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New York Times: Platform For Irresponsible Attacks PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Friday, 22 September 2006
AFF Sentinel Vol.3 #26

Inaccurate, Prejudiced and Premature

I've been watching ever since the spinach E. coli news broke, wondering what they would find out about the source.

Silly me! I should have known the activists and their chief ally, the New York Times, would not wait for the facts of the investigation to be discovered before they fixed the blame. Any more than they would use accurate facts in explaining what they think the investigators will find. Ready-made extrapolations can be plugged in - no need to wait -- just indict mainstream agriculture. People tend to believe that any farm close to the size of great- grandma's pea patch has to be better anyway.

The story's writer, Nina Planck, has written a book, Real Food: What To Eat and Why in which she claims that foods like butter, milk and meat have gotten a bad rap from nutrition and health experts but that any food from mainstream producers is not what you should eat. A former food coop manager, she feels only cottage industry farmers can raise food people should eat and decries "industrialized" farms.

If you haven't read Planck's story on the New York Times op-ed page, ("Leafy Green Sewage," 09/21/06), Planck charges that E. coli 0157:H7 is found only in beef and dairy cattle fed high grain rations typical on "industrial farms." She claims 0157:H7 is not found in pasture cattle or those on high forage diets. She also charges feedlots and dairies with allowing runoff to contaminate groundwater and neighboring fields. Her solution?

"Stop feeding grain to cattle."

While Planck may be sure that grain-feeding to animals is the reason they shed E. coli 0157:H7, the research contradicts her. Alex Avery of the Center for Global Food Issues said USDA researchers have found the bacteria in cattle raised in open pastures at low densities in remote areas, as well as feedlots and dairies. As additional evidence that modern, advanced grain-fed cattle operations did not hatch this pathogen, Avery notes genetic evidence indicates the 0157:H7 strain arose thousands of years ago. As to whether grain-based rations or forage-based rations increases the prevalence, studies so far have produced conflicting findings, Avery said.

An extensive review of research published by the veterinary medical school at the University of Wisconsin contradicts Planck's claim, also. Researchers have found it in dairy calves and young heifers, indicating that "The peak time of infection is thought to be 3-18 months of age." These are young animals in which milk and forage, not grain, would be the primary feed sources.

The same summary indicated that in feedlots where 0157:H7 is found, it is most likely to be found in animals that have been in the feedlot the shortest amount of time, i.e. most recently on high forage diets.

It is obvious grain-fed cattle did not hatch this virulent strain of E. coli. And it is irresponsible to charge that modern agriculture is carelessly going around contaminating produce fields and groundwater supplies. Advanced manure management and ever increasingly regulated and restricted water quality systems for all feedlots and dairies makes any run off problems much less likely than even five to ten years ago. Cattlemen have spent millions of dollars on drainage systems, settling ponds and lagoons so that distribution is by plan, not accident. The overwhelming majority of the manure and runoff goes onto crops that will not be fed to humans.

The Times' willingness to run such an irresponsible, factually inaccurate piece plus do it before the facts are in is regrettable. The illnesses and death resulting from whatever cause is discovered are tragic and our sympathies are with those people and their families. But they deserve to know the truth, not be led on by activists and the Times without the facts of the case or the issue.

While no system is perfect, rest assured that America's farmers and ranchers are dedicated to providing healthy and safe food for America's people - their customers and their families' source of livelihood.

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Last Updated ( Monday, 30 October 2006 )
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