A 45-year meta-analysis of 240 science studies found that 'organic' processed food is the same in pesticides, the same in nutrition and a whole lot more expensive.
"...there isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health,” said Dena Bravata, senior author of the paper and a physician at Stanford’s Center for Health Policy.
Translation; you are a sucker financing a $29 billion industry. Basically, organic food is Big Ag.
Meanwhile, a study in Europe found that, despite claims about being better for the environment, the organic process really only leads to slightly better soil organic matter and nutrient losses in farmland. Those benefits are washed away by higher ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions. Organic farms also had higher land use needs and greater eutrophication potential (a lot more algae so they are turning lakes into swamps) and acidification potential per product unit.
Those are big, big negatives to offset negligible positives.
Now the marketing machine is changing its argument to try and defuse concern among customers that they have been duped by corporations, the thing buyers claim to worry about when it comes to Big Ag. Here are a few marketing blitzes that are rationalizing why you should continue to overpay for food by tens of billions of dollars.
The chemical cocktail is killing you
Orrganic food has pesticides just like synthetic food, they are just pesticides 'that can be found in nature' (like strychnine), and since every study has shown they are on an alarming amount of organic food we are now told we have to worry about the super-dangerous 'cocktail' of pesticides traditional evil farmers are foisting off on us. In other words, sure, maybe that one pesticide is on organic and traditional food, but not a whole cocktail. Is bacteria from feces included in the 'cocktail'? Nope, that is only in organic food.
Have you read that cocktail argument before? You have, in the anti-vaccine community, who argue that though evidence shows there is no harm in vaccines, the 'cocktail' of more than one is causing autism or whatever the latest nonsense is. Big Science Dogma is simply not seeing it.
Pay more because you should invest in the future of food
Organic food matters because of the investment in the future of food, says Louisa Kasdon, food editor at Stuff magazine. This affirms the notion that the rich 1% who can afford organic food are exploiting a whole lot of other people to keep their shelves full of stuff to buy. If you ever wondered why poor people would support lower taxes for millionaires on the right, you need only look at the left and watch poor people being duped by a public relations campaign that says they are 'making an investment in America' by overpaying for pineapples.
Want to be happier? Buy organic food and all the colors of the world will be brighter, your smile will be nicer, and you will lose 15 lbs. Seriously, organic food can do anything. Credit: Shutterstock
It's a human rights issue
Brian Fung at The Atlantic assures us that even if organic food is not healthier, it is healthier. This is ordinarily the kind of logic that makes sense only to Whole Foods shoppers. Even if only 95% of organic food is organic it must be better for you than...what exactly? How much of traditional food is not organic? Does he know what the non-colloquial, spoon-fed-to-believers definition of organic is? Fung is all wrong thinking that 5% is only 1/20th the concern of regular food. In reality, the dozens of inorganic ingredients allowed in organic food are exactly what people don't like about any food. Organic companies are dominated by conglomerates that generate tens of billions of dollars in revenue and they like that their customers think their food has no synthetic ingredients, when that clearly is not the case and they never claim it because that would be false advertising. But they do lobby for new additions to the exempt list to make their product easier to manufacture and therefore cheaper - being not better for consumers is irrelevant to those organic corporations.
He then falls back on the 'it is making a statement' argument. Really, if Monsanto could mobilize the kind of free public relations rationalization that mainstream media does for organic food, they could save billions. He doesn't seem like a crackpot, he just doesn't understand biology: "Reducing society's chances of inadvertently creating a superbug is a good reason to purchase organic foods." What???
Chemicals are also listed as a reason to buy organic food, which shows he knows as little about chemistry as he does biology. I'd love for him to itemize this chemical-free food he is buying. If you aren't buying his pseudoscience reasons, he has a human rights doozy - if you care about farm workers, you will want them wallowing in animal feces and organic strychnine and Bt spray rather than synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. Hey, if it takes 80X as much fertilizer and all those natural chemicals seep into ground water, it's okay. Those are organic toxic chemicals!
Normal food is making your kid get ADD
CBS dutifully gave Environmental Working Group a platform for its false equivalence, since they do zero biology studies and instead simply instill fear and doubt about how dumb scientists are. Their response was claiming that they had lots of studies showing that even though pesticide levels were below a (very conservative) safe level for both organic and traditional farmed foods, the regular food was still worse. Somehow.
