E. coli deaths in Europe preventable


Mischa Popoff is an inspector certified through the International Organic Inspectors Association.

We have a disaster on our hands and the global organic industrial complex is to blame.

The philosophy behind organic farming is sound, but the regulatory framework is flawed.

The death count in Europe’s E. coli outbreak is now 40, with more than 3,400 illnesses that will require organ transplants.

It was caused by certified organic bean sprouts, tainted with a rare strain of E. coli, originating from an organic farm in Germany. But hey, at least all the paperwork for organic certification was filled out correctly. Feel better now?

Try to imagine the kind of media coverage you’d see if this tragedy had unfolded in the conventional food industry. German officials say they won’t reprimand the owners of the organic farm that was the source of the E. coli because, “you cannot punish someone for having bad luck.”

Excuse me? Bad luck?


The multibillion-dollar certified organic, global industrial complex has been riding on a non-scientific wave of pure hype for more than a decade.

As someone who grew up on an organic farm and who has inspected more than 500 organic farms and processing facilities, let me make this crystal clear: there is no routine field testing in the organic industry. None.

That’s precisely why this tragedy unfolded the way it did.

Organic field testing could easily have prevented this disaster. Instead, reams of paperwork are required to supposedly ensure no one uses prohibited pesticides or synthetic fertilizer and that feces coliforms do not enter the organic food chain.

Since 1998, I have been asking why we don’t test organic farms and processing facilities to ensure they’re actually organic. Every honest organic farmer I’ve met wants routine, unannounced, organic field testing.

But would you believe that at the last annual meeting of the Organic Trade Association, the possibility of testing organics was under consideration only for genetically modified content and not for toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizer and fecal coliforms?


Want some poop in your certified organic salad?

I finally gave up asking why we don’t field test organic farms and processing facilities to ensure prohibited substances such as uncomposted manure weren’t making their way into the organic food chain.

Rather than playing along, I put down my pen and began openly lobbying for organic field testing on all organic farms at least once a year on a surprise basis.

Organic activists argue that organic end product is sometimes tested and that there are plans to begin organic field testing. Just hold tight everyone. They’ll be field testing for prohibited chemicals and feces any day now. I’m sure the grieving families of the people who died will be so relieved.

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 routinely tested.

Why not organic farms?