The Leafy Green

There are now 171 cases of people sickened by E. coli tainted spinach from Salinas Valley. But don't worry, the Schwarzenegger administration has a plan.

True, the source of the infection hasn't been identified yet, though the Sacramento Bee reported last week,

The spinach-packaging company in the cross hairs of an investigation into a nationwide E. coli outbreak has struggled to manage its wastewater and is in violation of a state water disposal permit, according to public records and state officials.

But those violations, disgusting though they may be, may not be at the root of the problem.

And we do have a fairly good idea of where this particularly virulent strain of E. coli, known as E. coli O157:H7,in question may have originally flourished. Writing in the New York Times, Nina Planck explains,

It's not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new — that is, recent in the history of animal diets — biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms. It's the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach, growing on neighboring farms.

The fecal matter on cattle farms should be contained in "waste lagoons", but those shit pits often leak into waterways or allow their contents to seep into the groundwater.

So which does the governor's plan focus on? Strict enforcement in the spinach fields, or trying to secure the fields from outside infection? Neither. Susan Kennedy, the governor's chief of staff, intends to hold meetings to discuss "best practices" in shit-free spinach growing, but no concrete plan has emerged from any such meeting yet. But the action-hero governor isn't waiting on best practices, he's already sprung into action and proposed a plan: an advertising blitz.

The Bee reports:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he plans to promote California spinach in a commercial to help the industry rebound from the E. coli bacteria scare.

"We have to help the industry because every so often something like this happens, and we all have to really work together to help them again to get back because they are losing millions of dollars every day," Schwarzenegger said.

If that sounds more like the governor is more concerned with spinach sellers making money than the public health, there may be a reason for that.

David Murdock owns the company that distributes the charmingly-named Natural Selection foods, the brand that has been sickening people across the country. David Murdock is a good friend of Schwarzenegger's. How good? The L.A. Times' Robert Salladay notes that "Murdock and his company, Castle & Cooke, and its executives have donated $304,600 to Schwarzenegger's various campaigns since 2002."

The green of that much money could make spinach look good to any politician, let alone a champion fundraiser like Schwarzenegger, no matter how green around the gills it is making those who eat it.


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