Virulent E. coli: A Gift from Agribusiness

June 17, 2013

18 Jun (GAIA HEALTH) – The very system that’s providing our sustenance is destroying it. It’s destroying the quality of our food and is well on the way to destroying the environment. Agribusiness’s response to the E. coli O plague it created is to sterilize the world,but attempting to sterilize and “improve” the food supply is what brought us to this point.

                                                                                                                                                                         by Heidi Stevenson

E. coli is a common bacterium. It is, in fact, a type of probacteria. You have it in your system right now, and your health would deteriorate if it weren’t there. Obviously, the disease outbreaks that make the papers aren’t that kind of E. coli, but rather a variant type, known as E. coli O157:H7. Why, though, are we experiencing these disease outbreaks? Could it be that Agribusiness has created this scourge?

As a disease, E. coli was unknown before 1982, when the O157:H7 variety was isolated as the culprit in a hemorrhagic colitis outbreak. It was first isolated in an ill person in 1975, though its connection to disease was unknown at that time. Since then, more and more outbreaks across wider areas have been occurring. Now, because it’s costing Agribusiness big money, they’re attempting to sanitize the world(1).

We are intimately connected to the world of bacteria. Without them, we could not exist. It’s possible to think of ourselves as sacs of cooperating bacteria—perhaps not a pleasant thought, but not far from reality. Each of our cells is virtually indistinguishable from bacteria. In fact, it’s probable that complex life arose from single-celled creatures that formed symbiotic relationships, ones that became so intertwined that they effectively formed single multicellular creatures. That process continues today, in the form of intestinal bacteria, without which we could not digest food. E. coli is one of those.

E. coli O157:H7 is a mutation of the normal and healthy probacteria, E. coli. It produces Shiga toxin, one of the most virulent poisons known. The CDC considers it a potential bioterrorism tool. It’s suspected that the first E. coli O bacterium gained its ability to produce the Shiga toxin when it was infected by a virus.

Most people who are infected with E. coli O survive with no ill effects. However, anywhere from 2% to 7% develop severe bloody diarrhea and their kidneys stop functioning, leading to death. Antibiotics do not help, and there are some indications they may make things worse. The only treatment is bedrest and plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Recent studies indicate that liberal use of probiotics may be helpful.

So what went wrong? Why did some E. coli bacteria mutate into horrific disease-producers?  There doesn’t appear to be much research into the advent of E. coli O. However, the treatment, or more accurately, lack of treatment, provides a significant clue. Virulent E. coli O157:H7 is antibiotic-resistant. That is certainly not surprising, since it arose from years of Agribusiness abuse of antibiotics in farm animals.

Without scientific studies, some may argue that it’s wrong to say that Agribusiness created the E. coli O monster. The logical connection, though, between E. coli O and its antibiotic-resistant nature is compelling. It seems apparent that it developed as a mutational response against the new gut environment created by antibiotic abuse in farm animals.

The very system that’s providing our sustenance is destroying it. It’s destroying the quality of our food and is well on the way to destroying the environment. Agribusiness’s response to the E. coli O plague it created is to sterilize the world,[1] but attempting to sterilize and “improve” the food supply is what brought us to this point.

When will we come to our senses and realize that we are human beings, not mere consumers, and that if we don’t live in harmony with our world, then our world will stop supporting us? We cannot sterilize our way out of this.

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