"Scorched Earth" Cure for E. Coli Scares

Stopping the killer bacteria requires going against smart farming practices

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    David Baron
    A battle for the soul of agriculture is being waged in California in a new sort of green revolution -- and counter-revolution.

    "If we want to have bagged spinach and lettuce available 24/7, 12 months of the year, it comes with costs," lawyer Bill Marler told the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Marler would know -- he represented the plaintiffs that came forward after an E. coli outbreak from fresh spinach grown in California made customers sick in 2006.

    But he's not talking about legal fees and court settlements. Instead, it comes in the form of environmental degradation as industrial farming attempts to fix the problems it has created.

    Distributors are forcing farmers to implement guidelines that are fueled by consumer fears, not farm science.

    For instance, sterile zones demanded around crops mean more rodents, which means more rodent poison, which kills the predatory birds which naturally control the rodent population.

    Of course, the deadly and drug-resistant strain of E. coli that these measures are trying to prevent was created by the heavy use of antibiotics in feedlots.

    "You have to think about what's the logical end point of looking at food this way," noted author Michael Pollan, who has criticized industrial agriculture in his last two books. "It's food grown indoors hydroponically."

    There is some good news for greener farming. "In 16 years of handling nearly every major food-borne illness outbreak in America, I can tell you I've never had a case where it's been linked to a farmers' market," Marler added.

    Photo by David Baron.

    Jackson West is currently obsessed with root cellaring.