Right now, someone nearby is buying organic bean sprouts. It may be the last thing he ever does.
Last week’s E. coli outbreak in Germany - potentially traced to an organic farm - was more deadly than the largest nuclear disaster of the last quarter-century.
Indeed, in the past two years, two public safety stories have dominated global news headlines - an explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan. Yet in the recent German organic-food-disease outbreak, nearly twice as many people already have died as in the two other industrial disasters combined.
In response to the oil spill, countries all over the world have stopped or curtailed deep-water oil drilling as new safety and environmental regulations are designed and implemented. And ground hasn’t been broken on any new nuclear power plant in Europe or the United States since news of the Japanese meltdown broke. Germany is developing plans to mothball its whole nuclear industry.
Yet, 23 deaths and more than 1,000 hospitalizations caused by an industrial accident at an organic farm in northern Germany have caused no such newfound caution toward the expansion of that industry. It is easy to understand why. Organic farming has a reputation for being the domain of small-scale family businesses focused on caring for the Earth more than profits. Every organic-produce customer I interviewed at three supermarkets since the German outbreak began have cited better health as a key reason for buying organic food.