If people don't want organic food, I could generally care less except for one thing: efforts to put legal roadblocks in the way of locally grown food. For example:
A few years ago our Senator Jon Kyle, after taking large campaign contributions from Monsanto, submitted the American Food Safety bill that was prepared by Monsanto. This Bill would make home gardeners, local community gardens and small local growers jump through the same hoops as the multi billion dollar food corporations. I believe that it was generally accepted that this was an attempt to force people to buy from the large food conglomerates - at least that is my belief.
The families of the people who work in the factory farm system are also affected.
You can see talks  on both these subjects in the Edible Education course from Berkeley , hosted by Michael Pollan and Raj Patel. I can recommend the whole series, and the ones from previous years.
That is the exact reason I've often chosen organic for years. People used to say "Its no better for you" and I'd reply "Maybe, but its better for them, the workers"
An organic fungicide: copper sulfate pentahydrate (aka CuSO4)
A non-organic fungicide: iprodione (aka Rovral)
LD50 of CuSO4: 472 mg/kg (rat) 
LD50 of Rovral: 2g/kg (rat) 
So straight up, the organic is four times more lethal to mammals. But that is just the beginning, because you have to use a lot more of the organics! How much would Farmer Joe have to use on his small, 10 acre plot? Assuming the worst, lets look at the maximum seasonal application.
rate of CuSO4: 16 pounds/acre per season 
rate of Rovral: 12 pints/acre per season 
Skipping the basic algebra, in one year Joe could apply enough organic fungicide (72.5kg) to kill 1700 people. One year of non-organic (1.3kg) would be enough to kill 7 people. (Assuming a spherical man of 90 kg.)
edit: ambago, you are full of bunk. The USDA has very strict guidelines for labeling. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_certification
The organophosphate (e.g., methyl chlorpyrifos, dimethoate, methidathion and methyl parathion) pesticides used in conventional agriculture have half lives of a little less than a week to two weeks on the surface (and a half life of years in water and soil), while pyrethrins have a half life of hours in sunlight and 2 weeks in soil.
Both organophosphates and pyrethrins have toxic effects on mammals, but one is less likely to be present on purchased produce since, at least, four half lives (97% degraded) will have passed for pyrethrins, in a single day.
In the extreme, organochlorines (e.g., aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin and dicofol [OK, DDT and such are in this class too]) were spayed on conventional crops. These have half lives measured in years (on the surface), and their residues are found, in the environment, decades after specific compound bans.
Finally, US grown rice/citrus contains arsenic (there is no safe limit established for inorganic arsenic) because of conventional pesticides containing arsenic being sprayed on cotton fields (California rice/citrus is generally safer than that grown in Southern states).
All this said, I believe (opinion) that USDA organic allowing the use of so many pesticides was a give away to big ag, so they could participate in the "organic craze" without substantially changing their production practices. Personally, I buy pesticide free vs. organic when available.
edit: From source :
> Chronic toxicity: Vineyard sprayers experienced liver disease after 3 to 15 years of exposure to copper sulfate solution in Bordeaux mixture . Long term effects are more likely in individuals with Wilson's disease, a condition which causes excessive absorption and storage of copper . Chronic exposure to low levels of copper can lead to anemia 
So yeah, its still bad for you.
USDA National Organic Program: http://goo.gl/OUCAXM
USDA National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances: http://goo.gl/YXLUJ5
I have heard the argument that organic pesticides must be used in higher quantities, but never that they are more toxic than synthetics.
The latter statement seems nonsensical on its face. It's very difficult to believe that, given years of testing and research into both synthetic and organic pesticides, so many people are getting it so wrong as to conclude that organics are safer when they are exactly they opposite.
In fact, non-organic farming proponents aren't even making this claim to my knowledge. At most, they seem to advocate that non-organics aren't less healthy than organics.
In chemistry, an organic chemical is a compound that contains lots of carbon, or carbon chains. The loophole allows the use of these organic compounds as pesticides. The downside is that these are typically much more of a broad spectrum than the cutting edge pesticides. This means that unlike the new narrow-spectrum pesticides (which are often designed so they only affect the physiology of a specific order of invertebrate) the old-school organic chemical pesticides are harmful to pretty much everything it comes in contact with.
Here is some more info on the issue:
And one last one that explains a bit more on organic chemicals:
That's a very US-centric point of view. It was banned in the EU for a reason.
But I was replying to someone who said they live in Central Arizona. Ironic that Atrazine is produced by a Swiss company and can't even use it in their own country.
Food born illness is a serious problem (~48 million people will have some form of it in the US this year). Just look at the articles on people who are fatally poisoned by things like greens and cantaloupe.
The act attempts to address this by making sure food is properly traceable back to source and cleanliness measures are taken along the way. This is most certainly in the public interest, and the intent is not to promote big agriculture but to insure process and accountability. It doesn't actually prevent you from growing and consuming food from your own garden, but when you distribute that food, the government should be able to make sure you aren't doing things like watering it with raw sewage. This is overdue in my opinion. It's just like restaurant inspection. Necessary. Small growers shouldn't be exempted from putting people at risk. They can and should grow and process food cleanly, they should keep records, and if they are unable to, they shouldn't do it.
