With consumers nationwide toppling over from eating tainted tomatoes, the media has focused on the question of where in the world the salmonella-infected tomatoes come from. It seems that all the167 cases of salmonella that have so far surfaced bear the same genetic fingerprint, indicating a common point of origin — and right now, all fingers point toward Mexico. Not to California, Guatemala, North Carolina, nor Hawaii, nor to other places that distribute tomatoes here — and that’s causing much agitation among Mexican growers.
According to an AP article, Manual Tarriba, who heads the state Tomato Growers Association in Sinaloa, says that U.S. health officials have presented no proof that the contaminated tomatoes are from Mexico. “Even if it were to be determined that Mexican produce (is) the origin of any of these cases, the FDA has to determine if the problem came from the raw product itself or was acquired during the transportation, distribution, storage or cooking processes,” said Ricardo Alday, a spokesperson for the Mexican embassy.
Whether or not the tomatoes come from Mexico, here’s the thing. Farmers in Mexico typically irrigate with treated sewage. Although wastewater irrigation for unprocessed crops has been outlawed in most modern nations, one tenth of the world’s crops still are irrigated with sewage, according to a 2004 article in New Scientist. This includes liquefied substances flushed from domestic toilets, baths, and sinks; any liquid waste generated from manufacturing and industrial operations; and the runoff from gutters, roofs, streets, and so on. At least in Mexico, the sewage goes through a treatment process that supposedly removes pathogens and poisons and renders it safe, but in developing countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, in India, Pakistan, and China, it’s often raw, untreated sewage that gets used.
Why do farmers use sewage? Because it’s cheap, and available, and crops do grow well in the sewage-soaked soil. Wastewater contains nitrates and phosphates that plants love. In fact, crops watered with effluent typically don’t need fertilization, which saves huge amounts of money for the growers in poor nations. Unfortunately, wastewater also typically contains pathogens and toxic industrial contaminants delivered directly via sewage pipes to the fields.
When farmers rely on treated wastewater to irrigate crops, they assume that the water will, in fact, get treated as prescribed, and that water quality will be monitored–that, in fact, they aren’t applying contaminated water to crops. But sometimes the process breaks down, which is why using wastewater for crops that get eaten raw is risky business. Even if the crops don’t end up infected with something like salmonella, sewage contains high concentrations of various viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and helminthes, as well as heavy metals and industrial toxins. For instance, a study of wastewater used for irrigation in Punjab, India, found concentrations of lead (Pb), chromium (Cr), cadmium (Cd), and nickel (Ni) from 18 to 2200 times higher than in water from hand-pumps or wells.
The irony here is that crops irrigated with sewage still can be sold as organic. So the organic tomatoes from Mexico that looked so good might actually have a coating of invisible sewage sludge that will literally come back to bite you. In other words, it pays to know where your food comes from and how it gets produced and shipped to you, even if it’s sold at your favorite health food store. It also pays to know that according to the World Health Organization, wastewater use will become increasingly necessary as water shortages and increasing demand for food affect the world’s population.
By the way, washing won’t help. The problem is that since these contaminants aren’t just on the surface of the plant–since they’re in the irrigation water–they get sucked up inside the plants. You can scrub all you want, but nada. Yes, cooking helps a little. If you cook your vegetables long enough, you can kill the bacteria inside. But then you’re left with nutritionally dead, enzyme devoid, tasteless mush. And you still have all of the heavy metals to deal with.
Hey, I’m not knocking Mexico here. Farmers there have made great strides in eliminating toxic pesticides from their growing cycle over the last 20 years. But using treated effluent for irrigation carries unnecessary risk. And so, I suggest that you be cautious about purchasing produce imported from regions with questionable agricultural practices. Maybe grow your own. Or just buy at local farmer’s markets from growers whose growing and handling methods you know and trust.
I live in a very rural part of Mississippi and the nearest grocery store is about 25 miles, which is a Walmart. The nearest whole food market is about 75 miles. It’d cost me a fortune to drive for organic fruits and vegetables. So, would it be better to cook my foods and supplement my diet with vitamins, minerals and enzymes to avoid toxins or what?
Organic is a good thing, but the contamination issue isn’t about organic. Remember, produce irragated with effluent can be called organic — and yet, still contaminated. The issue of contamination is more one of proper growing procedures and what water is used in irrigation as opposed to fertilizers and pesticides, the issues that define organic. With that in mind, local farmers might be an option. Growing your own tomatoes, or anything else, in a small garden is also a possibility. Joining together with some of your health conscious neighbors in a small co-op is yet another possibility.
And keep in mind that cooking everything is not necessarily a complete answer. Cooking does nothing for heavy metal contamination. That means that you still might want to opt for using raw produce — bacterial contamination aside. Raw foods are life sustaining, cooked foods much less so. I always recommend trying to move your diet to 70% raw — raw fruits and salads, etc. for optimum health.
PS: Walmart carries some organic produce — at least in many parts of the country.
First, I would like to say since this is my first post, That Jon is one of the few, rare, people in the Natural Health Field that gets it right almost all of the time. That is why I list almost all of his posts on my daily health news page available at http://www.abundantlifeessentials.com/current_health_news.htm. His book Lessons form the Miracle Doctors should be required reading for anyone interested in Healthy Living. That being said:
Ty: I am in the same situation. Wal-Mart Corp. has vowed to become the no1 seller of organic and natural foods. Talk to the manager of the store and tell them the foods that you need, they will start stocking them for you. They can get almost everything Whole Foods sells. Also, another source of tomatoes (at Wal-Mart) if fresh isn’t an option, is canned Whole Organic Tomatoes. Dole and Hunts has them. Make sure your Organic foods are certified organic by QAI (Quality Assurance International) or Oregon Tilth, not just USDA organic. The USDA organic standards are not the same as what you and I think organic is. For instance they allow certain pesticides and so on.
However the best option in your situation is growing your own inside or on your patio. It is what I have decided to do and it is easy. You can grow cherry -type tomatoes year round indoors. There is a neat system called Aero-Garden that can grow a whole salad organically and hydroponically on your counter top. However the cost is about $160 so the plants (At Wal-Mart) are about $4. Make sure the soil you get is organic and check the internet for growing organic tomatoes and you will be just fine.
The healthiest produce is always: (best to worst) fresh local grown organic, fresh organic, fresh local, fresh, juiced organic, juiced, dehydrated organic, dehydrated, canned organic, canned
It should also be noted that sewage also contains many drugs, heavy metals, cleaning chemicals and more. If these things are in your food, is it really organic. Yes, It does mater where your organic food comes from!
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This is my first visit and post. I know there is some information on labels, such as a 1 800 number, web site, or address. My question is, are companies honest when you ask questions about packaging procedures, or how the food is cleaned or where it is grown,organic or non-organic. How can I go about verifying the info? Have you toured any of these locations? I particularly worry about “”distilled bottled”” water as well, and whether I am actually drinking some other cities tap water. Any past articles on the subject? Thanks so much.
The answer to a lot of the health problems lies with produce. Lets quit importing from country’s that are lacking in healthly ways of handling produce. We have regulations to follow why can’t they have some also. As a past farmer of grain and livestock we took every precautions in handling our goods We didn’t use growth hormones in our cattle operation .And never processed any livestiock that had been ill.I am scared to buy any produce or meats from a market. I will only buy meats from a Butcher that I know and trust. And believe me that is getting few and far between.
i was wanting to know in africa were people are starving to death
is there any experts out there on growing on that soil
could you put an irragation system in to moisture up the land
send me some emails
what is the best way grow crops on barren soil