Organic Food Myths

Is it a revolution in health and the environment, or a counterproductive fad?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Consumer Ripoffs, Environment, Health

Skeptoid #19
January 5, 2007
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
Also available in Russian
 

Today we're going to walk into a specialty food market and purchase one of the most trendy, popular, and correspondingly overpriced products on the market today: Organic food.

Organic food is a conventional food crop (genetically exactly the same plant variety as the regular version) but grown according to a different set of standards. In this sense, organic food is really the same thing as kosher food. The food itself is identical, but it's prepared in such a way to conform to different philosophical standards. Just as kosher standards are defined by rabbinical authorities, the USDA's National Organic Program sets the requirements for foods to bear a "certified organic" label. Basically it forbids the use of modern synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in favor of organic equivalents, and for animals it requires that they have not been kept healthy through the use of antibiotics. There are other rules too, and the basic goal is to require the use of only natural products throughout the growth, preparation, and preservation stages.

Organic food is more expensive than conventional food, due not only to its lower crop yields and more expensive organic fertilizers and pesticides in larger quantities, but mainly because it's such a big fad right now and is in such high demand.

Why is that? Is organic food healthier? Does it make an important political statement? The usual arguments boil down to three: that it benefits small farmers rather than big evil companies; that it's somehow healthier to eat; and that the cultivation method is better for the environment. Rather than accepting these emotionally satisfying benefits at face value, let's instead take a skeptical look and see what the data actually show. Let's take these three claimed benefits one at a time.

All right, let's take for granted the position that major food producers deserve to be struck with a blow. I'm sure the starving millions in Africa appreciate the sentiment.

Make no mistake, organic food is big, big business. The days when the organic produce section of the supermarket represented the product of a small local farmer are long gone. California alone produces over $600 million in organic produce, most of it coming from just five farms, who are also the same producers of most non-organic food in the state. 70 percent of all organic milk is controlled by just one major milk producer.

Five or ten years ago, when the major food producers saw that organic food was coming into vogue, what do you think they did? They smelled higher prices charged for less product, and started producing organic crops. Nearly all organic crops in the United States are either grown, distributed, or sold by exactly the same companies who produce conventional crops. They don't care which one you buy. You're not striking a blow at anyone, except at your own pocketbook.

Trader Joe's is a supermarket chain specializing in organic, vegetarian, and alternative foods with hundreds of locations throughout the United States, centered in organic-happy Southern California. Shoppers appreciate its image of healthful food in a small-business family atmosphere. Really? In 2005 alone, Trader Joe's racked up sales estimated at $4.5 billion. The company is owned by a family trust set up by German billionaire Theo Albrecht, ranked the 22nd richest man in the world by Forbes in 2004. He's the co-founder and CEO of German multi-national ALDI, with global revenue in grocery sales at $37 billion. According to Business Week, the decade of the 1990's saw Trader Joe's increase its profits by 1000%. Trader Joe's also compensates its employees aggressively, with starting salaries for supervisors at $40,000. They hire only non-union workers. Now, to any capitalist or business-minded person, there's nothing wrong with any of that (unless you're pro-union or anti-big business). It's a great company, and very successful. Trader Joe's customers are willing to pay their premium prices to get that healthful image. But they should not kid themselves that they're striking a blow at big business and supporting the little guy.

I'm not exactly sure why anticorporatism wound up on the organic food agenda, since it's so counterintuitive. The irony is that the organic food companies supply a smaller amount of food per acre planted, and enjoy dramatically higher profits, which is why anticorporatists hate corporations in the first place.

Did you ever wonder why Chinese drink only hot tea? They boil it to kill the bacteria. Most local Chinese farming uses organic methods, in that the only fertilizers used are human and animal waste: Without being boiled, it's basically a nice cup of E. coli. In the case of China and other poor nations, the reason for organic farming has less to do with ideology and more to do with lack of access to modern farming technology.

The National Review reports that Americans believe organic food is healthier by a 2-1 margin, despite the lack of any evidence supporting this. When you take the exact same strain of a plant and grow it in two different ways, its chemical and genetic makeup remain the same. One may be larger than the other if one growing method was more efficient, but its fundamental makeup and biochemical content is defined by its genes, not by the way it was grown. Consumer Reports found no consistent difference in appearance, flavor, or texture. A blanket statement like "organic cultivation results in a crop with superior nutritional value" has no logical or factual basis.