TLDR; not a conspiracy but a reasonable and overdue precaution.
Food borne illnesses are, in fact, a serious problem but regulations that crush the small farmer aren't the answer. Large scale farming may be incredibly efficient at producing food but they are equally efficient at propagating food borne illnesses.
Promoting small farms when possible is beneficial to society and the planet for a host of reasons, including the reduction of food borne illnesses. Nature abhors monoculture and always fights to restore ecological diversity.
I didn't say that eliminating the enforcement of cleanliness standards would reduce illness, rather I said crushing the small farmer isn't the answer and suggested that more small farms would reduce illness.
Example (from Michael Pollan's excellent book "The Omnivore's Dilemna"): FDA regulations that require slaughterhouses to have a private restroom reserved for the FDA inspector.
For a large multinational corporation processing tons of meat per day, that is a drop in the bucket. For a small slaughterhouse processing maybe a handful of cattle/week during peak slaughtering season, that's a much more substantial cost.
People like Michael Pollan are ideologues (a good writer...I have read "Botany of Desire") but you have to take some of their views, particularly on science, with a grain of salt. Something like Micheal Moore. Not that he isn't often right but...... then there is reality.
And (to reply to a parent) I don't understand how insisting on and legislating sanitary food production, record keeping and food tracking has anything to do with mono culture and isn't a reasonable precaution.
Considering that slaughterhouses process the entire animal, and thus
have to deal with whatever happens to be on the hooves or skin, or
inside the viscera, it may be that a separate restroom is actually
a method of reducing the risk of cross-contamination.
At any rate, this blog post provides the quote in question, from page 229 of "Omnivore's Dilemma" though it turns out it's the USDA, not the FDA that is mentioned.
Here's the quote:
"The problem with current food-safety regulations, in [small farmer Joel Salatin’s view], is that they are one-size-fits-all rules designed to regulate giant slaughterhouses that are mindlessly applied to small farmers in such a way that “before I can sell my neighbor a T-bone steak I’ve got to wrap it up in a million dollars’ worth of quintuple-permitted processing plant.” For example, federal rules stipulate that every processing facility have a bathroom for the exclusive use of the USDA inspector. Such regulations favor the biggest industrial meatpackers, who can spread the costs of compliance over the millions of animals they process every year, at the expense of artisanal enterprises like Polyface [Salatin’s farm]."
Perhaps highly opinionated, but ideologue? How much science is he getting wrong, and how much of that is because he actively denies it?
It's like advocating that food trucks shouldn't be subject to health inspections and then saying we would all be healthier eating from this food trucks instead of restaurants.
The idea is that industrial agriculture is far more likely to produce illness. So industrial agriculture + regulations can have a higher likelihood of producing illness than small agriculture without regulation.
And since regulations stifle small farms, lower regulations on small farms can decrease the incidence of food borne illness by decreasing the percentage of food that comes from industrial agriculture.
You make good points on food safety, definitely important, but I personally feel more secure buying food from the same local farmers every week or so at our local farmers markets than food that is grown on huge farms and shipped from long distances.
I have the same opinion about meat. I would rather buy locally grown free range chicken from small local farms than chicken grown in small cages living in their own poop.
All that said, we are supposed to be a free country, so I feel like it is important to maintain the rights of both people like you who prefer food from large grocery stores, and also people like me who like my food raised by very nearby local small farmers. Really, why shouldn't we both get what we want?
How do you know that locally grown food is organic unless someone checks? Local grown and sold food doesn't necessarily mean "organic" it just means locally grown. Pesticides and chemicals are available for local growers too.
Unless you grow it or personally know where, who and how they grow the food you will not know what are you getting.
A lot of "farmers" I know (not in this country but in a country with a non-functioning FDA or USDA) have 2 lots. One lot to grow the food to sell and one to grow for themselves. The pesticide the shit out of one they sell. Nobody checks. Still looks good and pretty and people buy it and sellers make money.
As a farmer myself, I find something intriguing in your comment. I take away visions of someone using way more chemical than necessary when reading this, but that stuff is expensive. There is no reason to use more. It's always considered a blessing when you don't have to use any, even if we assume the environmental/health impact is zero. Judicious use of pesticides can improve plant health and increase yields, but that happens in every country.
I guess I'm curious about what you are trying to say? A those "farmers" you referred to really that reckless with their incomes (never mind anything else that goes along with it) in a business that has incredibly slim margins?
My gramps had a vinyard and an orchard. Pesticides are a bitch to use. Windy the next day? A bit of rain? Dew too strong? Well screw you buddy, you get to re-do everything because it's as if you didn't spray at all. Ha ha.
And those stupid grapes wouldn't even grow without pesticides. They're so bloody fragile and finnicky. Sometimes the whole thing would go belly-up because gramps would miss the spraying window by a few days (due to weather).
