October 13, 2006.
Monterey Cover-up on Cause of Spinach and Lettuce Contamination?
By Frank Pecarich
Retired Soil Scientist
Here's what I think is going on in Monterey County vis a vis this E. coli issue.
Monterey County officials stand to be in big trouble if this spinach and lettuce disaster continues to get more "light of
day". They talked farmers whose farms are located in the Castroville Sea Water Intrusion Project area into using tertiary
treated sewage effluent to irrigate 12,000 acres of high quality vegetables including leafy green spinach and lettuce.
This had never been done before in the United States on vulnerable soft tissue vegetables such as lettuce or spinach.
These are particularly vulnerable crops to E. coli pathogens anyway because of the soft cellular tissue and the fact that
they are typically consumed raw. Also, much of that CSIP cropland uses sprinkler irrigation which means that the
vegetables are getting a frequent sprinkling of water that has a chance of containing the highly toxic pathogen E.coli
There is no known cure to human infection of E. coli 0157:H7. Your body simply has to fight the pathogen by itself and
one hopes the victim's immunity system will defend itself. That's why people with weak immune systems are most at risk,
the old and the very young. You might notice the ages of the three people who have died so far with this 20th crisis. It
was a two year old who had consumed a spinach smoothie and a couple of seniors.
Now here comes the 9th infection crisis in 10 years and the State hasn't even finished writing the reports of the crisis
since 2004 and worse, a state senator now seems to be "on to them". Also seemingly terrified and noticeably desperate
is Congressman Sam Farr who has been suckered into this deceit and now has his political fingerprints "all over the
The first retort of the local officials and Sam Farr was to shout "Is he crazy?" and "What's he thinking?" in their local
press -- The Monterey Herald -- at the understandable reactions of State Senator Dean Florez to this news. When that
didn't seem to faze the Senator, Congressman Sam Farr started to try and distract the attention this bad news was
receiving and the unwanted attention of the press by suggesting that the Feds should try and trap some wild pigs for
testing. He then -- as the press later put it -- "staged" a press event where he was going to eat raw spinach in front of
the cameras. Trouble was, he couldn't find any spinach in his drive around town and looking in grocery stores. That was
widely reported in the press and so far he's 0 for 2.
Now comes October 11th and the Dean Florez-led State Legislative Hearing in the State Capitol on this matter. The
outcome of that revealing hearing was all over the news on the following day. The FDA was a no-show at that Hearing
and had sent in an unsigned document that was supposed to be "testimony". The State Department of Health, who did
at least show up, took a real beating by admitting they pretty much hadn't done anything useful on the previous cases
for the past several years. Those would be cases 17 through 19 if you're keeping score and with actual dates, no report
has even been issued on the one in 2004, two years ago. They must not want to rush to judgment...
Speaking of not wanting to rush to judgment, Salinas local State Senator Jeff Denham and a farmer by trade, has gone
on record in the media as not wanting to reach any premature conclusions before all the facts were in. He said to the
press "that he will convene his own hearing once the spinach investigation is concluded".
I would like to ask Mr. Denham that after waiting more than two years to receive a report from the State Department of
Health, what his idea of an appropriate waiting time would be? How many more people have to die while we're waiting on
the State bureaucrats, Mr. Denham? By the way, after shooting his faulty logic into the new media recorders, Denham
didn't even attend the Florez Hearing. What you have something more important to do Senator. I think I'll award you
strike three right away and not waste more time on your brand of "delusion and diffusion". Step to the back of the room…
The officials from Monterey County also took a shellacking on October 11th which was highly embarrassing since they
had bragged a few weeks ago that Senator Florez didn't know what he was talking about and that they would be pleased
to educate him. When the time came at the Hearing and their opportunity to teach Senator Florez, they were, well,
Then, less than 24 hours after the Hearing and weeks into this Inspector Closeau type "investigation", our stalwart
regulatory protectors -- the FDA and the State -- come up with an "I found a cow pie less than a mile from a spinach field
story". While they admit that they cannot explain how the E.coli 0157:H7 got to the spinach fields, or if there is any
connection at all -- and "those other farms are still not off the hook" -- we are somehow supposed to take this as good
In an article the day after the Hearing, this was written:
"This is exactly what we hoped, that they could narrow their focus and come back with conclusions, conclusions on how
the product got contaminated so we can learn as much as we can from this particular situation and enhance or improve
or change our practices accordingly," said Joseph Pezzini, vice president of operations for Ocean Mist Farms in
Castroville. And while the FDA said this does not let the other farms off the hook, Joseph Pezzini continues by saying,
"Other Salinas Valley processors and farmers also expressed relief that inspectors had traced the bacteria to a single
It should be noted here that Ocean Mist Farms is a large Castroville-based grower with most of its acreage located
within the CSIP boundary area where Monterey County uses tertiary treated sewage effluent to irrigate 12,000 acres.
Meanwhile, not one to leave a bad situation alone and just silently sneak to the rear of the room, Congressman Sam
Farr is well on his way to being 0 for 3 (or is it strike 3?) by challenging the Mexican government for it's recent banning
of California grown lettuce.
In addition, I haven't had time to do the research but chances are that Congressman Sam Farr was involved in getting
some federal funds for this modern day version of cesspool we now call Castroville Sea Water Intrusion Project (CSIP). If
my suspicions are correct about some federal money having financed this nightmare idea, that sure won't look good on
his resume. Would that be strike 4?
Yes, it's true folks, those people in places like Tijuana where raw sewage runs down their creeks and water byways now
don't want California lettuce and spinach to come into their environment. Hey, pretty soon places like Bangladesh will
order a similar embargo on California grown leafy green vegetable if this keeps up.
The local Monterey Herald reported in their story on October 12th in an obvious under-statement, "now may not be the
best time for Mexico and the United States to get into an agricultural trade dispute." Seemingly perplexed, Mexican
President Fox was quoted as saying in this same article, "With this as the basis for the Mexican government actions,
there would be no apparent basis for the U.S. government to retaliate," Fox wrote in an e-mail. "Note that other
governments ban U.S. imports without damaging their overall trade relations -- like Japan's ban on U.S. beef."
There's nothing like a little trade war with Mexico to liven things up for the good old USA and California right now. So this
one is clearly shaping up to be Sam's strike? Golly, I seem to have lost track.
Well I'm getting tired for the day and need to go take a nap but, reluctantly, I have to accuse these people of
a cover-up, pure and simple. They have been dissembling information for years it appears. It is time to put
an end to this collusion and subterfuge. Our food safety, our lives and our children's lives are at stake.
Frank Pecarich retired from the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the US Bureau of Reclamation in 1987. During his
26 year federal career he worked as a soil scientist with the USDA on the now- published Soil Survey for Monterey
County. He lives in Ventura County.