So you think that bag of triple washed, ultra heat treated, plastic wrapped food from your local Supermarket is clean. Think again! We are one step away from poor hygiene. Faecal matter wraps itself around our food and merrily passes on down the food chain and best of all, you can’t see it.
At this point I should come clean. My business is involved in identifying pathogens in food, and the number of products that sit on our supermarket shelves which are contaminated would astound you. Recently in the USA a number of people died from eating fresh spinach and a large number were hospitalized suffering from kidney failure. This is a typical reaction to the consumption of faecal coliforms containing E.coli. So, for all the positives that supposedly comes from the mass production of our food where are the benefits? Less taste, less nutritional value, less variety, and now unusual genes attached to develop disease resistant strains. And pathogen contamination remains.
One method to increase the hygiene in food production was the introduction of antibiotics. This additionally stimulated the growth in animals, and prevented disease in our national herd, flock and gaggle. The downside to this massive increase in production was the decrease in our ability to resist new strains of diseases. For example, E.coli 0157; H7 is a killer! When you consume food contaminated with E.coli 0157 your immediate symptoms send you to your Doctor or hospital emergency room. The usual prescriptive intervention method is a dose of antibiotics. This effectively kills off all the healthy gut bacteria leaving the antibiotic-resistant strain to multiply which may lead to serious illness or death.
Because milk products in China are often manufactured in conditions that are less than ideal, antibiotics have been introduced to kill off any residual hygiene deficiencies. What happens to the general population when an avian type bird flu arrives and finds a massive population resistant to antibiotics or any other treatment? This should make the Black Death of 400 years ago look like a fondly remembered walk in the park.
Where does this leave organics and the organic presentation of food to the consumer? Back in the 70’s organic food became groovy and the lifestyle around it was often portrayed as the pot-smoking, free love cop-out for the under achievers or drop outs. Since those happy days organics has become a multi billion dollar business movement-not denying the free love-pot smoking exceptions of course. The need to remain true to the ideals of organics will be challenged by other industries that become threatened as their slice of the consumer pie dwindles. Already here in New Zealand we see large corporations in England rallying against our grass fed beef and lamb in favor of their own locally factory grown beef and lamb. Their argument is the distance to travel to bring the product to market means the carbon signature per kilogram is higher and should be penalized. So, do you eat factory food or grass fed beef and lamb? One is cheaper and one is better for you. Often the price will drive those that can’t afford it to the less desirable alternative.
From feces in your food to carbon credits, where is this diatribe going? Think through the challenges we face in producing, eating, and marketing organics. The challenges to good health will be significant over the next decade and the challenges to organic eating can be magnified by our own inability and smart thinking to meet these.