ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  25 November 2000


Thanks to Stokely for item one - the latest load of Avery-style cow manure (+ a bit of Dennis 'pesticides are good for you-Ames), this time in the UK press.  Thanks to Caroline Clarke for item two:  Living Earth on the dear old e-coli myth.  Item three is a Soil Association response to aussie biotech-promoter Rick Rousch’s attack, posted to  Prakash’s pro-GM AgBioView list, on their statement on Rotenone.  Rotenone is a natural pesticide, occasionally but rarely used in organic agriculture, chronic use of which has been linked in a recent study to Parkinson’s disease.

It’s an interesting fact about Prakash’s list, by the way, that its GM promoters are often more taken up with organic attacks and defending industrial ag - nothing wrong with pesticides etc. - plus laying into the critics, than anything directly to do with agbiotech!

*  *  *
1.    A first-class guilt trip 
        by Victor Lewis-Smith, The Evening Standard (London), 23 November  2000

Due to my concerns about the health of the planet, I shall henceforth be eating nothing but organic food.  Never mind that dung-covered vegetables are more dangerous than non-organic and are frequently crawling with E.coli and microtoxins.  Nor that, in blind tastings, organic produce usually fares worse than the chemically-grown stuff, despite costing twice as much.  Nor that (despite what some hysterical media reports would have you believe), the total amount of pesticides consumed annually by the average purchaser of non-organic food is roughly equivalent in toxicity to one cup of coffee.  Nor that organic farming is so inefficient that, were it to be widely adopted, vast areas of wild land would have to be turned over to agriculture, with disastrous consequences for the native flora and fauna.

Clearly, it’s not just the indiscriminate use of manure that accounts for the strong smell of bullshit surrounding the organic movement, but no matter.  We must all be green, ladies and gentlemen.  [the rest of the article is taken up with an attack on TV naturalist David Attenborough]

*  *  *
2    The truth about E.Coli - Soil Association hits back at rogue claims
    Living Earth  January 2000

The Soil Association wishes to set the record straight about the allegation (often stated as fact) that organic food is up to 40 times more likely to cause food poisoning than conventional food.

This groundless allegation, referred to in recent newspaper articles, has no factual, statistical or scientific basis and is totally untrue.

The original allegation came from an article by Dennis T Avery, Director of Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, a right-wing think tank funded by MacDonalds, Monsanto and other multinationals interested in global agri-business issues.

It appeared in the autumn 1998 issue of ‘American Outlook’, the Hudson Institute’s quarterly journal.  The article ‘The Hidden Dangers of Organic Food’ began:

“According to recent data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who eat organic and ‘natural’ foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E. coli bacteria (0157:H7).”

Avery attributed this to organic farming’s use of compost instead of chemical fertilisers.

Dr Mitchell Cohen of the CDC, dismissed the reference to CDC and its findings, in the following statement in January 1999:

“Since 1982 most of the outbreaks of Escherichia coli 0157:H7 have been associated with foods of bovine origin (eg ground beef).  In recent years, a wider spectrum of foods, including produce, have been recognised as causes of outbreaks.   The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not conducted any study that compares or quantitates the specific risk for infection with Escherichia coli 0157:H7 and eating either conventionally grown or organic/natural foods.”

Dennis Avery based his allegations on a partial and fundamentally flawed interpretation of the results of one year’s figures (1996) for food poisoning in the USA:  A batch of organic lettuces from California led to cases of E. coli infection.  However, a New York Times investigation established the E.coli came from water to the packing plant, contaminated by run-off from a nearby non-organic dairy farm. This was the only year the CDC ever recorded E.coli in any organic product.

Dennis Avery then added in 71 cases of E. coli poisoning from apple juice.  The juice was not organic but because it was unpasteurised it was classed as ‘natural’.  The 71 cases were lumped with the 47 lettuce cases to get 118 ‘organic and natural’ cases of E. coli.

The CDC recorded 488 cases of food-borne E. coli poisoning in the US in 1996.  So Avery’s 118 ‘organic and natural’ cases became 24 per cent of that total.  Then he calculated that if organic food constituted less than 1 per cent of US food supply, the risk of E. coli poisoning from ‘organic and natural’ food was up to 30 times greater than from conventional food.

