Food Quality E-Newsletter
Dec. 11, 2008

Scientists to study safety of organic food operations
Not enough information on the subject, researcher says

Is organic food actually safer than conventionally grown and processed foods? That’s what a team of food and poultry scientists will set out to determine in a three-year study set to begin later this year.

According to Steven Ricke, PhD, a professor in the food science and poultry science departments at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, the study will focus on organic food growers to determine the frequency of pathogen occurrence.

Another part of the study will deal with safety measures used in organic and natural poultry processing plants, which are smaller than those at which conventional poultry is processed.

“Small production is usually not integrated, providing less opportunity for the control of product quality, including food safety, as in large-scale, integrated production,” Dr. Ricke said. “Almost no university research has focused on small-scale poultry production systems or their food safety issues.”

The United States Department of Agriculture defines “organic” to include poultry raised with no antibiotics, fed 100 percent organic feed, and given access to the outdoors; its definition of “natural” for meat and poultry products specifies no artificial ingredients or added color and only minimal processing.

Craig Minowa, an environmental scientist with the Organic Consumers Association in Finland, Minn., says that of all the contaminated food outbreaks over the past decade, “None of them have been tied to organic farming; they’ve all been from conventional, large-scale operations.”

Minowa said there was one recall of organic produce last year, but the cause was runoff from a nearby factory farm that contaminated area waterways later used to irrigate the organic produce.

Dr. Ricke said the study’s ultimate goal is to write guidelines for good agricultural practices.