In my preparation for 4/14 Daily Dispatch about the organic food industry, I came across an article entitled, “Is Organic Agriculture ‘Affluent Narcissism’?” Of course, the article appeared in Forbes magazine, which has a poor track record on health reporting. And sure enough, this glib “exposé” on organic food was filled with bad information. Although Forbes may be right on tax policy, they have a sad and troubling history of getting it wrong when it comes to human diet and nutrition.
As you’ll recall, Forbes magazine also published an article irresponsibly entitled, “The Top Six Vitamins You Should Not Take.” Vitamin D was No. 6. Of course, the U.S. faces a massive vitamin D deficiency epidemic. So reading such shockingly poor advice from a “trusted” source of information bothered me the first time. And now, I’m on the lookout.
In this latest flawed report, the writer claimed organic farms utilize “pathogen-laden animal excreta as fertilizer.” He said this practice causes serious illnesses, such as antibiotic-resistant Salmonella infections in humans. That statement couldn’t be more wrong. And the entire article is yet another example of a Forbes writer who doesn’t know the facts. Or the actual science.
First of all, natural farming did not lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Modern industrial animal domestication practices did.
For years, industrial food producers raised their livestock in unnatural, inhumane, and overcrowded living conditions. Then, the livestock started to get sick with bacterial infections. So they began to pump their livestock full of antibiotics to keep them “healthy.” They also use antibiotics on livestock to boost body composition artificially. (In other words, they feed the animals antibiotics to “fatten them up.”) These harmful practices led to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as Salmonella.
Secondly, according to a brand new study, local, naturally raised domestic animals do not cause antibiotic-resistant Salmonella infections in humans.
For this study, scientists analyzed more than 370 samples of Salmonella bacteria collected over a 22-year period. Scientists documented the distinct genetic variations among different strains of Salmonella bacteria. In fact, they found that animals and humans carry different strains of Salmonella.
Plus, they found that different strains of Salmonella remain in their own, original hosts. The strains don’t “jump” or “cross-over” between hosts.
So, when a person comes down with a Salmonella infection, it did not originate from a naturally raised cow, or the natural cow manure used as fertilizer. But from another infected human–like most modern infections.
Furthermore, only the Salmonella strains found in humans were resistant to antibiotic drugs. It rarely happened in the animal strains. In fact, in most cases, the animal strains of Salmonella responded just fine to antibiotics.
So, what does this mean?
The whole Forbes’ argument is inaccurate. First, antibiotic-resistant Salmonella didn’t come from animals. Second, eating organic foods grown in fields treated with natural manure isn’t a problem for people.
Since naturally raised animals are not the problem, that leaves human transmission. Salmonella infections in humans probably result from international travel, food contamination, and poor hygiene habits–which unfortunately remains a well-documented problem in the U.S. despite all the publicity to the contrary.
To quote the comic figure Pogo, “We have met the enemy and it is us.”
So, don’t fear the fertilizer.
During the late 1940s, before the White House had central air conditioning, they would often open the French doors to the Rose Gardens during press conferences. During the season when they were fertilizing the gardens, President Harry S. Truman would apologize to the press for the fragrance of the “manure” on the rose beds.
The press corps counseled First Lady Bess Truman to get the President to use the word “fertilizer” instead of manure. She responded by telling them how long it took her to get the President to use the word manure! Of course, there is only one word for the kind of non-scientific scare tactics used by today’s “journalists,” such as the yellow journalists at Forbes.
So keep reading my Daily Dispatch and I’ll make sure to point out the “manure” whenever I see it…even if it’s on the pages of Forbes magazine.
P.S. You can learn more about the real problem of antibiotic resistance in in the February 2014 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. Subscribers simply log in on my website and search for the article called Deadly superbugs are about to make routine medical procedures downright deadly. Subscribers have free access to all my newsletter archives. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now’s the perfect time to get started. Plus, I’ll cover the topic of bacterial resistance in this Friday’s Daily Dispatch.
1. “Europe’s Food Poisoning Outbreak: Reaping What It Has Sown,” Forbes (www.forbes.com), 6/1/2011
2. “Is Organic Agriculture ‘Affluent Narcissism’?” Forbes (www.forbes.com), 11/7/2012
3. “Distinguishable Epidemics of Multidrug Resistant Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 In Different Hosts,” Science 9/27/2013; 341(6153):1514-1517