Avery’s assumptions and calculations are completely wrong because:

1.    ‘Natural’ free-range and unpasturised foods that are not organic cannot,and must not,
        be used to bulk out the number of organic cases.

2.    Organic food has not been associated with any other case of food poisoning in any year
        since CDC records began in 1984.  To draw general conclusions from just one year’s
        figures is at best bad science and at worst deliberately misleading.

It is disingenuous, unhelpful and time-consuming for Avery’s dis-information to be perpetuated.  It also trivialises the hundreds of deaths annually caused by E. coli 0157 poisoning, arising largely from poor hygiene practices in the slaughter, production and prep-aration of ground beef products.

The public health authorities’ attempts to educate people about suitable precautions against such risks are undermined by such innumerate manipulation of E. coli statistics so as to spread muck about the organic message.

On behalf of its members and licensees, the Soil Association is urging the press to stick to the facts and ensure that this indefensible misrepresentation now ceases.

The Soil Association has written to Monsanto, MacDonalds and other sponsors of the Hudson Institute to draw their attention to the misuse of their funding that such bogus ‘science’ represents.

Contact the Soil Association for more information.

*  *  *
3.    [Rousch to Prakash - conclusion] followed by Soil Association reply

'...For me, the issue here is that the Soil Association has implied that conventional agriculture could be responsible for Parkinson’s.  Unless the Soil Association has information to back up that claim, it is clearly a misleading statement that can seem to have only one purpose; to induce people to buy organic products for which the Soil Association has a clear conflict of interest.

'So far, the Soil Association has not been able to provide the name of a single pesticide that acts like rotenone, much less any that are now or ever have been in “widespread use”.  I call on them to publicly retract their statement unless and until they can identify such pesticides.

Subj: Re: Rotenone
From: “Gundula Meziani” <>

Dear Mr Roush,
You seem to be worrying unnecessarily about the content of our briefing:

(i)    You yourself have confirmed that are are other pesticides that are understood to work
        in a similar way to Rotonene (“I have searched my notes and find perhaps 6 fungicides
        or insecticides that may still be used on food crops and are thought to affect mitochondria”),
        ie.  confirming that that part of our briefing is correct.

(ii)    You say we should not be saying these products are used widely.  Well, following your
        advice, this is not in the briefing. Did you not notice the amendment?

(iii)    We have sent you the article from Nature Neuroscience (Dec. 2000), “Chronic systemic
        pesticide exposure reproduces features of Parkinson’s disease”. If you have read this, you
        will see that not only does this refer to the particular mode of action of certain pesticides as
        being suspected as a cause but it says “epidemiological studies suggest an association with

(iv)    Refering to a direct quote we provided to you from this article, you said in another e-mail
        “I doubt that ... the authors of the Nature Neuroscience article... know what they are talking
        about in terms of pesticides that work like rotenone”.  We do not know who you are or
        what your expertise is in this area, but why do you think your knowledge on this is more
        advanced than the authors and, presumably, peer reviewers?  You must understand that we
        cannot just adopt your point of view which is contary to the latest evidence, for no reason
        other than that is what you would like. If you have a concern about this Nature Neuroscience
        article, I suggest you take it up directly with them. If you are able to clarify the reasons for
        your differences, we would be interested to know what they are.

(v)    Our briefing only refers to the “possibility that exposure to these chemicals would be linked
        to Parkinson’s disease” and says more research is urgently required. Considering the
        available information, this is clearly completely reasonable, and certainly not over the top.
        We are currently waiting the two people who originally advised us on this to return, and will
        further clarify or substantiate the briefing when we have taken their further advice.

Should anything like this occur again, it would help us greatly if you gave us references or directed us to your sources of information.  It could be that when knowledge is changing in an area, that there is different information around and this may explain our differences on this subject.  As a general principle, however, we feel we should use the latest published scientific information together with advice, which is exactly what we have done.

Yours sincerely, Gundula Meziani

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