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MOF&G Cover Winter 1998


  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerWinter 1998-1999Sewall Editorial   
 E. coli and the Age of Antibiotics Minimize

By Bob Sewall, MOFGA President

E. coli 0157:H7, that deadly little pathogen. The latest news from Cornell University’s illustrious researchers tells how to get rid of this killer: Take beef critters out to pasture for five weeks before slaughter, and they are magically freed of the bacteria. This news came to me from the business section of the Bangor Daily News a few weeks ago.

What the researchers did not say is why this works. I am convinced that it works because the cows have been taken off of grain that has antibiotics in it, allowing the animals’ digestive tracts to support their natural flora once again. When you, or cattle, ingest antibiotics, the antibiotics constantly attack the flora in the digestive tract, leaving an environment in which such pathogens as E. coli 0157:H7 can flourish. How about just not feeding the beef grain with antibiotics?

I cannot believe that it has taken this long to come up with this scientific solution. Hell, I’m only a farmer who tries to find the obvious solution every day – and I know how dangerous a constant dose of antibiotics is. My father was a medical doctor who grew up in Livermore Falls. He studied at Harvard Medical School before antibiotics were discovered. All through my childhood he commented about the proliferation of antibiotics and the high chance that they would come back to haunt us. My father died at 85 of a bacterial infection in his bowels caused by antibiotic therapy while he was in the hospital for minor surgery. I cannot tell you how many times I still hear him say that we are over­using antibiotics and that the potential danger of developing resistance in our environment has been overlooked by the scientific community. Guess what, Dad, we’re there. Let me introduce you to E. coli 0157:H7.

I grow organic apples and make unpasteurized cider. I am aware that E. coli 0157:H7 has been found in cider, but this does not mean that all cider has the bacteria in it. As of September 1998 the USDA has implemented a plan to begin a three-year phase-in requiring warning labels on all unpasteurized cider. Pasteurization would kill many of the life giving qualities of the cider; I will never pasteurize my cider. As far as warning labels are concerned, if I have to put them on my cider, then they should go on all food products we consume. The reality is that E. coli 0157:H7 does not come from apples.

It’s time to take a good look at the results of conventional farming practices. Pesticides kill plants and insects; nitrates kill soil bacteria; and antibiotics kill digestive flora. We have a system that first kills whatever the problem is, and as a result stresses whatever the crop may be. Organics is about building life in the soil; life in the plants; and life in the consumer. At the heart of organics is building health from the soil up, and this depends on manure amendments if we’re going to build a viable industry.

We are what we eat. We reap what we sow. Insist on organic meat, dairy and all other animal products. Organic farmers rely on manure to provide produce in quantities that can make a life-giving difference in the soils, animals and in the consuming public. Don’t be afraid of organic cider. Let’s put the responsibility for solving the E. coli issue where it belongs without killing our organic community.


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