Thousands of illnesses linked annually to organic foods


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    The WHO press release made no mention of organic products and the report referred to will not be published until October 2015 – where is the actual evidence?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!

    • 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.