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Headline of the year

There are few headlines I have enjoyed more, ever. Sadly, owing to BBC Online’s disreputable habit of invisibly editing stories, this one has lost its original title, which was:

Deadly cucumbers claim more lives

What’s glorious in this story is not just that incongruity, not amusing if you or people you know suffer organ-failure owing to an infected salad vegetable; it is the way the world stubbornly refuses to adopt superstitious man-made categories of what’s safe and wholesome. The cucumbers were deadly because they were organic.

33 comments to Headline of the year

  • Guy:

    The cucumbers were deadly because they were organic.

    As far as I can see at this point it is a mere speculation. On the one hand, not all organic produce is fertilized with manure (while, alternatively, much of it is fertilized with composted manure, where the risk of pathogen presence is greatly reduced). On the other hand there have been in the past outbreaks of E. Coli connected with conventionally-grown produce. I’d wait for a report on the particular growing practices at the specific greenhouses in question.

  • Single Acts of Tyranny

    Death isn’t funny and yet, to my shame, I too was laughing at the story

  • Death isn’t funny

    That very much depends who is dying.

  • Hmmm. It can be either good or bad, but how can it be funny?

    Conversely, me discussing manure in a first comment in a thread at 11:45AM London time…

  • Paul Marks

    Sellers of “organic” produce justify the higher prices of these goods by claiming the products are “better for you” – this example shows (yet again) that, if anything, the reverse is true. In short people are paying higher prices to put their health at risk.

    Millions of people have died because of this environmentalist cult (for it is a cult – it is a form of nature worship, and a very badly informed form). For example, the DDT ban (caused by that tissue of lies the book “Silent Spring” – or rather to the uncritical, indeed worshipful, response to the book by the American media and education system) has caused the deaths of vast numbers of human beings.

    However, Germans appear to be even more vulnerable to this cult.

    For example, the German government has just announced the wiping out of nuclear power – this will, eventually, either make Germany totally dependent on nuclear energy from France, or (if the ban on nuclear energy is sincere – not just a “no power stations round here” sort of ban) the end of Germany as a industrial society – with all the suffering and death that this would mean.

    “Renewables” are not a serious alternative in Germany (the only real “renewables” are fast breeder reators that use the fuel created by nuclear power – France has such “fast breeder” reactors, but most places in the world, quite falsely, believe them to be nuclear weapons) so the only real alternative to nuclear power is the import of oil and gas. However, oil and gas (and coal) give off CO2 – so the Germans are also opposed to this (hence my point about IF THEY ARE SINCERE they are putting themselves on the path to collapse).

    Why are Germans (who have such a high level of technical education) so suseptable to obvious nonsense, such as the Green propaganda that leads to such bad policy choices?

    I do not know.

    But then Germany, the land of such high levels of education – and such a high level of culture, is also (within living memory) the land where people believed (or, at least said they believed) that people such as myself were “poison”, a “toxin” that had to be wiped out – if real “natural” human beings were to survive.

    And what evidence was there that “Jewish blood” (for it was not a matter of belief – the National Socialists, from which the modern Green movement comes, were very plain that even a Catholic nun or a Protestant minister were Jews if their “blood” was – for this was a matter of a biological toxin, nothing to do with beliefs).

    There was no evidence at all – indeed “Jewish blood” can not even be told apart from non Jewish blood. Perhaps the most highly educated and cutured people in the world (the Germans) had fallen under the spell of an absurd myth – a cult type belief system.

    My father, Harry Marks, was never able to understand it – and his visit to Germany in the 1930s left him non the wiser. He was never able to understand why (only a few years later) his relatives (in Holland) were murdered – the Germans did not benefit from their actions (they gained nothing) and the idea that Jews were a biological toxin that had to be destroyed for the good of human health and the natural world (the environment) simply had no evidence to support it. No evidence at all.

    I am also unable to understand why so many people (often highly educated and cultured people) fall under the spell of such irational doctrines as National Socialism and Greenism.

  • Sellers of “organic” produce justify the higher prices of these goods by claiming the products are “better for you”

    No they don’t, they justify it by the fact that organic farming is more labor-intensive etc. It is a niche product, and those tend to command a premium – which no one is forcing anyone to pay, last I checked.

    In short people are paying higher prices to put their health at risk.

    I am yet to be shown credible evidence that organic food poses higher health risk than any other food (keeping in mind that all food carries some risk or other, just like everything else in life).

  • John B

    Paul,
    Is it perhaps because they are terrified and enraged at the possibility of losing control. (Death).
    They have to be in control and part of that is establishing that “something can be done”.
    Around the 1930s it was thought National Socialism, fascism, eugenics, etc could do it.
    And perhaps now we drifting back there on a very rational, intellectual, Oxbridge, aethestic, man-is-the- measure-of-all-things, cloud?
    It’s the Tower of Babel syndrome.

