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Sunday, September 30, 2007

The story of "O"rganics

Well, I'm back after a rather long hiatus. And today, kiddies, we're looking into why buying organic/biological/natural foodstuffs are not really a good idea at all.

First of all, lets look at some definitions, shall we? (Curtesy of Wikipedia, TIME Magazine, Scientific American, etc.)

Organic Farming: A form of agriculture which largely excludes the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators, and livestock feed additives. As far as possible, organic farmers rely on crop rotation, crop residues, animal manures and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and tilth to supply plant nutrients, and to control weeds, insects and other pests.

Biological Farming: Growing of living things. All foodstuffs that are grown, reared, cultivated, etc are Biological. Quite simply, they are or were alive. This term has no real connection with HOW, WHY, WHERE or WHEN foodstuffs are cultivated.

"Conventional" farming: This is a term I will use throughout this post, to define "standard", "normal", "conventional" agricultural practice. Basically, the way farms have been run over the last 100 or so years.

Here are a few facts about Organic and conventional agriculture:

- In 2007, the USDA approved 50 NEW inorganic chemicals to be used on Organic foodstuffs.Though some of the ingredients may not be available in organic commercial form, they are still not organic and in the end, you are not getting what you pay for.

- Independent scientists have yet to document a definite, long-term negative effect of modern pesticides on our bodies.

- Organic produce is not entirely free from chemicals – it is simply that a much narrower range of such chemicals is allowed for food to qualify as ‘organic’, and they tend to be used less frequently. Given that some of the things that pesticides are designed to eliminate – like poisonous fungal growths – are pretty dangerous, that is not necessarily beneficial in any event.

- To date, studies have shown no reproduceable nutritional difference between organic and conventional produce. William Lockeretz of Tufts University told an organic food conference: ‘I wish I could tell you that there is a clear, consistent nutritional difference between organic and conventional foods. Even better, I wish I could tell you that the difference is in favour of organic. Unfortunately, though, from my reading of the scientific literature, I do not believe such a claim can be responsibly made.'

- All farming, organic or not, has an environmental impact. All farming, Organic or not, uses chemicals.

- 95% of organic produce is more expensive to the end-consumer than conventional produce.

- Organic produce that is transported using the same methods as conventional produce have similar levels of chemicals, due to contact with toxins, plastics etc during transport. The only way to counter this would be to go to a farm (conventional or organic) pick the fruit yourself, and bring it home in a cloth bag)

- Any minimal difference between organic and conventional foodstuffs are lost if the foodstuffs are processed in any way (Dried, baked, salted, made into sauces, cooked, powdered etc)

- Although Organic farming use natural fertilizers, these need to be applied in much higher quantities, and while ‘natural,’ they are still not environmentally safe in high concentrations. Too much animal waste in any one area is bad for the environment. Manure runoff is bad for our water supply. And increased fecal exposure increases the risk of e. coli outbreaks.

- Environmentally, a "conventional" local apple is probably better than organic apples from Chile, because of all of the fuel burned to bring the apple here.

Norman Borlaug (Winner of the Nobel Peace prize, and father of the "green revolution" says:
The idea that organic farming is better for the environment is “ridiculous” because organic farming produces lower yields and therefore requires more land under cultivation to produce the same amount of food. Thanks to synthetic fertilisers, global cereal production tripled between 1950 and 2000, but the amount of land used increased by only 10%. Using traditional techniques such as crop rotation, compost and manure to supply the soil with nitrogen and other minerals would have required a tripling of the area under cultivation. The more intensively you farm, Mr Borlaug contends, the more room you have left for rainforest.

T-shirt and bumper sticker nominee - "Save the rainforests! Boycott organic!"

I believe that consumers who buy organic foods are just as ignorant as everyone else about where their food comes from and how it is produced. They just buy the food for the organic label, so they can feel better about themselves.
(I myself am included in the ignorant category. I have absolutely no idea where, how, why or when my food was cultivated, although I do not purchase organic products.)
For some reason, Organic Buyers feel that Organic foods are:
1 - Healthier
2 - Better for the environment
3 - Economically feasible to purchase
4 - Will help to reduce weight / Cholesterol, etc

Although none of these things have been scientifically backed up.

Organic growers, when questioned about whether they know certain facts about organic produce, usually answer defensively. They invariably voice off marketing tag lines, misinformation and clearly altered facts, and they do so without ever having investigated any evidence that the products they are selling was grown with any less environmental impact.

This lack of substantiated information goes for Organic Buyers also. (Who also are very defensive whenever anyone raises the most basic questions)

I personally will purchase the cheapest food I can find. And all basic foodstuffs are cheap. I read a recent post about a grocery list for a 1 week menu to feed four people for €40.00 a week. There is no way anyone could ever do that with organic foodstuffs.

Well, Organics are not what they´re all cracked up to be.
They're an expensive fad-food, marketed in a way that makes people more comfortable with themselves. Every ones doing it, and nobody really knows why.
But that doesn't mean you can't eat healthy!
Try these tips on healthier eating:

- Buy produce from local growers. The further away the grower, the more toxins + pollutants your food is in contact with.

- Grow your own produce. Even if you dont have room to grow potatoes and carrots, you can always find room in your kitchen for a couple of pots for herbs, shallots etc. (If you use natural, unprocessed soil that you yourself have dug up from a forest or mountain somewhere far from civilisation, and use no fertilisers additives or chemicals, this to me is the only way you will ever eat truly Organic food.) - And it will still cost you a tiny fraction of what you will spend on shop bought produce. If you want... you could sell off your "Organic" produce for insanely large amounts of money! (Oh, wait... they re already doing that...)

- Save money by not buying unjustifiably expensive organic produce. Use these saving to purchase exotic / different fruits and vegetables you have never tried before (Prickly pears, passion fruit, gooseberry's, guavas, etc). This variation in diet will bring you more benefits than anything organically grown.

- EAT MORE VEGGIES! I am not a vegetarian BUT, I really love vegetarian food. Its more easily digestible, tastes better and makes you feel better because of the nutrients you re ingesting. Also, by eating meat, you are only utilizing about 10% of the energy used to make the meat.

To sum things up: In this post, I am not bashing Organic Agriculture. I think the idea behind it is sound. I think alternative methods should always exist. We are human, and we have the capacity to develop new strategies, ideas and solutions.

I AM bashing organic growers for disseminating misinformation about the benefits of buying organic produce. I am bashing them for hiking up the prices.
I am also bashing organic buyers, for being ignorant to the point of not finding out information about what theyre buying, and spending 3 or 4 times more money, for produce invariably of lower quality.

Ah, so thats my little rant for today. :D

Feel much better....



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1 comment:

maurobindo said...

Great post mate! I was waiting for it since our last conversation about this.

"Independent scientists have yet to document a definite, long-term negative effect of modern pesticides on our bodies." - Well, in this point I just can´t agree. It seems too obvious that it is bad. The name says it all.

But I agree with you that it´s ridiculous to buy organic food for those astonomic prices. They didn´t proved anything yet, for us to know that it is better. I use to go to the local market and buy as much vegetables and fruit that I can, that I know it´s produced by the lady that sells them to me. And it´s a lot tastier, and cheaper than the supermarket! :)