"These [studies] are zeroing in on types of pesticides most toxic to people. These are insecticides that target the nervous system, and they have been linked in studies of American kids with lower birth weight, ADHD and hyperactivity," said Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst for EWG, which is a meaningful title in political groups.
It's still environmentally better, even if studies say it is no better for the environment
"Organics is about production methods free of certain chemical pesticides, herbicides, irradiation, GMOs, and sewage sludge. The only reason for organics to be about nutrition is marketing," New York University professor Marion Nestle wrote to Daily Meal's Jessica Chou in an email. Nestle is a molecular biologist by degree but writes books about health food for dogs and is an often-cited authority for organic food believers. The only way she could have more impact on American foodies would be marrying President Obama.
Nestle concedes organic shoppers are confused if they think there is a difference in taste or nutritional benefit - plants are not somehow producing more vitamins than they need in one farm over another - but gives buyers an easy out. "There are questions about whether lower amounts of pesticides in the body are bad for health (here, too, the science is difficult) but I don’t see they could be good. This and other such studies are asking the wrong question."
What she means is that there is no evidence it is harming anyone. If there were any harm, advocates would say 'conclusive'. Since there is none, they say 'difficult'.
The public agrees so the science is irrelevant
The Des Moines Register's Daniel Finney invokes an appeal to popularity and qualifiers like 'not necessarily healthier' to hint to readers they shouldn't be bothered by science.
"A 2010 Nielsen study found that 76 percent of consumers bought organic foods believing they are healthier, 53 percent believed such purchases would allow avoidance of pesticides and other toxins, 51 percent believed organic foods to be more nutritious, and 49 percent believed organic farming is better for the environment."
There you have it. If marketing has convinced people that upside-down is back-and-forth, then surveys showing people think upside-down is back-and-forth are reason enough to change the definition of upside-down to be back-and-forth.
You're supporting small farmers
All organic food is produced by small farmers eking out a paltry living from the land and delivering wonderfully wholesome, natural, safe food. Right? Good luck finding those places. A few exist, I concede that, and if you can find a small farmer near you that uses no pesticides, by all means buy from them. They are probably suffering 90% losses from pests that science easily eliminates but, hey, if you want to support small farms paying 1000% more is worth it.
Get it only 'ridiculously more costly' while you can because it could soon be even more ridiculous. Every analysis shows that popularity will make organic food more expensive and while American organic food has numerous flaws, it is a whole lot safer than the Chinese kind you are buying in a Whole Foods store - rich Chinese people are mimicking the 1% in America who can afford to go organic and they recognize their own organic food is fake so they are buying more of it from America, which will lead to even more differentiation between the rich who can afford actual 'organic' food and the poor who think they are buying something healthier.
What most people are not doing is buying pesticide- or herbicide-free food from a small farmer. Horizon Organics, the largest 'organic milk' provider, is a $13 billion conglomerate. If you think all those farmers are out there milking those organic, free-range, non-GMO, no-medicine cows by hand, that's adorable - but completely wrong. Organic food is Big Ag, that is why they sue each other and fund misguided efforts like Prop 37.
Fact: More nutritious foods may be coming - they just won't be organic
Even NPR has grown critical of organic marketing - and as their media kits will tell you, their audience is rich and educated and left-wing so they are not saying anything critical unless they know it is acceptable for their Whole Foods demographic.
The future for foods that are actually more nutritious may be close, it just won't be what anti-science people call 'natural'. While 19th century farmers try to 'breed' (that is genetic optimization before 1996 - if you prefer 19th century brain surgery, this is the food science for you) vegetables that may be higher in a nutrient, the genetic solution will be more consistent. Super-nutritious microgreens are out there as a possibility, but anti-science hippies may not want them because they involve the 21st century, with its scary computers and cell phones and biology more recent than Mendel.
"Maybe, down the road, you will actually see signs in the supermarket that advertise, for instance, iron-rich beans. Maybe they'd be organic, or maybe not," write Allison Aubrey and Dan Charles.
Let's face it, organic marketing, if you have lost the NPR audience, you have lost America.
Buying Organic - It's Complicated...