  • Brian

    Attaaack of the killer Tomatoes!

  • Laird

    Well, Mel Brooks thinks that death can be funny:

    “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

    Personally, though, I think “Deadly Cucumbers Claim More Lives” falls into the realm of irony. Which can be supremely funny. Especially when it happens to pompous twits who revel in their supposed moral superiority for choosing “organic” foods. (Are my Twinkies “inorganic”, then?)

  • Well, I don’t see what one’s dietary habits have to do with moral superiority, but then I’m not a pompous twit, so I’m likely to remain ignorant on that count.

    Your Twinkies are just as organic as your plastic toothbrush or the gas you burn in your car, Laird. ‘Organic’ is just a name, you know.

  • And BTW, I find the gloating at someone’s death simply because they chose to eat something you happen to disapprove of rather strange. It’s not like any of them tried to force you or anyone else to eat the stuff.

  • Jacob

    “Organic” food is a scam, a sales trick that works on gullible greenies.
    Pesticides and fertilizers are used when the inspectors are absent.
    And there is absolutely no difference between “organic” and normal vegetables. I doubt if even a sophisticated lab could tell them apart.

    Those poor Germans need to improve their hygiene, and wash the vegetables better before eating them, organic or not.

  • chuck

    For safety, cucumbers should be scrubbed with a solution of soap and chlorine, then fried, baked, or boiled ;) It’s the only way to be sure.

  • Laird

    “Schadenfreude” and “gloating” are not the same thing, Alisa.

  • Paul Marks, the Germans have fallen for the climate change is caused by CO2, we need renewable energy irrational doctrine too. So what’s new?
    It might ultimately be more destructive than the last one.

  • Bruce

    Paul, about “However, Germans appear to be even more vulnerable to this cult.”

    They seemed to do that a lot in the last century or so.

    Last time they did it on a grand scale was when another bunch of tree-worshipping kooks took them, (and tens of millions of other unfortunates), to the gates of Hell in the 1940s.

  • Robert Dammers

    >>For safety, cucumbers should be scrubbed with a solution of soap and chlorine, then fried, baked, or boiled ;) It’s the only way to be sure.<

    Only slightly at variance with Dr Johnson’s recipe for Cucumbers, which concluded, “then thrown away as good for nothing”.

    No risk of infection there, then.

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa people who sell organic products do not justify their higher prices by saying “we are more labour intensive”.

    Why should customers be interested in their costs?

    What they actually do is say “this is better for you” or “this is better for the environment”.

    They also claim that organic products taste better.

    Just about the only claim that might (possibly) be true.

    Of course the “chemicals in food are bad for you – and for the environment” argument goes back to the 1930s.

    Heinrich Himmler went on (endlessly) about how evil corporations were poising people (and the planet) with their vile preservatives and so on – and by the stuff that farmers put on the fields and…….

    See Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism”.

    This is a real puzzle.

    Germany is doing well – unemployment has just fallen to 7%, and industrial output is growing (without any “threat to the planet”).

    Yet the German people (or most of them) seem to be slipping back into insanity.

    Perhaps John B. is correct.

  • Paul, as you well know, a price of a product is a convergence between subjective values of the buyer and the seller. The seller is forced to ask for a higher price because the objective costs involved in growing organic produce are higher than those of the conventional produce. The reason he is able to find willing buyers at such higher price is because the buyers think that organic is better for them*. For the life of me, I can’t see the problem here, and how is it in any way different from any other exchange on a free market.

    *I happen to agree, not that it should matter in principle. Whether it is better for the environment I have no idea, and I doubt anyone really does. But again, if someone thinks it is, there is nothing wrong with them being willing to pay more.

  • BTW, I too think that John B. has a point. In fact, I have been toying with a theory the essence of which is that most, if not all, of our subjective problems as individuals (and, consequently, as societies) originate in all kinds of fears, with the fear of death (not only our own) probably being the chief among them.

  • Steven Groeneveld

    In recent times it has become a bit of a hobby of mine that whenever an e-coli case occurs, I scratch the surface of the media reports and, with a bit of digging, I have always found that it is “organic” produce that is implicated. The media mostly censor the fact completely or gloss over it. There have been cases of contaminated lettuce in the US. Green peppers in Canada. I refuse to buy any organic produce for the reasons that, in addition to the manure (often including human excrement) that is used, the religious avoidance of any chemicals or disinfectants allow the growth of many lethal fungi that can contaminate the produce.

