Friday, October 13, 2006

the shit on E. coli

Well, all us spinach lovers are qualifiedly overjoyed at the possible discovery of the source of the E. coli contamination. . . almost. . .

WASHINGTON (Oct. 13) - The same strain of deadly bacteria that sickened dozens of people nationwide has been found at a cattle ranch in California's Salinas Valley within a mile of spinach fields, investigators said Thursday.

Investigators still can't be sure if the E. coli found in cow manure contaminated the fields, but said the find warrants further investigation.

"We do not have a smoking cow at this point," said Dr. Kevin Reilly, deputy director of the Prevention Services Division of the California Department of Health Services. Nevertheless, Reilly called the match an important finding.

Smoking cow—that just kills me. . . anyway. . . .

While it may look like a nice, neat, bovine bow, the fact that cows are letting it all hang out right next to the spinach patch is not, in and of itself, the problem.

Yes, in our overdeveloped, overpopulated land-o-plenty, we are crowding livestock and farmland cheek by jowl, and that ain’t good, but, if you think back to olden days, you might conjure up images of farmers with cows and crops all integrated and commingled. . . and yet, look closely, do you see any E. coli contamination?

Well, of course you don’t—bacteria are very small!

No, but, seriously, you probably wouldn’t see it because it probably wasn’t there. You see, in those happy olden days, happy golden days of yore, cows ate grass and hay, and had very little of this particular lethal strain of E. coli in their intestines, Ergo, there was very little of this nasty bacteria in their, you know, shit, either.

Today, industrially farmed cattle feed primarily on a diet of corn, because the government heavily subsidizes corn production, and there is a glut of corn. Or, to put it simply, corn is dirt-cheap.

But cows are ruminants, and corn really doesn’t agree with the ruminant tummy. They get gas, and infections, and have to be fed antibiotics to keep some really nasty gastric, uh, crap, at bay. And, worst of all in this case, the acidity of their digestive tract changes because of all this unnatural tampering. I can’t do the science justice, but the end result is that this one deadly version of E. coli, normally no match for the acid in human stomachs, has evolved to thrive in the corny cows, and thus can often endure our acid tongues (and stomachs, and intestines), too.

It gets complicated from here, but those complications are simply the result of cheap corn. No cheap corn and maybe cows go back to eating their preferred hay and such, and then they probably have much less bad shit in their shit. Then they can hang out next to the spinach, and, while I still don’t advocate casual commingling, the chances of the recent coli calamity are much, much smaller. . .

. . . like bacteria small.

Continue with current farm policy, and it is almost guaranteed that there will be plenty more smoking cows. . . and lots more shitty spinach.


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