Very few people are actually passionate about industrial food. Sure, people will buy rock-hard and flavorless tomatoes from the supermarket without thinking much about it, but they won’t get mad because, say, there’s a farmers’ market down the road where someone’s selling flavorful heirloom tomatoes grown without chemicals.

Alex Avery of the Hudson Institute — funded lavishly by right-wing foundations and agribiz giants — is a different breed altogether. Indeed, it’s as though Monsanto conjured him up in a test-tube: the fellow seems to have a congenital hatred of organic food — and a burning desire to make you hate it, too. His preferred method for achieving his goal is fear.

Take the BS he’s been spreading about the recent E. coli outbreak affecting pre-washed, bagged spinach, on Gristmill and elsewhere.

In a Gristmill comment earlier today, Avery had this to say:

[H]ow do you explain the recent findings of the group at the U of Minnesota that certified organic products were more than 3 times more likely to be contaminated with E. coli than conventional? (They found E. coli in 7% of certified organic produce vs. 2% of conventional, J of Food Protection 69(8):1928-1936, 2006) Hmmmm. Actual science showing greater E. coli risk from organic farming? Naw, must be anti-organic spin, right?

Wow. Should I be scared of the spinach I grow in my own field, which is fertilized with well-composted manure? Well, no. Here is the abstract of the article cited by Avery. The study tested produce from three farm types: certified organic; “semi-organic,” or farms that use organic practices but aren’t certified; and conventional.

The article states flatly that “none of the produce samples collected during the 2 years of this study were contaminated with Salmonella or E. coli O157:H7.” The latter E. coli type, quite dangerous and virulent, is the one that infected California spinach last week.

As for other strains of E. coli, the report says that “the prevalence of E. coli contamination by produce type was not significantly different between the three farm types during these 2 years,” except one year in which certified-organic produce had less E. coli than semi-organic produce.

Coliform counts were higher in organic than conventional spinach, but the researchers raise no alarms. Its abstract concludes:

These results indicate that the preharvest microbiological quality of produce from the three types of farms was very similar during these two seasons and that produce type appears to be more likely than farm type to influence E. coli contamination.

Rather than spread easily debunked misinformation, Avery might more usefully occupy himself addressing two serious charges against industrial farming raised by the E. coli scare:

  1. As Nina Planck showed over on the New York Times op-ed page, E. coli O157:H7 thrives in the guts of corn-fed cows, not grass-fed cows, raising the serious suspicion that the outbreak stems from intensive dairy farming; and
  2. the argument made by me and others that the outbreak is a symptom of concentrating so much production of one crop in one area, organic or not.

As for the fear that Avery’s remarks were supposed to inspire, it all fell flat for me except one bit: “Author of: The Truth About Organic Foods, to be released in late October 2006.”

Oh, dear. Lots of debunking busywork looms.