Some supporters of organic growing claim that the danger of non-organic food lies in the residues of chemical pesticides. This claim is even more ridiculous: Since the organic pesticides and fungicides are less efficient than their modern synthetic counterparts, up to seven times as much of it must be used. Organic pesticides include rotenone, which has been shown to cause the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease and is a natural poison used in hunting by some native tribes; pyrethrum, which is carcinogenic; sabadilla, which is highly toxic to honeybees; and fermented urine, which I don't want on my food whether it causes any diseases or not. Supporters of organics claim that the much larger amounts of chemicals they use is OK because those chemicals are all-natural. But just because something is natural doesn't mean that it's safe or healthy — consider the examples of hemlock, mercury, lead, toadstools, box jellyfish neurotoxin, asbestos — not to mention a nearly infinite number of toxic bacteria and viruses (E. coli, salmonella, bubonic plague, smallpox). When you hear any product claim to be healthy because its ingredients are all natural, be skeptical. By no definition can "all natural" mean that a product is healthful.

Consider the logical absurdity proposed by those who claim conventional growers produce less healthful food. To the organically minded, conventional growers are evil greedy corporations interested only in their profit margin. What's the best way to improve the profit margin? To buy less pesticides and fertilizer. This means they must use far more advanced and efficient products. The idea that pesticides leave dangerous residues is many decades out of date. Food production is among the most regulated and scrutinized of processes, and today's synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are completely biodegradable. They're supported by decades of studies that demonstrate their total safety.

In the United States, 2006 brought two major outbreaks of E. coli, both resulting in deaths and numerous illnesses, ultimately traced to organically grown spinach and lettuce. According to the Center for Global Food Issues, organic foods make up about 1% of all the food sold in the United States, but it accounts for 8% of E. coli cases.

Organic methods require about twice the acreage to produce the same crop, thus directly resulting in the destruction of undeveloped land. During a recent Girl Scout field trip to Tanaka Farms in Irvine, California, one of the owners told us his dirty little secret that contradicts what you'll find on his web site. Market conditions compelled them to switch to organic a few years ago, and he absolutely hates it. The per-acre yield has been slashed. Organic farming produces less food, and requires more acreage.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

Many so-called environmentalists generally favor organic farming, at the same time that they protest deforestation to make room for more agriculture. How do they reconcile these directly conflicting views? If you want to feed a growing population, you cannot do both, and soon won't be able to do either. If you support rainforest preservation, logically you should oppose organic farming, particularly in the developing world. On the other hand, if you demand organic soybeans, then you should have the courage to stand up and say that you don't care whether black and brown people around the world have enough to eat or not.

I'm not making this stuff up. For every dreadlocked white kid beating a bongo drum in favor of organics, there is a Ph.D. agriculturist warning about its short sightedness and urging efficient modern agriculture to feed our growing population. Personally I like forests and natural areas, so I favor using the farmlands that we already have as efficiently as possible. This benefits everyone. I say we dump the useless paranormal objections to foods freighted with evil corporate hate energy, and instead use our brains to our advantage for once. When we find a better way to grow the same crop faster, stronger, healthier, and on less acreage, let's do it. We all benefit.

Brian Dunning

© 2007 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Armstrong, Larry. "Trader Joe's: The Trendy American Cousin." Business Week. McGraw-Hill Companies, 26 Apr. 2004. Web. 4 Nov. 2009. <http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/04_17/b3880016.htm>

Avery, Dennis T., Avery Alex. "Tainted Spinach Raises Big Questions of Manure on Food Crops." Center for Global Food Issues. Center for Global Food Issues, 27 Sep. 2006. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <http://www.cgfi.org/2006/09/27/tainted-spinach-raises-big-questions-of-manure-on-food-crops/>

FDA. "FDA Statement on Foodborne E. coli 0157:H7 Outbreak in Spinach -- 9/20/06 Update." US Food and Drug Administration. US Federal Government, 20 Sep. 2006. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2006/ucm108740.htm>

Guthman, Julie. Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. 1-237.

