Thousands of illnesses linked annually to organic foods

| | April 13, 2015

The World Health Organization used its annual World Health Day to focus on issues of food-borne illnesses and safety risks in global supply chains that ship meat and livestock, fruits and vegetables and bulk commodities around the world.

The UN agency released findings from an upcoming study that found 582 million cases food-borne illnesses in 2010, which resulted in 351,000 deaths. Salmonella, E. coli and norovirus were the most common of the 22 food-borne illnesses reported.

“Thousands of cases a year of food illness are triggered from organic products,” said Stuart Smyth, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s bioresource policy, business and economics department. “It’s largely due to the process of them using manure slurry as fertilizer and coming down to improper household food preparations in terms of making sure that they’re properly washing organic food.”

The WHO study found illnesses were most common in Africa and Southeast Asia. The organization is calling for strengthened food safety regulations and improved communication during emergencies.

“A local food safety problem can rapidly become an international emergency,” WHO director general Margaret Chan said in a news release.

Read full, original article: Canada has world-class food safety system

  • UnknownC4

    Are you sure the title is correct? Stuart Smyth didn’t speak on behalf of WHO, nor did he indicate that his data came from any WHO study.

  • Factorfiction

    The WHO press release made no mention of organic products and the report referred to will not be published until October 2015 – where is the actual evidence? Surely the Genetic Literacy Project should be ensuring that there is an basis in fact for what it publishes?

    • Wackes Seppi

      “Smyth said a regular food safety issue in Canada is related to organic foods.”

      • Factorfiction

        Smyth did, but the title of the piece on this website says the WHO did, which it didn’t. Smyth presents no evidence for his claim and organic manures can be used by all farmers, not just organic food producers.

    • Physics Police

      For what it’s worth, both this article and WHO report mention Germany’s 2011 E.coli outbreak which was traced back to an organic farm.


      • Wackes Seppi

        Your links are dysfunctional.

        Any way, the E. coli outbreak was due to organic sprouts production
        in an organic farm in Germany, from organic fenugreek seeds produced
        in Egypt.

        The contamination of the seeds could have occurred in a conventional
        production line too. How and when the bacterium came into the
        production line is unknown. A contamination of the seeds at some
        point is the likely cause, but the water used to grow the sprouts or
        a worker handling them could also have been the source of the
        contamination (although this would not explain the cases unrelated to
        the organic farm).


        A major concern that was expressed on this occasion was that the
        rules of organic production – beyond the farmgate – did not allow
        proper (chemical) disinfection of the seeds. Whether it would have
        made a difference, of course nobody knows.

        See also :

        • Physics Police

          Fixed the links, thanks for the heads up.

  • Bob Akimbo

    I expect there probably are thousands of illnesses per year linked to organic food, but the title of this article implies that there hard numbers from a specific WHO study. It appears that the “thousands” figure is simply a statement from a professor unaffiliated with the WHO. I rely on GLP for accurate scientific information, and frequently use it to support my claims, but if I used this I would be laughed out of the discussion, and rightfully so. Please don’t succumb to the same sloppy click bait reporting that we are fighting against. Thanks.

  • Damn it. I was ready to go posting this everywhere. There’s no danged evidence though. What the hell, GLP?!

  • DJEB

    “The WHO study found illnesses were most common in Africa and Southeast Asia.”

    Africa and SE Asia, whose organic standards are what?

  • Pete Danko

    This story is absurd, GLP. Utterly factually wrong. See the WHO press released. They didn’t say *anything* about illnesses being linked to organic food.

    • Pete Danko

      I noticed that the headline has been changed to take out the attribution to WHO. But it’s still a bad headline. A professor in Canada makes an unsubstantiated statement and GLP states it as fact in the headline. It’s just clickbait. I’ve lost faith in GLP.

  • Chris Mavis

    I believe at this point, this article needs to be retracted. Thus far the WHO has not made this claim. Rather Professor Smyth made this claim and is not representative of the WHO

  • The WHO estimated, in 1992, that around the world 220,000 people were dying from pesticides every year.

    • That’s why GMO Bt crops have been a godsend. 10 fold reduction in insecticide use in U.S. and even more so in developing world. Herbicide resistant crops has led to sharp reduction in overall toxicity levels. GMO crops have been a sustainable godsend. Now if only the antis would embrace science organic and GMO/conventional Farmer’s can work in tandem to continue to reduce toxicity levels.

