Organic Farming and Food Safety

Conventional and organic farming are two major forms of agricultural practices today. Although organic farming can be traced back to England in the 1920s, it has been embraced over the last several years due to concerns over use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms in large-scale conventional agriculture. Organic farming avoids use of synthetic chemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and follows the principles of naturally sustainable agriculture (51).

Despite many favorable characteristics of organic farming, one of several criticisms about organic farming is the increased potential for microbial food contamination. A French study in 1999 to 2000 warned that biological toxins in certain organic products (i.e., apples and wheat) should be closely monitored. Another major concern is the use of manure as a fertilizer in organic farming. Manure can carry human pathogens and mycotoxins from molds. It is well known that E. coli 0157:H7 originates primarily from ruminants such as cattle, sheep, and deer, which shed it through their feces. In addition, growers must also be alert to the potential contamination of produce growing and handling environments by human or animal fecal material, which is known to harbor Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, and other pathogens. However, properly treated manure (and other biosolids) can be an effective and safe fertilizer. Other sources of contamination related to organic farming may arise from nearby composting or manure storage areas, livestock, or poultry operations, nearby municipal wastewater or biosolids storage, treatment or disposal area, and high concentrations of wildlife in the growing and harvesting environment, such as nesting birds in a packing shed, or heavy concentrations of migratory birds, bats or deer in fields (51,52).

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