Friday, October 13, 2006

Forbes: "We do not have a 'smoking cow' at this point."

One possible explanation for the e. coli outbreak in spinach last month traces the source of the contamination to cattle manure. See, for example, Nina Planck or Treehugger, and see Cattle Network for an alternative view.

Since it was disconcerting to experience a microbial outbreak in a favored green leafy vegetable, it would spare the conventional wisdom about food safety if it turned out that animal agriculture was to blame after all. Such an account seemed almost too convenient, so I have been keeping an open mind, and regularly read the links from Accidental Hedonist's continuing coverage to see how this turns out.

A student today sent a link to this story from Forbes this week -- not ordinarily classified with the environmentalist vegetarian rabble:
Three samples of cattle fecal matter from one ranch in California's Salinas Valley have tested positive for the same strain of E. coli bacteria that sickened 199 people in 26 states and left three dead after they ate contaminated spinach.

It's not certain that the ranch was the source of the outbreak, but it's an important lead in the continuing investigation, U.S. and California health officials said during a Thursday evening teleconference.

"We do not have a 'smoking cow' at this point," said Dr. Kevin Reilly, deputy director of the prevention services division for the California Department of Health Services. "We do not have a definitive cause-and-effect, but we do have an important finding."
It will be interesting to see how this important finding pans out.