Statement: E. Coli Outbreak Proves Organic Food Isn't Risk-Free

September 18, 2006
Jay Lehr, Ph.D.

(Chicago, Illinois - September 18, 2006) E. coli bacteria present in organic spinach has infected 110 Americans, killing one. How the spinach became contaminated is still unknown, but conventional farmers note organic farming can put consumers at greater risk of bacterial infection.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D., science director for The Heartland Institute, a 22-year-old nonprofit research organization based in Chicago, believes this outbreak is confirmation of that risk. His statement can be quoted or reprinted in full. To contact Dr. Lehr [lehr@heartland.org] call 740/368-9393. For more information about The Heartland Institute contact Michael Van Winkle [vanwinkle@heartland.org] at 312/377-4000.


The recent e. coli outbreak thought to be tied to organic spinach farms in California should serve to remind Americans that organic food is not necessarily safer food.

While there is nothing wrong with buying organic, consumers need to know that many of the herbicides and pesticides safely used by conventional farms to treat foods were developed to improve not only crop yields, but also the safety of the American food supply.

While few organic farmers participate in dishonest advertising, their trade groups and cooperative markets routinely support marketing campaigns that lead many in the public to believe organic food is healthier and safer than conventional foods. But no scientific study has ever supported such claims. To the contrary, there is some evidence to support the position that conventionally grown food yields lower e. coli counts than organic crops. The discovery of e. coli in organic spinach offers a significant data point in support of this conclusion.

It is not my intention to damn organic foods, but rather to remind consumers that they have choices to make ... and there are trade-offs associated with those choices.

All advances in production procedures for the conventional production of our food supplies have been made almost solely with the health of society in mind. Every fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide that has helped to protect our food while increasing our yields and lowering our costs has been developed under the strict oversight of the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture. The effect of these developments on Americans' health has been overwhelmingly positive.

Given decades of attacks on conventional farming, it is important to remind consumers of its positive contribution to public health.


Jay Lehr, Ph.D. (lehr@heartland.org) is science director of The Heartland Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Chicago. He is the editor of many leading scientific reference books, most recently the six-volume Water Encyclopedia.

For more information about The Heartland Institute, visit its Web site at http://www.heartland.org or contact Michael Van Winkle, media affairs assistant, at 312/377-4000, email vankwinkle@heartland.org.