Seriously, anyone who is passionately against pesticides has never tried to make money off of food production. And anyone who's worried about pesticides having residual effects on them (and doesn't get in direct contact with the stuff) has never tried to make pesticides stay on those god damned plants long enough to work.
Well, if we're going to be fair about it, the fact that it washes off the surface of plants so easily doesn't mean it's just gone and not causing residual effects elsewhere.
True, but I have better things to worry about than this health food craze americans seem to be going through. I've been living here for several months and I honestly think most people here are insane. So much worrying about everything! Live a little, sheesh.
Maybe SF is especially bad.
In my country we have a saying: "You keep the nice apples for yourself, you sell the rotten ones to city slickers as organic."
 my main gripe with the organic anti-chemical food craze is that we simply don't have enough arable land to feed everyone if we stop using GMO's and pesticides and all that stuff. We were actually supposed to all have been starving by some 20 years ago, but then we invented cool things. But I guess we can always get rid of all the rainforests to compensate and we're all gonna be so super healthy and chemical free. Hoofuckingray.
I think the same people who prefer organic food might also be wise enough not to eat three large servings of beef every day, which is what is killing the rain forests right now. And how many % of good food are being thrown away nowadays? Something like 30%? Simply because supermarkets want to have everything on the shelves all the time, and people buy without planning. There is still a lot of room for experimentation before we starve.
The vision is spraying with the deadliest and sometimes illegal pesticides (DDT and other things).
The "shit of out" is comparing to "0 pesticides". That means plucking bugs by hand in the evening from potatoes, weeding by hand, watering by hand.
> Judicious use of pesticides can improve plant health and increase yields, but that happens in every country.
Nobody is arguing with that, but given that these particular people I know (friend of relatives and so on) don't have time or language skills to read scientific literature what "judicious" amounts are.
> A those "farmers" you referred to really that reckless with their incomes
That is usually seasonal they have other business. They are not reckless they are just capitalists. They are maximizing the profit. The vegetables that look bigger, shiner and of which they can have a greater yield will maximize their profit.
My mom has a small garden (and I helped her around when I was little), it takes a LOT of time to pluck all insects from just potatoes. That is time just for that can easily be 4-6 hours. Also plucking in the evenings is like reading a book on dark side of Mars, in a barrel.
You can't spot the fuckers in low light, you need best light available so only morning and in the afternoon will do.
What this comes to is this, if you use 0 pesticide that means you have to pay workers to do so which means lower efficiency and higher prices. Price for organics should (under given circumstances) be between 4-10 times more expensive.
I'm curious to know which pesticides fit this description.
This page lists many "less toxic" insecticides - http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/pests/pesticide/hgic27....
The replies in this thread from people claiming to be farmers are odd -- what crop? It seems pretty important. It sounds like it's hard to grow certain wine grapes some places, ok, but why do we have lists of the 'best' and 'worst' fruits/veggies to buy organic? They have less pest problems to begin with is my assumption, but I'm not really a farmer [beyond 10'x10' of herbs and veggies in the backyard].
insecticides: Bacillus thuringiensis Cry proteins (used both in organic agriculture and in Monsanto's Bt lines), RNAi
Concentrated urine as well.
However, the statement in question was explicitly regarding pesticides, not herbicides. And, implicitly, the context is those pesticides which are in use at scale on non-organic crops.
So, while there was also an implication that we're talking about pesticides that might see practical use, I'm really not even holding out that requirement. I'm just inquiring into the names of those pesticides that are benign to both humans and the environment.
For more information about 'particle films' (like kaolin spray) see this document. There are numerous compounds mentioned and very interesting references too. These techniques also can be mixed with conventional pesticides and achieve the same efficacy as pure pesticide.
Particle Films: A New Technology for Agriculture - http://blog.meyvelitepe.org/images/Book_Chapter_Particle_Fil...
"At the present time, a commercial particle film material, Surround crop protectant, is being used in about 90% of the Pacific Northwest pear market for the early season control of pear psylla and approximately 20% of the Washington State apple market to reduce sunburn damage."
It is as though words in human language can have multiple meanings.
> 1. any substance used in or resulting from a reaction involving changes to atoms or molecules, especially one derived artificially for practical use
In the UK, the Soil Association (organic standards body) claims  that pesticides are used "Very rarely" on organic farms. So it strikes me as quite odd that there's all this discussion about organic pesticides as if their use is on par (or even greater than) non-organic pesticide use.
Everything is a chemical?  How about outer space, warmth, love, freedom, sunshine, and rainbows?
Similar legislation was enacted btw:
But it had some provisions excluding smaller operations from federal oversight.
My senator, Jon Kyle, has a history of supported nutty bills, BTW.
When George W. Bush was president, he proposed a bill that would create a small national committee that would have the power to have any university professor fired because of their political views. Being a senator does not guarantee rational behavior :-) when I wrote to my Senator about this Bill, his response was very unsatisfactory in my opinion, but now that a democrat is president, I doubt he would like an Obama appointed committee to have the same powers!
