Organic Foods Putting Human Health, Environment at Risk

Published June 1, 2007

The Truth About Organic Foods
By Alex Avery
Henderson Communications, 2006
231 pages, $19.95, ISBN 0978895207

If you think organic food is safer, healthier, more nutritious, and more eco-friendly than conventionally grown food, you might be surprised to learn that virtually all of these claims are largely hype. As for taste and quality, those depend on far more than using manure fertilizer or natural pesticides.

That’s the gist of The Truth About Organic Foods, a provocative new book by Alex Avery, who serves as director of research and education for the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues.

Written for Non-Scientists

The book is a dispassionate examination of the organic pseudo-religion’s odd origins and unscientific basis.

Chapter by chapter, it deconstructs common perceptions regarding organic food health and environmental claims. Written for the average consumer, it provides budget-stretched families with a resource to alleviate fears and is a welcome tool with which to turn the tables on organic purists.

It should be required reading for all food reporters.

Mystic Origins

The book begins with the movement’s origins in the 1920s’ lectures of a German mystic, Rudolf Steiner, who advised farmers to use only animal manure for fertilizer, saying then-new synthetic nitrogen fertilizers lacked vital “cosmic energy.”

Steiner also recommended stuffing cows’ horns and deer bladders with manure and herbs to boost yields and ward off pests. Seriously.

In the 1930s and 1940s, social elites echoed Steiner’s belief in the superiority of manure-fertilized crops. The movement finally got its name when American J.I. Rodale published his first issue of Organic Gardening magazine in 1942.

Seventy-five years later, organic farming activists still cannot point to any credible science supporting their long-held belief that organic food is superior to conventionally grown food.

Claims Unsubstantiated

Organic believers say organic food is more nutritious. It is their founding belief. Yet dozens of experiments have concluded otherwise, as Avery notes, including organic farmers’ own research.

In the late 1940s Lady Balfour, the wealthy niece of a British Prime Minister, donated her sizeable farm to prove that organically grown food is more nutritious. In 1977, she admitted the experiment “revealed no consistent or significant differences.”

Today, the organic activist group that was created to conduct the experiment claims the issue hasn’t been adequately studied, and it hides its own research.

Fears Are Misplaced

Many consumers say they purchase organic food to avoid pesticides. However, an understanding of natural pesticides shows the folly of such logic. About 5 percent of the weight of any vegetable consists of natural pesticides, many of them carcinogenic.

According to toxicologist Bruce Ames, one cup of coffee contains more carcinogens than a year’s worth of synthetic pesticide residues–usually found on produce at only a few parts per billion (the equivalent of one second in 32 years).

Do you think conventional meat and dairy products are loaded with hormones and antibiotics? Here are the facts: More than 97 percent of all meat in the United States is totally free of antibiotics, and more than 99.5 percent is free of synthetic hormones.

Hormones aren’t even allowed or sold for use in pigs or poultry. Only one sample in 400 violates the ultra-cautious antibiotic limits set by the FDA.

Beef hormones produce leaner beef, and the billionths-of-a-gram traces occasionally found are many thousands of times less than the natural hormones found in organic meat, milk, and eggs–not to mention the hormones naturally produced by our own bodies.

Accordingly, the World Health Organization and food safety authorities in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Europe have all declared beef hormones safe.

Milk is even purer: 100 percent of it is tested for antibiotic residues with zero tolerance for even trace contamination. The biotech hormone given to cows is a perfect copy of the natural one, so the milk is in all respects indistinguishable from organic.

Organic Foods More Dangerous

Switching from phantom food risks to real ones, Avery notes organic foods have repeatedly been found to harbor more illness-causing bacteria than conventionally grown foods.

The January 2007 issue of Consumer Reports found organic chicken had 300 percent more salmonella than regular chicken, and university studies have found harmful bacteria are more likely to appear in organic vegetables than in conventional produce.

Larger Environmental Footprint

Finally, if you think organic farming is better for the planet, that too is wrong.

Just for starters, giving up synthetic fertilizer would require sacrificing millions of square miles of wildlife habitat to make more manure.

It’s high time consumers knew the truth about organic food. You will find no better or more accessible source for this truth than The Truth About Organic Foods.

Craig Rucker ([email protected]) is executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT). This article first appeared on the CFACT Web site,