Ecoli Germany. 33 dead. 1500 sickened. Bean sprouts. Organic farm for the spouts. Who benefits? The corporations that raise foods with pesticides. "Bean sprouts are very frequently the cause of outbreaks on both sides of the Atlantic. They're very difficult to grow hygienically and you have to be so careful not to contaminate them," said Paul Hunter, a professor of public health at Britain's University of East Anglia. Headlines by Reuters
“E.coli outbreak poses questions for organic farming”
The original source of the contamination in Germany is highly likely to be manure, farm slurry or feces of some sort, since the Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli or STEC found in this outbreak are known to be able to lurk in cattle guts.
The farmer at the center of Germany’s outbreak has said he used no fertilizers, but scientists say the contamination may have been on or in the bean seeds themselves, in the water used to grow them, or have come from a worker handling the beans.
In the United States in 1997, investigations into an outbreak of E. coli traced it back to alfalfa beans harvested in Idaho and then used for sprouting.
In Germany and Europe, just as in the 1997 U.S. outbreak, most of those infected have been women aged between 20 and 50, a group not usually hard hit by E.coli outbreaks from other sources, which tend to harm children and old people.
“If you’re growing these non-organically, you can separate them from feces in a way that is problematic if you are using organic production methods. Organic production of salad stuffs just may not be as safe as non-organic methods.”
Germany still trying to resolve how sprouts were contaminated with E. coli
But the state’s agriculture ministry said Sunday that it still isn’t clear whether workers brought in the bug, or whether the bacteria got onto the farm on seeds or by some other means.
The ministry says tests on some 1,100 samples, nearly 300 of them from the farm, are ongoing in an effort to answer that question. But it says that they have produced no positive results yet.
Bioterrorism is defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as the intentional use of bacteria, viruses or natural toxins as a weapon to kill, injure or produce disease in people, animals or plants. Terrorists may use this kind of attack to create fear, disrupt the economy, or to get a response from the government.
“This strain (0104:H4) is a hyper-toxin producer, which means it produces more toxins than the usual strain, and causes hemolytic uremic syndrome (a complication of an E. coli infection that can lead to kidney failure) at approximately double the rate of the E. coli 0157:H7 strain that we commonly see here in the United States,” he told me over the phone.
It appears to have genes that lead to both bloody diarrhea and kidney failure, as well as resistance to 14 kinds of antibiotics instead of just one. It also lacks an adhesion gene, which means the bug may have found a new way to bind itself inside the body.
In his 42 years at the department of microbiology at NYU School of Medicine, Tierno said he has never seen the 0104:H4 strain – not once – ever.
“The toxin is carried by what is called a bacteriophage (viruses that infect bacteria), and could migrate from strain to strain – that’s why it’s so powerful,” he said.
What I find most curious is the target of this strain – statistics show that an unusually high number of adult women have fallen victim to the bug. Normally, E. coli often affects children and the elderly.
Food is a weapon.