An outbreak of Salmonella infection from organic eggs highlights the health and safety issues of organic food. Six cases of salmonella poisoning were linked to eggs from organic farms. Salmonella poisoning results in severe diarrhea and dehydration. The United States Food and Drug Administration has reported at least 20 recalls of organic food following the finding of bacterial pathogens in the food.
What is organic food?
Organic foods are foods grown using organic farming practices. Instead of using chemical fertilizers, organic farmers use natural fertilizers such as manure and compost. Chemical pesticides and herbicides are not used, only natural and environmentally friendly pesticides and herbicides are used. Organic farmers do not feed their animals hormones to make them grow larger, nor do they use antibiotics to prevent disease. Artificial processes such as pasteurization to prevent bacterial growth are avoided. Therefore organic food does not contain synthetic chemicals, artificial hormones and preservatives or additives. However, without antibiotics and pesticides, organic food contains natural bacteria from the soil and from pests.
Organic foods are commonly thought to be a healthier, albeit more expensive, food choice. Are organic foods really healthier than conventional foods?
People commonly choose organic food over conventional food to avoid the harmful effects of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. However, the levels of synthetic chemicals in conventional foods have been checked by food authorities and do not exceed government safety levels.
Another reason to choose organic foods is because they lack artificial preservatives and additives. Sometimes, people may choose to buy organic food because they think it is more nutritious. However, it is still not clear whether organic food is superior to conventional food in terms of nutritional value. Other people wish to support organic farming practices that protect the environment.
Considering the above advantages of organic foods, are they really without risks and safety issues?
Recent reports on the dangers of organic foods show that food safety can be an issue in organic farming. With the use of organic fertilizers such as manure, organic food is more susceptible to harboring bacteria than conventional food. Pathogens such as E.coli, Shigella, and Salmonella that grow in the stomach of animals and humans can be transferred in vegetables and fruits. Up to 4.4% of organic produce tested positive for Shigella and Salmonella bacteria. According to the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, people who eat organic food are more likely to be infected by the deadly strain of E. coli bacteria O157:H7. The E.coli bacteria O157:H7 can cause severe diarrhea and dehydration.
Before the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, people ate natural, organic food and ran the risk of food borne infections by bacteria from the soil and pests. The use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers has greatly reduced this risk. However, the emergence of organic farming has led to the rise of new deadly strains of bacteria that may eventually become resistant to chemical pesticides.
The regulatory authorities will need to monitor the risks of food borne infections from organic foods closely. The public must also be made aware of these risks and dangers in their choice of organic versus conventional foods.