Saturday, December 09, 2006

You are what you eat

E.coli: A man-made problem

The latest E.coli scare at Taco Bell needs to be put in perspective.Michael Pollan, in his recent book, The Omnivore¹s Dilemma, gives us the information to do just that. Pollan points out that E.coli (Escherichiacoli), a bacterium normally found in the rumen, or gut, of cows, and hence,in their manure, has never been much of a problem for humans. As he says,"most of the microbes that reside in the gut of a cow and find their wayinto our food get killed off by the strong acids in our stomachs, since they [E.coli] evolved to live in the neutral pH environment of the rumen."However, since industrial agriculture has forced the feeding of surplus corn to cows that evolved to eat grass, today¹s corn-fed feedlot cows not only get sick on their unnatural diet (requiring massive doses of antibiotics),but now have a rumen that is "nearly as acidic as our own." It is in this new environment created by humans, specifically by industrial agriculture,that "new acid-resistant strains of E.coli have evolved." So now, what we have to contend with is a lethal strain of the bacteria, E.coli 0157:H7, that can thrive in an acidic environment. The protection that our stomach acids once provided against E.coli no longer works. Any useof cow manure for fertilizer, or runoff from the massive manure ponds that accumulate on industrial feedlots, can now contaminate the crops we eat, and thereby poison any number of humans. E.coli can also, of course, find its way into our meat supply. In this regard, Pollan points out something even more infuriating. It has recently been learned that most of the problem with E.coli 0157:H7 in meat can be eliminated by the simple measure of allowing each cow to eat hay for a few days prior to slaughter. This reduces the E.coli by nearly 80%. But, Pollan writes, grass is now "considered wildly impractical by the cattle industry and by the USDA. Their preferred solution for dealing with bacterial contamination is irradiation, essentially, to try to sterilize the manure getting into the meat." (all quotes, p. 80, The Omnivore¹s Dilemma). Could anything represent so vividly the insanity of the philosophy that now reigns supreme--not just in American agriculture, but throughout aneconomic system that consistently privileges technology and profit above nature and people.
Copyright 2006
Lawrence DiStasi

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