences

Modernity has given us drugs to combat disease. It has also given us diseases which combat drugs. It has given us protection from the environment, as well as inflicting grave insults to the environment.

Organic farming and its consequences

This week, we have been reminded of the principle of unintended consequences. The cucumbers were grown under conditions of organic farming. Intensive farming has its environmental insults. Organic farming too has its unintended consequences.