A Vintage Article About Sproutpeople

Dear Sproutpeople- here is the article I am submitting to Twin Cities Wellness for the November issue. Hope it does the story justice. Thanks, Robin A.

Save the Sprouts

Crispy, curly, and the very symbol of health food, sprouts would seem to be the most angelic of veggies. In fact, the nutritional value of sprouted seeds and beans is pretty stunning, and the latest all star is broccoli sprouts, containing 50 times the cancer preventive sulfuraphane of broccoli. Whether it is the mung sprouts in your stir fry or the alfalfa on your sandwich, these life charged little seedlings are fat free, cheap and good for you. Yet our own FDA has issued statements discouraging people from eating sprouts, and the sprouting industry now hangs in limbo. The story of how this came about is both complex and depressingly political. The story begins in 1995, when 242 cases of salmonella were linked to sprouts. The infected seeds were traced to a shipper in the Netherlands, whose warehouse was full of birds and rodents. A year later the California Department of Health began investigating another salmonella outbreak which was linked to sprouts. When the investigators raided the sprouter, who was found to be growing sprouts under very unsanitary conditions. The seeds were cultured, and none of the strain of salmonella that had sickened people was found, but another strain was. The case prompted state wide raids on sprout growers, all of whom should have been subject to regular Health Department inspections before this happened. Neither of these cases involved organic growers or seeds. The FDA then began its campaign to warn the public about all sprouts.

The latest and most damaging statement was issued by Jane Henney, the Head of the FDA, in July 1999. It read in part: Because of reports of increasing numbers of illnesses associated with consumption of raw sprouts, the FDA is advising all persons to be aware of the risks associated with eating raw sprouts (e.g.,alfalfa, clover, radish). Those persons who wish to reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses from sprouts are advised not to eat raw sprouts. Since 1995 raw sprouts have emerged as a recognized source of food borne illness in the United States... The Sproutpeople, a sprout growing outfit in Gays Mills Wisconsin responds to the situation on their website, www.sproutpeople.com. According to the Sproutpeople, the highest incidence of outbreaks linked to sprouts was in 1995-96, and it is down 60% from that now. They also point out that alfalfa and clover are the ones that were contaminated, not all sprouts. Organic sprouts, which are carefully regulated by Third Party inspectors, have never been linked to an outbreak. The recommendation of the FDA on how to deal with the problem at the sprout grower’s end is to soak seeds in a solution of 1 part water to 1 part household bleach. Obviously, this is not in line with Organic growing practices. Soaking the seeds in bleach, a known carcinogen, has not even been shown to work, by the Agency’s own admission. Dumping bleach on the sprouts and in our water supply is not part of the mission of most sprout growers. Organic sprouts’ relative safety seems to point the way to the true cause of the contamination of the sprouts, not at the sprouters, but at the seed source. Organic Growers can only use composted manure on their fields, while commercial growers can use raw fecal material on theirs.Composted manure has been heated by it’s own fermentation, which kills the germs. Raw manure also contaminates the water used on fields in agricultural areas. The Sproutpeople make a convincing argument that the salmonella is getting on the seeds in the fields, and then thriving on the commercial sprouts. The crowded conditions of animals, the use of antibiotics, and the dumping of their manure into the water supply are all implicated in the growing problem of food borne illness in this country. According to Morris Potter, director of the Food Safety Initiative at the FDA, When I started working on food-borne pathogens many years ago, salmonella was only found in foods of animal origin. Now it’s in fresh produce. Robert Tauxe, from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta acknowledges the role of changes in farming-In the past 50 years we have moved from small family farms to animal cities with thousands of animals all in the same apartment complex. Any time you bring that many animals together there is the opportunity for infections to spread.

The depressingly political part of all this is the way in which the FDA has targeted the defenseless sprouters, who have no clout, while staying snugly in bed with the monied interests of the meat, poultry and dairy industry. The fact is, less than of 1% of all salmonella outbreaks are attributed to sprouts. 93% of the 4 million cases of salmonella in this country this year are caused by -you guessed it- meat, poultry and dairy. Yet the FDA would never tell you to stop eating them. These industries are in need of many reforms to make our food supply safer, but they lobby to prevent legislation that might hurt their profits. The sprouters have no lobbyists, and since the FDA issued these warnings, The Sproutpeople have seen sales drop by 50% as stores and restaurants have stopped serving unbleached sprouts, and are not alone in facing the loss of their hard earned small business. The FDA also paints organic and commercial sprouts with the same brush, again for political reasons. The government has taken pains to avoid endorsing organics in any way, to avoid making the other guys look bad. Rather than clean up the food supply and regulate the handling of sprouting seed the same way we do other foods, the FDA throws the sprout out with the bathwater, as if safe sprouting were impossible. If you want to learn more about this issue, please visit www.sproutpeople.com, and follow the links. Or write your State Representative, Senator, or President and ask them to put some pressure on the FDA to clean up the food supply and save organic sprouts.

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