The Risk of Toxoplasmosis in Organic Pork

There is risk and danger in everything, and organic farming is certainly not the exception to the rule. While enthusiasm for organic farming methods increases, we would do well to remember the reasons for the use of conventional methods. The May 22 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases reports that the rise of organic farming may also facilitate the rise of a potentially deadly danger; Toxoplasmosis gondii, the pesky virus often found in undercooked pork. Free-grazing pigs in our pastoral farming past were largely left to roam, and often contracted the virus from consuming contaminated cat feces or other plants and animals containing the virus. The rise of box, corporate farms, for all of their negative qualities, did precipitate a large drop-off in the rate of toxoplasmosis in their pork, as the animals diets were much more restricted, as was their ability to graze.

With the trend in organic farming to let animals graze more freely, the danger exists that toxoplasmosis may become a major problem once again, this time to a population with less resistance to it. According to the Center for Disease Control, toxoplasmosis infections hospitalize 4,000 annually and cause roughly 300 deaths a year. However, the Center also says that by handling and cooking pork effectively, organic pork is no more dangerous than conventionally raised pork. That’s comforting to know, and it shouldn’t keep anyone from buying organic that wants too, but it’s important to always remember that nothing, not organic farming, not anything, is all positive or negative. Shades of gray is the name of the game. The take-away message? Keep calm, carry on, and cook your meat all the way through.