It'd also like more information about the university professors, I either didn't notice at the time or completely forgot about it.
Where I live in Montana they can sell at the farmers market or roadside stands without jumping through too many hoops but for whatever reason they need to package things to sell it in stores (a store owner explained that otherwise too much liability falls on the store but i'm not sure that is it).
So I can go to a small locally owned store and buy a one pound bag of spinach grown just down the road and put in the bag by the farmer but I can't say, pick out a few local apples (or squash or bulk salad mix) unless I actually drive up the road to the orchard/farm or go to the once a week farmers market.
"Some home gardeners end up being small local growers" is sort of an answer, but why mention them both if you are only talking about the situation where "home gardener" is (at least becoming) a stretch?
I was mostly curious if mark_l_watson meant to include people growing for their own table or not. The expected impact on people growing to sell small amounts is also interesting. Figuring out what we each would have called the various possible delineations prior to the discussion is not very interesting.
(I would think the big impacts would be things like requiring people to disclose that they were reselling something, which I see as a positive for the buyer, without being particularly onerous)
Was it just Monsanto? They are a relatively small business of the businesses that deal in agriculture. I'd be surprised if the bigger companies would let them have free reign over the decision making process like that (though I'm sure they're happy to have Monsanto as the fall guy, so to speak). The only reference to the bill, with respect to who wrote it, that I could find said it was prepared by multiple corporations.
The market cap is just 63B. In comparison, a Walmart is 240+. The main reason they are smaller than their competitors is that they separated their biotech arm from their chemical company roots, while most of their competitors are still mainly chemical companies: BASF and DuPont. If we just compared their seed-producing operations though, Monsanto is probably larger, but it's not as if I've checked the numbers.
The thing about political influence is that it's not really about size, but about being in a position so that you do not have clear opponents. Farmers as a whole do not dislike Monsanto, or they'd not buy their seeds. They tend to lower crop prices, so it's not as if the next level in the food production chain has a problem with them either. So, as far as getting laws that are helpful to them, their one opponent is certain kinds of environmentalists. It's how lobbying works: It's easier to get a few people to spend a lot of an effort than to get a whole lot of people to do very little.
I concur, who are these hidden giants?
Also, when many people read "I could care less", they assume the writer has a deficiency in their education and/or attention to detail. Seldom is it advantageous to write "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less".
"No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce (and the researchers note that because few people have phosphorous deficiency, this has little clinical significance). There was also no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though evidence from a limited number of studies suggested that organic milk may contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids."
I haven't read the papers yet. For me, organic food means I'm not paying someone to add XYZ to the environment, and I like that. The risk assessment has not been done, and (see other comments) environmental affects are widespread and very troubling.
- full paper, source article: Higher antioxidant concentrations and less cadmium and pesticide residues in organically-grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. http://csanr.wsu.edu/m2m/papers/organic_meta_analysis/bjn_20...
- full paper, Stanford article: Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?
If you buy only the tastiest plants and animals I will guarantee you a healthy diet.
There are some standards varying by country some government enforced some not, and those standards have changed over time. This data seems to encompass data from many countries over a long period of time. This means how something is classified in the organic bin or not in highly inconsistent in the data set.
The paper seems thin on how they classified the data as organic or not, looks like they took that source data's word for it.
I am very skeptical anytime someone uses such vague terminology such as organic. Most compounds considered "synthetic" are technically organic in a chemical sense. When does something become synthetic? After all many forms chemical synthesis involves basic forms of human preparation (mechanical separation and cooking). How much human modification of a raw material crosses the line into syntheses? Manure vs compost vs fertilizer. The distinction varies by country/law/standard/organization/person.
For instance the paper says they included "biodynamic" techniques as organic. Never heard of this before, looking into it it seems akin alchemy, mixing spirituality with farming protocols.
The "natural" vs standard medicine debate overlaps in many way with this issue and is full of pseudoscience that pervades and pollutes the information available.
Main rules, taken from the EC site:
- Crops are rotated so that on-site resources are used efficiently
- Chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, antibiotics and other substances are severely restricted
- Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are banned
- On-site resources are put to good use, such as manure for fertiliser or feed produced on the farm
- Disease-resistant plant and animal species adapted to the local environment are used
- Livestock are raised in a free-range, open-air environment and are fed on organic fodder
- Animal husbandry practices are tailored to the various livestock species
My point of varying and changing regulation stands as well, the EU original regulation went into effect in 1993, however I am not clear on what enforcement in which countries actually occurred when. It seems it had major revisions in 2007 and took some time overall for standards to be enforced fully.
I also find it interesting that the formal regulation for "organic" restricts but still allows "synthetic" fertilizers and antibiotics. It shows the reality that the line is draw arbitrarily.
GMO is a similar issue. If genetic modification is done in a lab it's labeled GMO and bad, if it's done through breeding it's not and ok. Corn, wheat, cows, pigs, chickens and all domesticated crops and livestock exist due to genetic modification by humans, they are genetically modified organisms, now we are simply arguing over how their genes are being modified not if.