      • I have read that GMO’s have decreased pesticide use by only about 13%. Insecticide use decreases, but herbicide use increases. Organic agriculture can lead to much greater reductions. And of course, insects will become resistant to Bt–will that be replaced by another in-the-plant insecticide? There will not be many choices. What is scientiffically known about the health and environmental consequences of big and varied mixtures of agricultural and industrial chemicals? I believe the answer to that is, next to nothing. Please please inform me, if you know differently. If someone doesn’t show me that there has been in-depth study of the effects of various mixtures of synthetic chemicals,

      • It is a very important issue that I raised directly below, that neither you nor anyone has addressed at all–i.e., the ecological and health affects of large, varied mixtures of “modern” agricultural and industrial chemicals is an area about which people are scientifically extremely ignorant–however, there is ample cause for serious concern about this. Many of those chemicals are toxic in themselves, to some degree. When they interact with other toxic chemicals, what additive, multiplicative, and altogether new toxicities might appear? Not having scientifically deeply studied this issue, indeed, having hardly studied it at all, makes industrial man’s massive use and creation of new chemicals an ignorant activity, which has profitted many people a great deal, but which has cost many more people even more, by destroying their health and degrading their evvironment. GMO’s have already contributed to this problem, by massively increasing the use of very toxic herbicides. GMO’s, if we continue to make ill-advised changes to plants, will continue to contribute to humankinds misadventure with chemicals.

        • Actually, most studies show that large industrial agriculture is far more sustainable than smaller scale ag: more efficient use of resources, less use of insecticides and the use of less toxic pesticides. For example, USDA concluded GMO usage coincided with a 10 fold decrease in the use of insecticides. No “massive” creation of new chemicals, actually. If there is any problem it’s the use of older chemicals in non-GMO products. Fore example, Chipotle has switched to using non-GMO sunflower oil, which is an ecological disaster…the sunflower corp uses a non GMO herbicide resistant seed that has resulted in the creation of more than 130 supersedes. In comparison, the evolution of hardy weeds associated glyphosate (which is ecologically benign) is minimal in comparison, and the incidences are actually declining. But as you are totally ignorant of farming and science, you did not know this, for course. So beyond your inept and unscientific attempt to skewer large scale ag, the science runs very much against you. FYI, Here is the USDA chart on insecticide usage on corn since the intro of Bt corn, for example:

          • I don’t really understand, Mr. Entine, why you unendingly call me “totally ignorant of farming and science”, making “inept and unscientific” attacks, etc. Civil discussion is better served by civility.

            You did not in the slightest address the issue of the unknown ecological and health effects of combinations of large numbers of toxic chemicals, I think because you are not prepared to address it.

            You did persist in calling glyphosate ecologically benign, in spite of the above mentioned dirth of understanding, and also in spite of the not well understood effects of glyphosate on the human gut microbiome.

            GMO’s hugely increase herbicide use–overall, it uses only 13% less pesticides (insecticides + herbicides.) (I previously cited a study finding that 13% pesticide drop.)

            There will be very many plants resistant to glyphosate–count on it.

            Plenty of organic agriculture uses bad practises, as well.

            But whatever are you going to do, as fossil fuels become prohibitively expensive–and the sooner that happens, the better for all of us!

          • flyindevil

            There are basically unlimited unknown ecological and health effects from combinations of large numbers of anything and everything. If we based what we use and what we didn’t use based on that kind of unknown, we would all die from literally doing nothing.

          • People can responsibly make changes in our livingry, without releasing huge quantities of largely untested chemicals into our environment–wisdom dictates this, and failing to do it is shortsighted and scientifically and spiritually ignorant.

          • Given.

          • Yea, we can’t research everything. But before we go spreading poisons on the land and in our food, we should be careful.

      • Peter Harris

        I’m late conversation, because I just found you talking to that proponent of neo-eugenics, Stefan Molyneux.

        Like others have asked here, where is your proof that organic food causes thousands of illnesses each year?

        I’m suspecting there is no answer to that question, because you’re a fool who it’s just portraying yourself as an expert, and at the same time, you are just a flunky for the biotech companies.

        While I’m at it, what are your qualifications???

        Apart from being a PR spokesperson?

        Well, you can’t have any qualifications in PR, because as your website proves, you are not very good at that either.

        So, would you care to ask my questions??

        And while you’re at it, would you care to rebut a lot of these points in the link?

        • agscienceliterate

 – lots of reports about illnesses from organic. Remember Chipotle, just 2 months ago?

          • Peter Harris

            My question was directed at the cowardly fool who runs this website.

            I live in Australia, and I have no idea of Chipotle, but after a brief look on the Internet, Chipotle is far from being organic.

            And even if your link was true, it’s still a far cry from the “thousands of illnesses,” caused by organic food.