  • There have been several outbreaks of e coli poisoning over the last few years and it hasn’t been limited to organic produce. The culprit may actually be proximity to factory cattle farms, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and what they feed the cattle. In the US that is corn and grains which is not their natural diet and makes their stomachs an acidic rather than PH neutral environment which is exactly what the deadly 0157:H7 strain of e coli thrives on. More information here. Runoff from CAFOs contaminates the produce and the only way to kill of the bacteria is thorough cooking.

  • Vinegar Joe

    I thought the “deadly cucumber” story was about the guy making exploding dildos.

    http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/dpp/news/Waseca-Man-Charged-in-Attempted-Sex-Toy-Bombing-jan-6-2011

  • Jacob

    Alisa, you are of course entiteled to prefer “organic” products, no good libertarian would even dream of denying you this privilege.
    But I bet that if I give you two cucumbers, one organic, one ordinary – you’ll never be able to tell which is which.

    Steven Groenveld has a point. If you don’t use chemical fertilizer you use organic fertilizer (shit). So, which one is more likeley to be harmful for the consumer ?

  • Alasdair

    Jacob – the organic cucumber is the one which has cosmetic flaws and may show insect damage … the non-organic one will be the one which looks perfect and unblemished …

    Alisa – as far as I can tell, in observing over the past few decades, the preservatives, particularly in preserved meat products, have saved many lives … food-poisoning used to be commonplace and frequent all over the planet in the early 1900s … as preservatives in meat became more commonly-used, there were fewer and fewer cases of food-poisoning – to the point where it is considered “News-worthy” when a group of people in these United States are stricken with food-poisoning …

    As Jacob says, no libertarian will deny you the privilege/right to prefer ‘organic’ food – but *I* will suggest that you may wish to consider that you *are* exposing yourself to more potential risk by doing so …

  • no libertarian will deny you the privilege/right to prefer ‘organic’ food

    Probably not, but some of them will feel a well-justified schadenfreude at my death of food poisoning, while if I felt the same about their death from conventional-food poisoning, such feelings on my part probably would not go down as well.

    As to risk, my mind is open – but it is open to actual numbers, not unsubstantiated speculation such as the one Guy engaged in in his original post above. And with even that said, life is full of risks – we just pick the ones we happen to like better (or dislike less).

  • John K

    I wish someone could point out to the Germans the death rates from a) nuclear power and b) cucumbers.

  • John K,
    Both are so minor as to hardly pass comment upon. Libertarians are frequently keen to point out that statists use ridiculous “risk analysis”. Let’s not do the same thing shall we? Organic farming is very silly in many ways but this isn’t really one of them.

  • John K

    Nick:

    Given that cucumbers (organic or not, I really don’t care) seem to have killed 16, and nuclear power in Germany zero, I think it’s a fair point. Hell, even Fukushima didn’t kill anyone as far as I know, whereas Gaia killed 20,000. I did have some respect for Merkel, but it seems she is as deeply venal as all the rest of her scum sucking tribe, quite willing to trade the future of her country as an industrial power for a few more pointless months in office.

  • Jacob

    From a libertarian-philosophical standpoint – an interesting question would be: should the government have a role in enforcing regulations related to food hygiene and safety?
    Should gov. issue regulations as to what fertilizer and water you can or can’t use in growing vegetables? In Israel, for example, it is forbidden to use waste-water (even treated, purified waste water) for growing vegetables. Makes sense, but is it the proper role of gov. to enforce this ?
    Should the gov. regularly inspect food shipped to the markets, to ensure it’s within prescribed parameters – i.e. not rotten, not tainted ?
    Are such activities compatible with a minarchist state ?

  • Jacob: only in cases where there is a plausible possibility for an epidemic – so, in our example, the regulation of the use of manure as fertilizer should qualify.

  • Are such activities compatible with a minarchist state ?

    The legitimate role of a minarchist state is dealing with actual collective threats rather than the vast raft of regulations of a huge range of behaviours and activities that modern states intrude into.

    …so some sort of military (external invasions are clearly a collective threat not amiable to personal remedies)…

    …some sort of internal security to back up the individual right of defence (i.e threats such as domestic terrorists or mafia-like organisations that can threaten everyone)…

    …preventing/putting out fires (when a city burns, everyone is threatened as a fire does not respect property lines)…

    … and preventing plagues (tainted water or malarial mosquitoes or infectious diseases also do not respect property lines).

    So my answer would be “yes, at least to some extent”. I could see some role for a nightwatchman state in preventing any broad threats to the food supply. Rotten food? Not a collective threat and something better settled by a mixture of caveat emptor and tort. Unheathy food? No, mind your own fucking business. Diseased food? Yes, a collective threat.

    Of course the devil is in the details.