This is actually worse than you present it, because the "GMO" label is not applied to variously laboratory techniques like repeated exposure to mutagens followed by detailed analysis to determine which subjects have mutations of interest, followed by selective breeding, more exposure to mutagens, etc.
The actual distinction usually made with the misleading "GMO" name is between genetic modification by inclusion of specific genes from another species ("GMO") vs. all other methods of modifying a genome (not-"GMO").
This actually ties into a problem with the degree to which "organic" labelling is meaningful, since usually organic is defined as including non-GMO using the misleading definition of "GMO".
The following paper describes the problem in detail regarding GMO classification: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC510...
Some relevant quotes:
"Examination of the exact language of the excluded methods definition at 7 CFR 205.2 will
bring out the key issues.
1. A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and
development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are
not considered compatible with organic production.
The phrase “not possible under natural conditions or processes” has become problematic
in the context of “traditional” breeding methods that involve disruption of normal plant cell
growth. For example, mutagenesis can be a process in which chemical or radiation stress
is applied on a cell to force mutation to happen, but it also commonly occurs in nature and
at least some of the mutagenesis chemicals are derived from nature. (More on
mutagenesis under 5. traditional breeding). The concept of "natural" is not defined in any
regulations and is very blurred after centuries of humans manipulating the environment and
plants, animals and microbes."
"5. traditional breeding,
This term is assumed to include breeding methods that have been used prior to the
emergence of transgenic technologies. It is not clear at which point traditional breeding
techniques are divided from modern or non-traditional breeding techniques. Is there a time
point at which all techniques before that time are considered traditional and all new
techniques developed after that time are not considered traditional? The use of
transposons (see below Part B) since the 1930's or chemical, physical, and biological
mutagens since the 1940's are blurring the distinction between traditional breeding and
The same goes for GMO stuff, it's your prerogative to redefine words in any way you see fit, but lab-GMO and breeding-GMO are a conceptually real categories and there's nothing arbitrary about differentiating them.
My point point being there is not intrinsic nature of something that can make it "organic" in the organic food definition. If one pesticide is allowed in the US and not int the EU definition of organic that is arbitrary.
So when someone says GMO it assumed to be what exactly? Targeted gene inertion? Mutagenesis? What about marker assisted breeding? Each one of these is a continuum of progression from "conventional" breeding. All of them are human induced genetic modification, drawing the line at targeted gene insertion is arbitrary.
"Room temperature" is arbitrary, but 75F is better than 100F or 0F
This saves us from the debate every time where somebody talks about how all our food and animals are GMO. The real destroyers of the American food supply are the 7 major crops that have been transgenically modified with bacteria that produces insecticide and herbicide resistant bacteria so they can spray the crops with herbs: Corn, soy, cottonseed, alfalfa, papaya, canola, sugar beets.
Edit: Here's some good info about terminology I guess: http://iddl.vt.edu/courses/HORT4764/lessons/seeds/seeds_page...
You're right about "biodynamic" being ridiculous. All biodynamic farming, however, adheres to organic input regulations.
If you had some critique of the actual National Organic Program, that would be a more interesting avenue of inquiry.
You can't just call something "organic" and get away with it. It actually has legal specifications.
I don't really care if people want to consume so-called "organic" food but the pseudo-scientific conversation surrounding it makes me cringe.
...and this if further complicated by the fact that this paper is based on combining data from almost 150 other studies.
"Demand for organic foods is partially driven by consumers’ perceptions that they are more nutritious. However, scientific opinion is divided on whether there are significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods, and two recent reviews have concluded that there are no differences. In the present study, we carried out meta-analyses based on 343 peer-reviewed publications that indicate statistically significant and meaningful differences in composition between organic and non-organic crops/crop-based foods."
Unfortunately, the idea that anti-oxidants are good for you has always been scientifically shaky, and as more studies have been done, it's increasingly looking like anti-oxidants may be unhealthy.
So, the message of this study is, avoid organic food?
The combination of studies shows not that "antioxidants are bad" but that we don't understand how to isolate their benefits. Diets high in antioxidants from whole foods (dead plants and animals), rather than nutraceuticals or supplements, are consistently linked with health. Apparently it's not so simple as isolating one compound -- we need a balance of chemical compounds coming in, working in concert.
(It's like we evolved to thrive on real food instead of pills! Weird!)
Different soil conditions could lead to deficiencies -- if you only "eat local" you might have to pay attention to selenium or magnesium (http://tin.er.usgs.gov/geochem/doc/averages/se/usa.html) due to geography or geology. But setting aside deficiency, what chemical would we want to load up on in isolation?
(ok, caffeine comes to mind. but that's not really for health, and I get it pretty well from ground plant products.)
I'd like to see a study that dismisses labels like "organic"/not and look for the nutritional content AND poisonous content.
That way, we'd find the best current/future farming methods available instead of this inane religious branding war between marketing giants.
