National Editor Tom Karst recently chatted with Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, professor of food safety at the University of Minnesota. Read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.
1:01 p.m. Tom Karst: You were recently quoted in a story about pathogens on organic produce and how that compares with conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. How are you involved with that issue?
1:01 p.m. Francisco Diez-Gonzalez: Part of my research has been focused on trying to answer the question (about the presence of pathogens on organic compared with conventionally grown produce), and there are a number of people at work on this particular area in different parts of the world. Maybe not sufficient (research) to actually to come up with a good answer that reporters like to get — (to say) organic vegetables would be more or less safe than conventional.
The short answer is that I don’t think there that were strong indications that organic vegetables had more susceptibility of being contaminated as compared to conventional.
1:05 p.m. Karst: FDA is developing the produce safety rules as we speak. Do they have enough information to advise good agricultural practices relative to various farming practices?
1:06 p.m. Diez-Gonzalez: Yes and no. The “yes” of what I’m saying is that if (the FDA) wants to prevent cases like the cantaloupe outbreak from happening, that would have been prevented with existing knowledge of good manufacturing practices.
On the other hand, I think we still, at the research level, recognize the fact we are trying to understand how the organisms, the pathogens, are capable of surviving (and) how they can get into the produce. The other main question is what methods can be effectively used to control them, or kill them, once they are in the produce.
1:09 p.m. Karst: Specifically, as far as organic agriculture, do you think your research so far tells you that they need to do anything differently than what they are doing now?
1:10 p.m. Diez-Gonzalez: The one thing that I have said, that I have been advocating, is for the National Organic Program to review the recommendations for the use of raw manure.
When those recommendations were enacted more than 10 years ago, we didn’t know what we know now. Some of our research has (shown) that the older manure you use, the less likely you will be to find contamination.
My point is that there is plenty of research done by other research groups that supports the idea that the organic regulations we currently have — that you can use raw manure in organic agriculture as long as there is more than 120 days between the applications of the manure and harvest. That time, in my opinion, is not sufficient.
1:11 p.m. Karst: What time would be sufficient?
1:12 p.m. Diez-Gonzalez: That’s a good question, because (authorities) would have to look carefully to the scientific literature. The problem with this research field is that some people have reported more than 200 days, some people have reported actually less than 120 days, some people have reported different numbers.
My recommendation is not to give you a specific number, but that the number needs to be reconsidered in light of what we have learned in the past 10 years. This should be done by a panel of experts that can review the literature and come up with their own expert opinion and come up with a new recommendation.