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Thursday, October 05, 2006

It Ain't the Spinach, Stupid!

Dr. Michael Eades, coauthor of Protein Power and Protein Power Lifeplan (excellent books, by the way), has written two excellent articles on his blog regarding the recent E.coli outbreak. The first one is Corn-eating-cow crap chuckin' up your insides blues and the second is More on E. coli O157:H7.

Dr. Eades makes several very important points:
- E.coli is present in the digestive tracts of mammals throughout the animal kingdom, including humans.
- E.coli is typically wiped out by stomach acid, but the 0157:H7 strain is particularly acid-resistant.
- This virulent strain of E.coli comes from the stomachs of cows fed grains, particularly corn, rather than a natural diet of grass and silage. To drive this point home, Dr. Eades quotes the Journal of Dairy Science: "When cows were switched from a grain diet to hay for only five days, O157 declined 1,000-fold."

Basically, our own desire for cheap meat has led to the current problems of E.coli contamination. To get cheap meat, cows must be fattened quickly. Unfortunately, to bring a cow to market weight on grass takes several years as opposed to just a little over one year for a cow fed grains. Thus, the feedlots have taken over where cows are fed corn, other grains, soy, industrial sludge, the remains of other cows, growth stimulants, and who knows what else in an effort to fatten them quickly. That this diet in no way resembles the natural diet of a cow is irrelevant. To keep the cows from getting sick, they are pumped full of antibiotics, which only helps to produce antibiotic-resistant bacteria. So these grain-fed cows defecate their E.coli 0157:H7 laden manure all over the place, which makes its way into groundwater, contaminating it.

How did the spinach come to be tainted with E.coli? It certainly isn't from the digestive tract of the spinach. E.coli is not a normal part of the plant kingdom. It had to be introduced from outside the farm, perhaps from tainted irrigation water which flowed from a feedlot farm where improperly raised cows did their 0157:H7-tainted business. The focus on the spinach growers is all wrong. There is nothing about spinach that will produce this type of problem.

As consumers, the only thing we can do, beyond avoiding spinach, is to demand grass-fed meat. Besides being better for the cows and the environment, it is much healthier, being rich in omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid. There is also no chance of getting grass-fed meat tainted with Mad Cow Disease. Or we could keep cheap meat and greatly reduce (nearly eliminate) the possibility of an E.coli outbreak by simply feeding cattle on grass and hay for the last week of their lives. It won't be as healthy as grass-fed meat, but it will at least reduce the problems faced by produce growers. Granted, the produce growers should probably have better safety measures in place anyway, but if cattle were being raised properly, there wouldn't be a problem in the first place.

Extra, extra, read all about it: FBI executes search warrants on California spinach companies. The FBI is searching the spinach growers for evidence of a crime. I've got a feeling that instead of a refocus onto the people raising cows in unnatural ways that are indirectly responsible for this outbreak, we are going to see government intervention in our vegetable supply. Perhaps everything will be irradiated, a subpar solution, which depletes nutrients and introduces chemicals known as radiolytic products. Don't believe that irradiation is safe; the FDA's own Irradiated Food Committee has warned the FDA that the tests which it bases it's recommendations on are "grossly flawed and inadequate." But when the finger points back at one's self, one isn't too keen on searching for the underlying cause; a proximate one will do. According to Dr. Eades: "You could take the whole thing a step further and ask who provides the information to those feeding cattle on corn. It's none other than the good folks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you don't believe it, look in their manuals for cattle feeding."

Basically, it ain't the spinach stupid!