First, how is the European standard of "organic" defined exactly? Both the UK's and US' seem to cover the basics (no growth hormones, limited herbicides and pesticides use, must feed the animal organic foods, etc.), but fertility and biological standards in the soil might vary. It is possible that that UK might have naturally less-polluted soil than the US (fewer heavy metals?), contributing to the difference. Also, organic doesn't mean hormones or pesticides-free; rather, it just defines which pesticides can be used and are not as detrimental to the environment. There might be different standards here too.
UK's standard: https://www.gov.uk/converting-to-organic-farming
US' standard: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/NOPOrganicStandards
Secondly, most organic studies in the states dive into which fruits/vegetables are subject to the most pesticide use. Apples, strawberries, and grapes seem to have the most in the US, but avocados, corn, and pineapple have the least. Studies that make blanket statements like "organic foods are better for you" without acknowledging the differences in the cultivation and biology of different species are lacking in my book.
Extensive List: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php
I'd buy organic, mostly for the more humane way farmers treat livestock and lower environmental pollution, but I'm still not convinced that organic is nutritionally superior or has levels of pesticides that prove harmful to humans.
I'm curious what convinced you that they are equally healthy in the first place?
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090729103728.ht...
Stanford study (others referenced this): http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2012/09/little-evidenc...
Those aren't conclusive and I'm open to being wrong, but this recent UK study seems to be the among the first to find significant differences. I bring up the organic definition in the US vs UK as a possible explanation for the results.
"Organic" food is what we've eaten since the beginning of time. It'd make sense that you'd have to show that the alteration you're introducing to the natural state of affairs isn't detrimental to health of the consumer. I.e., I'm making the same argument as you, I just consider unaltered food to be the baseline.
Also, "organic" is a weird name. Organic as opposed to what? Bananas made out of mineral oil?
To take your example, the wolf -> chihuahua would have been frankensteining had it been over the course of a singular or very small amount of generations.
Actually, we have not been eating organic food since the beginning of time. Most of the crops we consume today have been developed fairly recently in evolutionary terms (farming began only 12,000 years ago). Humans did not evolve exposed to fruits and vegetables we see today. Any farmed crop is not natural.
In fact foods we eat in nature can be regarded as those that kill us too slowly to notice - we avoid the others.
And cultivated crops are those we've bred to have less and less of the undesirable parts. We've inserted ourselves into the plants' genetic path for mutual benefit - we plant millions of them, and they feed us.
To eat truly 'natural' you'd have to eat things like crab-apples (grainy and bad ph - eat more than one and get a stomach ache) or tiny barely-sweet melons etc. Melons a thousand years ago were barely larger than an orange, with a couple of tablespoons' worth of edible parts. Thank the Arabs for breeding the mutant freaks we enjoy today!
I'd rather be in the control group for this loosely organized experiment.
The conventionally-grown food looks similar, tastes similar, and people have been eating it for decades with no major, obvious consequences. So at first glance they are equivalent. So it seems reasonable that the burden would be on proving a difference, rather than an equivalence.
Conventionally-grown food looks like organically grown food on steroids, to me. I suppose from the outside a human on steroid may look healthy -- Mr Universe, even -- but we know all is not well inside.
I'm not saying that's really related, but there is substantial evidence for real differences in the makeup of food grown conventionally vs organically.
Citations 10-15 in the paper the original article pertain to this - protein expression differences across fertilization types.
Quantitative proteomics to study the response of wheat to contrasting fertilisation regimes - http://vwordpress.stmarys-ca.edu/bdf2/files/2013/05/wheat-an...
"... The abundance of 111 protein spots varied significantly between fertilisation regimes. Flag leaf N and P composition were significant drivers of differences in protein spot abundance, including major proteins involved in nitrogen remobilisation, photosynthesis, metabolism and stress response."
And quite honestly, I doubt that Moore had genetic engineering and todays massive (ab)use of pesticides in mind when he first stated that law. He might even have added an exception ...
That's fine, but this really doesn't inform consumer decision making in a valuable way. Many consumers would hear this and immediately assume that consuming organic food is safer, which isn't well-supported.
Note that low levels of toxic chemicals can often be completely harmless (if you want a better explanation than that, buy http://www.amazon.com/dp/0815340761 and read the section on the Ames test, dose response relationships, and why tests aren't useful predictors of risk at low concentrations.
>"Demand for organic foods is partially driven by consumers’ perceptions that they are more nutritious. However, scientific opinion is divided on whether there are significant nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods, and two recent reviews have concluded that there are no differences. In the present study, we carried out meta-analyses based on 343 peer-reviewed publications that indicate statistically significant and meaningful differences in composition between organic and non-organic crops/crop-based foods. Most importantly, the concentrations of a range of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were found to be substantially higher in organic crops/crop-based foods, with those of phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols and anthocyanins being an estimated 19 (95 % CI 5, 33) %, 69 (95 % CI 13, 125) %, 28 (95 % CI 12, 44) %, 26 (95 % CI 3, 48) %, 50 (95 % CI 28, 72) % and 51 (95 % CI 17, 86) % higher, respectively.
