Eighty Percent Of Cities Studied In Developing Nations Use Untreated Wastewater For Irrigation: And FDA Is Surprised About Salmonella Contaminated Peppers

contaminated mexican peppers water policy briefing image

Jalapeno Peppers and Salmonella: What's the Root Cause?
US print media continue to mince words about the summer-long, Mexican peppers linked, salmonella outbreak. What makes the general reluctance to 'tell it like it is' especially galling is that everyone knows it is best not to drink the tap water in Mexico. This is not some politically incorrect condescension: every tourist book warns visitors to avoid the water and salad greens or unpeeled fruits and vegetables because they might be 'washed' with contaminated water. Washington Post documented the facts about the recent Salmonella outbreak - and the bureaucratic (FDA) reaction. Mexican peppers posed problem before outbreak
Food and Drug Administration officials insisted as recently as last week that they were surprised by the outbreak because Mexican peppers had not been spotted as a problem before. But an Associated Press analysis of FDA records found that peppers and chilies were consistently the top Mexican crop rejected by border inspectors for the last year.

Since January alone, 88 shipments of fresh and dried chilies were turned away. Ten percent were contaminated with salmonella. In the last year, 8 percent of the 158 intercepted shipments of fresh and dried chilies had salmonella.

It is not just a food quality issue for US citizens. Mexicans suffer disproportionately from water borne disease. Sometimes the root cause is failed wastewater treatment, as in this case: Water-borne transmission of chloramphenicol-resistant salmonella typhi in Mexico. From the summary:
In mid 1972 an outbreak of typhoid due to a chloramfenicol resistant strain of Salmonella typhi occurred in a small village in central Mexico. 83 cases were recorded, with 6 deaths. The highest attack-rates were for the age-groups 1-14 and 45 and above. Most patients lived in an area of the village with the highest population density and the lowest income levels, close to an irrigation canal which traverses the village.

One outbreak is not a trend, of course, but the irrigation canal is the substantive point.

Here's the overview. The Mexico Secretariat Of Health reported in Children’s Health and the Environment in North America - A First Report on Available Indicators and Measures Country Report: Mexico, that:

Diarrheic illnesses persist as a serious problem among the child population. These diseases are transmitted by contaminated food and by drinking water. Data from 2003 indicate that 95 percent of drinking water is disinfected, although in that year, 17 percent of the population did not have water of appropriate bacteriological quality. Although national sewer system coverage and access to drinking water have increased significantly over the last 20 years, in 2000, one of every four inhabitants lacked sewer system access and one in ten lacked household potable water. In rural areas, the lack of access to both services continues to be a major problem.
US FDA Act Surprised about Peppers and Salmonella
US FDA food safety experts act surprised that crops grown in Mexico are occasionally contaminated with salmonella bacteria? They shouldn't be surprised at all. When protracted drought strikes, as it certainly has in Northern Mexico, farmers can be expected to use the water resources available to them: wastewater discharges tend to have steadier flows than natural streams, under drought conditions. There is a strong potential for use of untreated wastewater for irrigation.
Many of the major cities in developing countries are using untreated or partially treated wastewater to irrigate nearby farmland, according to the International Water Management Institute (IWMI)...Wastewater, mainly produced in cities, is directly used to solve the shortage of irrigation water in many developing countries. The IWMI says that wastewater irrigation occurs on around 20 million hectares of farmland across the developing world.

The authors of the report surveyed 53 cities across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. They found that over 80 per cent of the cities studied used untreated or partially treated wastewater for agriculture.

Via::SciDev.net, Wastewater 'widely used' in urban agriculture, report finds

International Water Management Institute (WMI) has positive designs for managing wastewater to make it safe for irrigation. See the report Recycling Realities: Managing health risks to make wastewater an asset here for details (pdf file download).

Reality Check Vacation For FDA Bureaucrats and Reporters
A field trip might clear things up about the import pepper patch. Let's send a delegation of FDA "food experts" and newspaper "food reporters" on all-expense-paid-trips to rural Mexican farm country to observe some produce exporting farms. Taxpayers might benefit if they foot the travel bill for this road trip on the condition that the "experts" drink only unfiltered tap water and eat a salad every day. Those able to return to their jobs immediately afterward can keep their positions.

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