Natural doesn’t mean safe

Already back in the 70s, when the “natural” movement began, my Mom was cautious.  As she liked to say, “hemlock is also a natural substance.”  Her point was that nature can be cruel, and that people who assumed that things untouched by human hands were automatically better were foolish and potentially dangerous.  The bee in my bonnet with the natural foodies is their belief that pasteurization destroys foods.  Showing their profound ignorance of history, they have no idea that, before Louis Pasteur, thousands of children died every year from the dangerous bacterias in food.  Any slight diminution in the nutritional value of milk (and it’s not clear that this diminution affects us in any way) is more than offset by the fact that we don’t die from drinking milk.

Well, it turns out that the natural foodies need to sit up and take notice again regarding the fact that nature, given free rein, can be hostile to humans.  It turns out that free-range pig, which is supposed to be more succulent and healthy, is also more likely to come equipped with trichonosis, one of the ancient food scourges, not mention some nasty other food borne problems:

The study published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease that brought these findings to light last year sampled more than 600 pigs in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin. It discovered not only higher rates of salmonella in free-range pigs (54 percent versus 39 percent) but also greater levels of the pathogen toxoplasma (6.8 percent versus 1.1 percent) and, most alarming, two free-range pigs that carried the parasite trichina (as opposed to zero for confined pigs). For many years, the pork industry has been assuring cooks that a little pink in the pork is fine. Trichinosis, which can be deadly, was assumed to be history.

Agricultural scientists have long known that even meticulously managed free-range environments subject farm animals to a spectrum of infection. This study, though, brings us closer to a more concrete idea of why the free-range option can pose a heightened health threat to consumers. Just a little time outdoors increases pigs’ interaction with rats and other wildlife and even with domesticated cats, which can carry transmittable diseases, as well as contact with moist soil, where pathogens find an environment conducive to growth. The natural dangers that motivated farmers to bring animals into tightly controlled settings in the first place haven’t gone away.

I suggest you read the whole op-ed.  Frankly, I don’t know how it got into the New York Times, because it’s informed, rational, humane, human in its outlook, and sensible.  Clearly, some editor slipped up and can soon expect to receive his (or her) pink slip.