          • agscienceliterate

            Chipotle is an organic restaurant in the United States. Highly sanctimonious about its “healthy, organic, local, sustainable” food. Hundreds poisoned a few months ago. So much for organic.
            The site I linked shows lots of organic recalls for e.coli, salmonella, and other stuff. There have been zero recalls of GE food for any reason.

          • Peter Harris

            Are you dumb?

            Or just a troll??

            Let’s assume that you’re correct (although I suspect you are not), hundreds does still not equate to thousands.

            Although, seeing as though America has corrupted mathematics, in its use in economics, perhaps hundreds do equate thousands.

          • agscienceliterate

            I am brilliant, correct, and very well-versed in the science of biotech. I repeat — many organic recalls, many people sickened. Zero people sick from eating GE foods. You can nitpick, carp, and quibble all you like.

          • Peter Harris

            “I am brilliant”
            No, as we say in Australia, you are a Wanker.

          • agscienceliterate

            A 10-second search. Do your own research, Fred. There is a lot, lot more about organic recalls in Australia.
            And on GE recalls? Zero.

          • Peter Harris

            Perhaps I was wrong.

            You are a troll, and dumb at the same time.

            Stop deflecting from the question that I’m asking with non sequiturs.

            One more time, how is it that a few examples of contaminated organic produce, can suddenly become thousands.

            Answer that question, and we can move on.

            I’ll be happy to explain how Food Standards Australia and New Zealand is a front for the multinational food corporations in my country.

            And why there have been no GE recalls.

            But as I said, answer the question 1st, with some substantial evidence too.

      • Peter Harris

        Hi again Jon.

        About 3 months ago now I put the question to you (see directly below).
        But some flunky of yours by the name of agscienceliterate attempted to answer my question, but he only made himself look like a foolish wanker.
        Perhaps that it was you after all, but you had no courage to use your real name.

        Anyway, I’m still waiting on an answer.
        Where is the scientific proof that tens of thousands have been killed from organic produce?? The more you delay the answer Jon, the more you look like your “friend,” agscienceliterate.
        So have the courage of your convictions, and provide me and everyone else with an explanation to your ridiculous claim.

      • Peter Harris

        Still no answer Jon??

        You condemn yourself, and your argument with your silence!

        • agscienceliterate

          Fred, thank you for the immense compliment to me, presuming that Jon might be me. It is a compliment to me, but I’m not sure it’s a compliment to him! No, I am not Jon. He knows way more than I do, and is way more up on the research about medical and crop biotechnology. I am just one of many who is grateful for this site and its information. I am just your average Joe who knows a thing or two about science and farming. And I don’t have 1/10 the patience that Jon does in dealing with pseudoscience promoters.

          You seem to be pointing your wrath about the number of poisonings in the wrong direction. Jon runs the GOP site. The article on the site is written by Dan Yates, and he refers to a quote from Stuart Smyth. Perhaps you did not read the article. If you have a problem with the number, perhaps you should be contacting Smyth:

          “Thousands of cases a year of food illness are triggered from organic products,” said Stuart Smyth, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s bioresource policy, business and economics department.

          As far as organic poisonings, I myself stay away from organic food is much as possible. The debacle at Chipotle last year, the recent letter from FDA to Whole Foods about their filthy food conditions, and the recent recall of “healthy organic non-GMO” Clif health bars are just some of my own examples.


          And in Australia:

          Yet more, from the U.S. Department that oversees food safety:

          You may want to stay up-to-date with recent food recalls, and make up your own mind. There’s a lot of information out there regarding organic food contamination with E. coli, salmonella, and Listeria. You only need to be curious enough to look. Anger misdirected is worthless blather.

          • Peter Harris

            Sorry about the late reply, but I have been giggling ever since.

            No, I wasn’t complementing you, by comparing you to Jon, quite the opposite.
            2 negatives don’t make a positive.

            If you’re not one of the same people, then why doesn’t Jon answer the question I put to him?? why instead does he get one of his flunkies to answer on his behalf?

            You never thought of that obvious problem, that stands out in your little charade.

            But really, you and Jon (who are clearly the same people) are a complete parody of what a fair dinkum website, dealing with a serious topic should be.

            But you two(?) dropkicks cannot be serious.
            This website is a joke, isn’t it?

            I’m not going through every piece of nonsense.
            I’ll pick out one as an example.

            Food Standards Australia New Zealand is a front for the multinational food companies that operate business in this part of the world.


            However, if you wish to continue debating with me, could you possibly include one truth in your diatribe? You still have failed to answer the core question I put to you/Jon originally, and that is, where is your proof of thousands of dead people, who lost their lives eating organic food.

