Thursday, June 16, 2011


Will the latest E.coli food poisoning episode in Europe adversely affect the credibility of the multi billion dollar organic food industry? Probably to some extent, at least temporarily. It is not logical to blame the entire industry for the fault of one single producer as it has happened in Germany. Of course the loss of precious lives and handicapping thousands of consumers due to serious kidney damage cannot be condoned and it is incumbent on the part of industry not to repeat such costly lapses through better and fool proof safety assessment of products before releasing into the market. There will be many critics including the mainstream food processors baying for the blood of organic food industry and under the prevalent situation any response taken must be based on rationale, logic and reality on a long term basis. A set of useful suggestions was recently made that looks reasonable and unavoidable. Here is a take on the issue.

"The core of organic farming is the rejection of a century's worth of scientific advances. The same risks that Christian Scientists take with their own children when they reject modern medicine, organic farmers are eager to take with your children when they reject modern agriculture. First, the Obama administration needs to impose a timeout in the expansion or opening of any new organic farms while regulators and federal safety experts examine the ongoing dangers presented by organic food. Third, each obsolete technology should require public health and environmental disaster planning for all foreseeable risks while each organic farm pays into a national fund designed to implement organic farms' disaster plans. Such plans could be accepted only after wide-ranging public comment and the opportunity to strengthen plans through extensive litigation. Afterward, a strict - and independent - inspection regime would be required to keep tough protections in place. Obviously, the powerful organic industry would object, but the case against it is easily understood. No one would allow an electric utility to build and operate a new nuclear power plant with 1950s-era-technology without proof the design was safer than modern technology. Those who cling to the 1850s feces-based agricultural technology should face the same hurdles. As should those who reject key safety advances such as the E. coli-killing practice of irradiating suspect foods and genetic engineering, which holds promise in using natural biological processes to limit the spread of food-borne illness.Second, before organic farms are allowed to expand again, the industry must prove that ignoring modern technology does not hold hidden risks to public health or the environment. A permitting program for obsolete technology, perhaps as part of the existing agricultural or environmental permitting program, should demand that old technologies outperform new ones at each site where a business proposes to open or expand using obsolete technology".

The point about technology is well taken and there is no dispute regarding the need for continuous upgrade of the same keeping in view modern developments. However more critical is the preventive protocol that needs to be put in place without bothering about investments required for the purpose. There can be no compromise as far as consumer safety is concerned and semantics will have to be replaced with actionable strategy. It is a tragedy of the highest order that the well proven irradiation technology is languishing without being used by the industry for consideration other than merit and consumers must understand the seriousness of pathogenic microorganisms which can only be preempted by using ionizing radiation process, especially those foods not undergoing any heating before consumption. Governments all over the world must make irradiation compulsory for all fresh produce and sprouts without insisting on labeling them, in the over all interest of their citizens.


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