EHEC: organic industry under general suspicion

bio-foods as carriers of EHEC bacteria under suspicion


bio-products under suspicion. The sprouts of an organic farm as a source of EHEC infections are suspected, has affected the entire organic industry. Consumers are also asking themselves about the risks that organic food can pose. Although the organic products usually contain less pollutants, such as pesticides or preservatives, but the organic food usually also have a higher bacterial load, the Stiftung Warentest reported in June of last year.

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The statements of the Lower Saxony Minister of Agriculture that probably the sprouts of a bio-agricultural producer in the district of Uelzen are responsible for the outbreak of the current EHEC infection wavebring a whole industry in distress. Unlike earlier scandals in the food industry, such as the dioxin contamination found in eggs at the beginning of the year, this year's focus is not on industrial food production, but producers of organic produce are suspected of being a potential source of infection.

Bacterial contamination of organic products higher
The fact that the germ load on organic products is generally somewhat higher than in the industrial food industry is due to the fact that the use of chemical additives in production is completely eliminated. But the germs are usually rather harmless and hardly alarming for the health of humans. Different in the current case of EHEC infections. So dangerous loads as with the pathogen of the new EHEC bacterial strain HUSEC 041, have never been demonstrated on the organic products. In view of the statements of the Lower Saxony Minister of Agriculture, however, it is suspected that an organic farm from the district of Uelzen could be responsible for the distribution of the dangerous EHEC pathogens. The conclusion that the production conditions in the organic farm could have favored the spread of the germs and the resulting general suspicion that the organic sector is to blame for the EHEC epidemic - but goes beyond the target. Although it is correct that the germ burden of organic products tends to be higher due to the lack of chemical aids and the spread of the pathogens is thus favored. However, according to the experts, the conditions under which dangerous pathogens such as the EHEC strain HUSEC041 are produced are not to be found in the field of organic farms.

Forage methods of factory farming as the cause of EHEC
The currently frequently cited "EHEC Pope" Professor Helge Karch from Münster had already made the "non-species-appropriate feeding" in factory farming responsible for the occurrence of particularly dangerous EHEC pathogens in earlier outbreaks. The use of cereal-concentrate mixtures promotes the spread of aggressive EHEC pathogens, according to the expert. Because the feed mixture is degraded in the stomach of the animals only incomplete and then undigested passed into the intestine of the animal. There, the food begins to ferment and the contained EHEC pathogens can slowly get used to the acidic environment, as already published in 1998 in the journal "Science" study result of a US research group Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. This makes the germs more resistant, even to the attacks of human stomach acid. In addition, the intestinal contents of ruminants fed cereal concentrates contained 250,000 EHEC cells per gram, whereas animals fed hay or grass had only 20,000 EHEC cells per gram of intestinal contents, said the US researchers. New pathogen strains produced in this way can then be spread through the faeces of the animals and eventually lead to contamination of the organic products. Here, the dangerous pathogens may even spread faster than in industrial food production due to the lack of use of chemical aids.

accusation blamed on the organic sector
Anyone feeling reassured about the recent EHEC crisis in terms of their unhealthy dietary habits and their penchant for industrially produced foods should bear in mind, however, that one of the first dramatic spreads of EHEC infection was around thirty years agoin the US were caused by not fully cooked hamburgers of a well-known fast food restaurant chain. Organic products or alternative food production methods did not play any role at all. Hundreds of thousands of infections from contaminated foods are reported every year in this country, but even here, in the fewest cases, organic products cause the symptoms caused by coliform bacteria, listeria, parasites, fungi or salmonella. The fact that the assumptions of the Lower Saxony Minister of Agriculture are trying to shift the entire blame for the EHEC epidemic on to the organic sector is rather inappropriate due to the uncertainty about the emergence of the new dangerous EHEC strain. Both industrial food producers and organic producers are called upon to review the possible causes of EHEC infections in their ranks and to take appropriate precautionary measures to avoid such epidemics in the future.(fp)
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