            But I’m not holding my breath.

            What’s extraordinary is that, I really wonder who in this world you’re trying to convince with this dodgy website. Who are you targeting your website at?

            Clearly the answer to that, are people with no prefrontal cortex

            You must be real fun at a dinner party.

          • agscienceliterate

            I would love to be a smart as Jon! Thank you again for your compliments and thinking we’re the same person. Pretty funny. So hard for you to wrap your mind around the fact there might be more than one person where actually supports the science of biotechnology and agriculture. You just can’t grasp it, can you?, Well, not my job to try to educate you.
            Regarding thousands of deaths from organic food, you will have to argue with the guy from Saskatchewan in this article, if you want to make a fuss about it:


            Oh, and you’re right – I am a lot of fun at a dinner party.

          • Peter Harris

            Maybe you don’t understand subtle sarcasm.
            So I’ll be clear this time.
            You/Jon are infantilely stupid.

            Firstly, you make a ridiculous claim, and then you use every non sequitur under the sun to avoid scrutiny. E.g. “Well, not my job to educate you.”

            The most crudest of non sequiturs, claiming I should argue with the guy from Saskatchewan, who made the claim about thousands of deaths from organic food.

            No stupid, you/Jon made the claim, at best (or should I say, at worst) you were happy to repeat that claim, so I’m asking you to substantiate it.

            But if you want to reply to me with more irrelevant claptrap, then knock yourself out, as you Americans say.

            It’s only you who’s making yourself, and your website appear completely irrelevant, unprofessional and the laughing stock of the legitimate scientific community.

          • agscienceliterate

            It’s not my website. You can read whatever you choose to read. Lots of people read food babe, Mercola, Jeffrey Smith, Seralini, Dr. Bronner, and the like. You can eat whatever you want, too. Lots of organic and non-GMO certified food out there just for you. Ignorance is a choice.

          • Peter Harris

            By my count, that is non sequitur number 10.

            Maybe you’re too shameless for embarrassment, but would you like to try to go for number 11???

      • Peter Harris
    • Wackes Seppi

      Pimentel is of course a very reliable source!

      He indeed writes: « Additionally, the World Health Organization
      (1992) reports that roughly three million pesticide poisonings occur
      annually and result in 220,000 deaths worldwide. »

      The reference is:

      « WHO. 1992. Our planet, our health: Report of the WHO
      commission on health and environment. Geneva: World Health
      Organization. »

      The paper is silent on pesticide poisoning and deaths.

      There is, however, another paper which cites the 220,000 figure :

      It is figure 6 at page 89. And it specifies: « including
      suicides ». If you look further, you will see that suicides
      are the major component.

      Taken altogether, the Pimentel reference is utterly dishonest.

      • Thank you for finding the 1990 World Health Organization document, Public Health Impact of Pesticides Used in Agriculture, This seems to be the correct source of the figure of 220,000 deaths annually from acute poisoning with pesticides–and yes, all but about 20,000 of those are due to suicide. O.K.–that is a 91% reduction in the severity of the problem. However, it still evidences a significant problem–20,000 deaths a year due to acute poisoning by pesticides, ⅔ of those due to occupational exposure. And this does not include the non-acute or non-lethal effects–the non-lethal effects add an additional maybe 1 million cases per year. The number of non-acute health effects is unknown, and may well be massive and serious.

        All this is to say, trying to paint organic agriculture as a huge public health issue is bogus–it is modern agriculture that presents much greater threats to the health of people and ecosystems.

      • Taken altogether, the Pimentel reference points to serious problems with pesticides that tend to be unseen by scientists. I think that blindness is because scientists are often ecologically ignorant, spiritually vapid, and overly proud of their offspring, synthetic chemicals (and plants.)

  • Scott

    This is why I love you guys (most of the readers commenting here), you call out bullshit where it lives. Even if you agree with the premise of the article, you demand evidence.

    Much respect. GLP, please cite evidence to back up your claim.

  • Freeballer

    I have no doubt there have been recalls on organic foods, because I read the news, but I’d like some hard evidence before I claim there are “thousands of illnesses” caused by organic foods in Canada.

  • Tyson

    After reading this article I had to check the URL again to make sure I hadn’t stumbled onto a Woo site by accident. What the hell, GLP? No evidence posted, and your headline is the kind of sensationalist exaggeration that I would expect from something like Natural News. I’m no fan of organic, but lets not go bashing them without getting some good backing evidence first.

  • Gary

    yeah, i was really hoping for some hard numbers. Instead, i came for evidence and all i got was an unsubstantiated quote from Prof Smith… bad form guys.

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