Once again there has been an E. coli outbreak, this time across the Atlantic. ‘E. Coli Death Toll Grows in Europe,’ says the New York Times of May 31, 2011. Hundreds of Europeans have suffered from diarrhea, cramps and other symptoms, and the death count has climbed to 13. Most sufferers seem to have become ill from eating vegetables, and several species have been pulled from grocery shelves in a number of countries.
When incidents like this occur, too often vegetables are considered the problem. Having first read about this on the front page of the International Herald Tribune, I therefore wrote this letter to the editor there:
In reference to your May 30 article on the unfortunate E. coli outbreak in Germany, it is important to realize that vegetables are not to blame. E. coli is a product of the mammalian gut. In most such contamination cases the bacterial source is livestock manure, mountains of which emanate from today’s voluminous industrial production of poultry, pigs, and cattle. While small amounts of organic manure are good fertilizer, there is now so much animal waste on the planet that it is routinely dumped in excess on plant crops. The solution is not to stop eating vegetables, but for large-sale meat consumers to cut back their intake of animal products to moderate levels, which would allow such foods to be made sustainably, and incidentally compassionately. The science demonstrates that the amounts of meat now eaten by the average European, American, Canadian, Australian, and some others are impossible to produce within the carrying capacity of the planet. The results are significant contributions to climate change, pollution of water supplies, loss of rainforest and undermining of biodiversity, and other environmental crises. There is nothing wrong with livestock, and nothing wrong with meat — in small amounts. Eating less meat is a step toward addressing the problem.
I’ll let you know if they print it, and I welcome your comments.