Organic Food Deaths in Europe Could Have Been Prevented

On the heels of the worst recorded outbreak of E. coli infections, with a death toll of 40 people, organic activists still can't face the facts.

Mark A. Kastel, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute, points to "the importance of knowing the origin of your manure... otherwise," he says as if speaking to little children, "it could become the source of spreading foodborne pathogens such as E. coli."[1] 

Kastel seems oblivious to the fact that it was a certified-organic farm that was the source of this deadly E. coli outbreak, and tries to blame conventional beef and dairy farms.  Right...and this disaster had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that there's no field-testing in the organic industry?  Really?

Wrong!  If certified-organic farms and processing facilities were routinely tested, as President Clinton and the American Consumers Union wanted back in 1997,[2] this disaster might have been averted.  Instead, reams of paperwork are required to "ensure" no one uses prohibited pesticides or synthetic fertilizer and that feces does not enter the organic food chain.[3] 

Let's see a quick show of hands.  How many people reading this were of the assumption that in order to become certified organic, a basic field test was involved?  Well, sorry to disappoint you, but thanks to political activists like Kastel there's no field testing in the multi-billion-dollar organic industry.  And that, it saddens me to say, is how 40 people died and over 3,400 fell ill, many of whom will require organ transplants.

Defenders of all things holy and organic are always quick to point out that most conventional farms and processing facilities aren't field-tested either, but they're tested more frequently than organic farms and facilities.  You pay a premium for certified-organic food; shouldn't it be the other way 'round? 

Oh sure, there are plans to begin organic field testing.  Just hold tight everyone.  They'll be field-testing for prohibited chemicals and deadly fecal coliforms any day now.  Yeah right.  Tell that to the families of the people who died.

Kastel claims to support field-testing but attacks people like me, suggesting I'm a stooge for "Corporate Agribusiness Interests."[4]  But as an organic farmer and inspector I've been promoting routine organic field-testing since 1998 without any funding from anyone.  Too bad Kastel can't say the same.

Rather than respond to the facts, Kastel charges that I'm "a conservative ideologue, a global warming denier, [and] an ardent critic of hybrid automobiles."[5]  He should really get out of the office sometime and visit a few organic farms.  The majority of organic farmers are small-"c" conservatives who don't want cap-and-trade used to supposedly avert global warming.  They know it will drive family-scale farmers out of business.  They're also not holding their breath while someone develops a hybrid tractor.  Diesel engines are the only way to run an organic farm efficiently,[6] and a once-annual test on every organic farm will do more to ensure everyone is following the rules than all the paperwork in Washington![7]

Finally, organic activists point to the fact that organic end product is sometimes tested.  But they don't test Olympic athletes after they go home; they test them during the games, right?  Why can't activists wrap their heads around this?  Fast-food restaurants are tested; why not organic farms? 

What are organic activists like Kastel afraid of?  Only science can make organic food safe by eliminating fraud and gross negligence.  It could also drive up the quality of premium-priced certified-organic food.  Instead we're left with a useless bureaucracy that relies on a farmer's word on paper that he's following the rules.  Ask yourself, do you really believe the word of a certified-organic exporter in China?

If just one person died from eating genetically modified food it would be front-page news and politicians would be responding with comment on the need to protect the public.  But 40 people die from eating certified-organic bean sprouts and most people in the media aren't even aware of it.  And, most troubling, people like Kastel are trying to divert the blame to the conventional food sector.  Nice try Kastel. 

Mischa Popoff is an IOIA Advanced Organic Inspector and is the author of Is it Organic? which you can preview at

[1] Natalie Schaefer, "Compost Manure to Avoid E. Coli and Other Foodborne Pathogens" Mother Earth News, June 23, 2011,

[2] Letter of April 10, 1998, from Jean Halloran, Director of the Consumer Policy Institute, to Eileen S. Stommes, Deputy Administrator of the USDA's NOP, Docket No. TMD-94-00-2, NOP, published in the Federal Register (62FR 65890) on Tuesday, December 16, 1997.

[3] Florence Fabricant, "Beating the Path to Organic, Through a Paperwork Jungle" in The New York Times, May 14, 2003.

[4] Anonymous press release, "Who is Mischa Popoff? Reigniting Organic Attack by Corporate Agribusiness Interests" Cornucopia News, June 14th, 2011,

[5] Ibid.

[6] Mischa Popoff, "Message to environmentalists: 'Humankind needs energy!'" The Métropolitain, July 22, 2010,

[7] Didn't we learn anything from Bernie Madoff?  He kept up on all of his paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  In fact, he gave SEC-sponsored talks promoting the very regulators he was gaming.  (Don't feel ripped off though; they were free talks!)  Madoff did everything the regulatory bureaucracy required of him...on paper, and then bilked investors for billions of dollars as others in the financial community tried in vain to blow the whistle on him.  That's where paperwork gets you.