>"Many of these compounds have previously been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including CVD and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers, in dietary intervention and epidemiological studies. Additionally, the frequency of occurrence of pesticide residues was found to be four times higher in conventional crops, which also contained significantly higher concentrations of the toxic metal Cd. Significant differences were also detected for some other (e.g. minerals and vitamins) compounds. There is evidence that higher antioxidant concentrations and lower Cd concentrations are linked to specific agronomic practices (e.g. non-use of mineral N and P fertilisers, respectively) prescribed in organic farming systems. In conclusion, organic crops, on average, have higher concentrations of antioxidants, lower concentrations of Cd and a lower incidence of pesticide residues than the non-organic comparators across regions and production seasons." //
From the paper:
> Funnel plots, Egger tests of funnel plot asymmetry and fail-safe number tests were used to assess publication bias (37) (see online supplementary Table S13 for further information).
(Some fail-safe tests are completely worthless and misleading, but I haven't looked to see which they used.)
> Strong or moderate funnel plot asymmetry consistent with a publication bias was detected for approximately half of the parameters. However, it is not possible to definitively attribute discrepancies between large precise studies and small imprecise studies to publication bias, which remains strongly suspected rather than detected where asymmetry is severe (see Table 1 and online supplementary Table S13).
There's a table of all the endpoints they looked at, like the various antioxidants, with a column grading none to high:
> Publication bias was assessed using visual inspection of funnel plots, Egger tests, two fail-safe number tests, and trim and fill (see online supplementary Table S13). Overall publication bias was considered high when indicated by two or more methods, moderate when indicated by one method, and low when indicated by none of the methods. The overall quality of evidence was then assessed across domains as in standard GRADE appraisal.
A copy-paste of the publication bias column and then a `xclip -o | sort | uniq -c` says that there were 16 parameters where publication bias was estimated to be low or 'none', 17 'medium', and 3 'strong'. That said, publication bias tests are considered to be fairly weak in that you need a lot of studies to be confident bias isn't there, and looking at figure 3, the # of studies for the parameters may vary from what looks like a low of 4 to a high of 332; so the publication bias estimate for the latter will probably be good, but the former means next to nothing.
I'd be happy if they actually put hypotheses out there why organic food would be better, come up with a possible mechanism, and test that.
Cadmium (which they state as the one metal that comes with lower concentrations for organic food), for example, can be part of certain fertilizers. Cadmium also depletes anti-oxidants. So, it might just be the case that getting rid of these fertilizers, would get rid of the differences between organic and non-organic food...
Without studying the underlying mechanisms of uptake and use, we will never know.
My grandpa who had an orchard was not into organic farming at all, but also he already used wasps to get rid of certain insects. I think it's important to know what happens down there on the field and to me "organic" comes across at times as a marketing trick, but's that maybe me. :-)
More info? Did it go from .0000000002mg/kg to .0000000001mg/kg?
I'm not very satisfied by this summary.
The higher prices associated with organic produce seem like they could be a big temptation for bait-and-switchers. I know there are stringent certifications, but the incentive is there.
We had to compress the title to fit.
The reason I preferred to post the press release was simply because it explains the significance of the study and gives a little history, something that might not be obvious if I simply linked to the paper directly.
Unfortunately, my comment wasn't seen by many :-(. It would've been nice if one could post some supplementary text when submitting a link.
This case was unusual because the subject was controversial, the thread ballooned quickly, and the link to the paper got lost.
I thought the reporting on this survey was so weird. Headlines trumpeting "NO DIFFERENCE!" Antibiotic-resistant bacteria freak me the heck out. Pesticides don't seem so tasty. And that CAFO chicken tastes like styrofoam -- being a vegetarian is no loss if you only know that *&^!. But a piece of pork that really tastes like pork..... mmmmmmm....... Doesn't anyone buy food for the taste anymore?
There's also an important array of distinctions between ingredients that are "not organic" (whatever that means): genetically modified food needs to be in a separate bucket from food that came from non pesticided crops, etc...
Overall, people will be stunned to find out how beneficial OGM foods are over their natural counterpart, and how much of it they're already eating on a daily basis without realizing it, and being more healthy for it.
I wonder if people think it's reasonable to consider the hidden incentives in study that come up positively for Organics? After all, organic is usually:
- much more expensive (ability to charge a premium / higher margin)
- suppliers can maintain a semi-monopoly by limiting who gets to use the label "organic"
These characteristics, are afterall, a business's dream, not the ability to sell a commodity in an int'ly competitive market.
However to your "business's dream", organic products are more expensive to buy because they're much more expensive to produce. If we actually look at businesses in operation, the vast majority seek to minimize selling price by doing everything possible to minimize production costs, which is the opposite of your claim.
No, the organic food fight has always been about should we reap the (positive) economies of scale that are so abundant in agriculture? That's the cost structure of concern here and it only applies to one side - those currently taking advantage of those efficiencies. We were able to feed society with family farms, it just took 90% of the population to be farmers.
