Organic system designed to encourage healthy farm practices
from the start, says the Organic Trade Association
Greenfield, MA (June 27, 2006)— A recent report about antimicrobial use in food production, prepared for the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), inaccurately depicts the use of antimicrobials in organic farming and processing. The Organic Trade Association has prepared these facts to set the record straight.
"Organic farmers and processors follow all federal state, and local health standards, and do so in ways that enhance the environment and the public health," said Caren Wilcox, executive director of the Organic Trade Association and former food safety official.
Because farmers using the organic system have to concentrate on prevention of disease and maintaining the good health of the animals, a healthy and clean environment is paramount on organic farms, and the health of the animals is overseen on at least a daily basis. Organic practices prohibit the use of hormones, antibiotics or other animal drugs in animal feed for the purpose of stimulating the growth or production of livestock. Meat sold as organic cannot come from an animal that received antibiotics.
For several years, respected organizations, such as the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, have recommended against the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture in order to protect the public health because they report that these uses contribute to development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.
Keeping food products, such as produce and grains, safe during growing and processing is important to organic producers. Use of antimicrobial processes and materials is allowed in organic farming and processing, and specific materials and processes used in organic production are regulated by law. Pasteurization (an antimicrobial), selected use of chlorine (an antimicrobial), hydrogen peroxide (and antimicrobial) and other food safety practices also are allowed and followed in organic production.
Very little data exists about how farming practices affect the potential for foodborne illness. What is known is that organic farmers produce healthful products without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers, sewage sludge, or genetically modified organisms, or growth hormones, which are all allowed in non-organic production.
The report does show that bacteria that may be present in organic meat and poultry are not as resistant to antibiotics as bacteria on non-organic meat. Therefore, the use of an allowed antimicrobial on organic meat is more likely to kill bacteria than the bacteria on meat from a non-organic food animal that has been exposed to antibiotics on the farm or in processing.
A study by Mukherjee et al, published in the Journal of Food Protection (Vo. 67, No. 5, 2004), found that the percentage of E. coli prevalence in certified organic produce was similar to that in conventional samples. However, it did find a marked difference in the prevalence of E. coli between the samples from certified and non-certified organic farms. "Ours is the first study that suggests a potential association between organic certification and reduced E. coli prevalence," the authors wrote. They noted that the results of the study "do not support allegations that organic produce poses a substantially greater risk of pathogen contamination than does conventional produce."
Regardless of the methods used to grow and process the food, cooks at home need to follow safe handling procedures—store foods at the proper temperature, keep meat and vegetables separate, wash hands and utensils after handling raw meats, wash produce before eating it, and cook meats to the proper temperature.
To learn more, link to antimicrobial fact sheet.
June 27, 2006
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