Especially since large farms can easily be more environmentally-friendly, mostly through fuel savings, and market the hell out of that.
98% of farms in the US are still considered family farms by the USDA.
The rise of organic food was more about sustainability than nutrition from what I've read (quite a few books). Reducing the use of pesticides, crop rotation, careful ways to not strip the soil of nutrition, etc...
I've always worked under the presumption that the "it's healthier" argument wasn't the case (despite the clever wording of marketing when big food got their hands on Organic).
there are many, many advantages to 'modern' food production - this is why we did it to begin with. the economic advantages may cause the problem where the quality of the food drops in some ways but other advantages potentially balance it out.
it also seems to be a bit arbitrary as well... the 'artificial processes' used to improve food quality are often used on 'organic' foods as well. especially when they 'just' make the product better.
Organic is the convention, intensive factory crops are the new kids on the block. This whole frame of reference is the wrong way round.
This immediately made me wonder if organic crops are also "up to 69%" more expensive? If so, it kinda balances out (you eat less organic food to compensate for its price).
Is it the same players that have been doing this since the 80s, or is there someone disrupting the industry?
Sometimes there simply isn't a conspiracy...sorry.
(Now if it were Microsoft on the other hand:)
Reading some of the answers here, I am having a first hand experience on how strong the lobby is.
My guess is that, they are full time employee. There should be hierarchical overseeing managers and performance review, for it to be this much effective.
* Antioxidants have lost a lot in recent studies in terms of supposed health benefits. Mentioning antioxidants without reference to today's antioxidants and health research is implying a not-proven health benefit of organic food for antioxidants, while the health benefit can only soundly be expressed for the lower levels of pollutants.
* There is no link to the paper or a preprint of the article.
Apart from this, it is great to know that organic food is less polluted than conventional food (and it would be great if we got those numbers down for conventional food as well).
Even more interesting, the heavy metal claims. Heavy metals are generally leeched from the soil and to conduct a test such as this you need two very different plots of land. If the heavy metals were in the solutions applied to the conventionally grown crops, then it would be pretty easy to know where they came from and alert the governing agencies. Therefore, they came from the soil.
Although there are no real enforced standards for organic in US, most private companies that set the standards have some specifications for the soil. If you were to convert a field from conventional to organic, the general rules state that the field needs to become farrow and tested for at least 7 years. In theory this does gets rid of chemical pesticides, but there are no major studies to prove it and there is no impact on residual heavy metals.
And as someone that grew up in the produce, food and beverage business I will say that just because something is labeled organic, it does not mean it is organic. It certainly does not mean that the private company they chose to "inspect" there farms followed through with all of their privately chosen standards. My family's company has caught more than a few competitors and business partners cheating the system, selling organic product in quantities that the industry knows the company cannot meet in terms of production.
General rule of thumb for buying organic: is it smaller and more "meh" looking than the conventional fruit or vegetable... it's probably organic. If it's processed and packaged... it's anyone's guess. There certainly is no governing body trying to enforce standards. After all, regulations would only cut the profit margins for the already established major organic players.
There are now (as of early 2000's I believe). They are defined and there is an actual federal organic certification with clear rules about what comprises organic. I don't believe one can legally call a product organic in the marketplace without this certification.
"(OFPA) states that no person may affix a label to,
or provide other marketing information concerning, an agricultural product if that label or information implies, directly or indirectly, that such product is produced and handled using organic methods, except in accordance with the OFPA" (exceptions provided for producers selling less than $5,000 a year).
What you say about metal levels in soils is insightful.
"The study, published today in the prestigious British Journal of Nutrition..."
The study, entitled “Higher antioxidant concentrations and less cadmium and pesticide residues in organically-grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses,” is nowhere to be found, either on the BJN website, or elsewhere on the web.
Until the peer-reviewed results are out, consider it as hype, not science. I wish I could mod down the submission.
To ignore the chemistry while waiting for epidemiologists to come to questionable conclusions seems odd to me.
Thanks to the countless variables present when people are involved, epidemiological studies are always subject to debate.
Knowing as a raw fact that carbon monoxide irreversibly combines with haemoglobin told me a long time ago that smoking is a mug's game I was likely to lose. I didn't need later 'reassurance' from epidemiology to persuade me give up.
Have we not learned that "peer-reviewed publications" are of questionable value due to the on going debate on peer-reviews.
Also, it was a metastudy, which can address non-systematic variation in poor studies (it wouldn't necessarily protect you against systematic variation, for example if "all peer reviewed studies were flawed in the same way".
Reason I haven't dropped this after being down voted over 5 times. Having had a son who went through the whole cancer deal and then realize that so much of the cancer research is flawed due to bad peer-reviewed papers that caused loss of years of research makes me always question "peer-reviewed." It needs to be replicated and the data needs to be open. Science and especially medical research is seriously damaged by the lack of either one of these.
Studies like this actually build on previous studies, and if carried out properly, address many issues about individual publications.
I take it as an evidence that this is one of those "taboo" subjects that everyone expects everyone else to know definition of, even though not sure themselves.