Halberg, N., Kristensen, I. Sillebak. "Expected Crop Yield Loss When Converting to Organic Dairy Farming in Denmark." Biological Agriculture and Horticulture. 1 Jan. 1997, Volume 14, Number 1: 25-41.

Kava, Ruth. "Is Organic Produce Better?" American Council on Science and Health. American Council on Science and Health, 12 Mar. 2002. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.228/news_detail.asp>

TJ. "Trader Joe's Jobs." Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's, 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 4 Nov. 2009. <http://www.traderjoes.com/jobs>

USDA. "National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances." United States Department of Agricutlure: Agricultural Marketing Service. US Federal Government, 25 Sep. 2008. Web. 22 Oct. 2009. <http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateN&page=NOPNationalList>

Zorb, C., Langenkamper, G., Betsche, T., Neihaus, K., Barsch, A. "Metabolite Profiling of Wheat Grains." Journal of Agricutlural and Food Chemistry. 1 Jul. 2006, Volume 54, Number 21: 8301-8306.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Organic Food Myths." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 5 Jan 2007. Web. 1 Nov 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4019>

Discuss!

So... why I buy organic food.

Organic food industries have reached out to people with food allergies. They do this, I am sure, because they are used to following strict standards on what can be in foods (and many chemicals they oppose that are in normal processed foods are not food allergy/intolerance friendly, and this is not obvious to the consumer) and because it helps them expand their market. Gluten-free foods (not just a tag on normal products but bread, crackers, pizza etc made from grains like rice instead of wheat, rye, or barley) are made primarily from organic foods and are usually also vegetarian, egg free, dairy free, vegan, low sodium, and organic. In other words, they will appeal to people other than just those with gluten intolerance.

Now, if I did not have this condition, I would see little reason to stand in a dimly lit area of Wegmans in the gluten free aisle of the organic section. I pay more a week for bread mix than most people spend on bread to feed their family for a week. But for me the other option is to never eat bread.
So to be honest, I'm very happy that there are people who eat organic food. It means my specialty food is a bit cheaper since it can be sold to people without my condition. I know, selfish reason. If more normal processed foods were safe, I would eat them.

Bailey Meeker, Geneva, NY
January 5, 2007 4:01pm

I buy organic vegetables because we've got a friend who's an organic farmer. If he switched to conventional, I'd keep buying from him. (This is just in the interest of full disclosure.)

But I absolutely agree that the organic food "movement" is heavily freighted with ideology and claptrap. I don't so much mind idiots practicing idiocy on their own, but I get very annoyed (and not a little alarmed) when they try to compel me to do likewise. The literal terrorism of "animal rights activists" has made veal almost impossible to find.

It's noteworthy that for millennia, food restrictions have been a very strong way to enforce group identity. Modern food activists are simply practicing a form of "leftist halal" to demonstrate their membership in a particular tribe.

Cambias, Amherst, MA
January 6, 2007 9:52am

Thank you for that wonderful exposé of the poor standards applied to organic food production in the USA!!!

We are so grateful that we live in France, where the vegetarians have not yet taken over, and organic [b]mixed[/b] farming can thrive, without the need for all those poisons listed in your piece.

Our beef, veal, lamb, wheat flour, sunflower oil and assorted vegetables in season all come from an organic mixed farm on the Normandy/Ile de France border. We visit the farm once a month to pick up our order, know the staff who run the place, and inspect both fields and animals when we wish. The farm is totally self-sufficient, except fot salt-lick! During the drought of 2003, this "inefficient" organic farm supplied fodder to its conventional neighbours, whose impoverished soil could not retain sufficient moisture to prevent the pastures from shrivelling in the intense heat. In that year also, their wheat crop was the best they had ever had, and the best yield per hectare of any farm in the area. The animals on this farm are regularly tested by the local government veterinary inspector, and have not required treatment for parasites for several years.

Our milk, butter, cream and Neufchâtel cheese we buy direct from an organic dairy farm in Normandy. When the present owner began the switch to organic ten years ago, the neighbours without exception scoffed and told him he'd be ruined in five years. After four years, he was already getting better crops of maize to feed his cattle in winter than any of them.

It should be noted that organic farmers in Europe do not receive subsidies, unlike their conventional counterparts.

As for the price, for all this produce we pay less than supermarket pr

Anne & Archie, Nr Chantilly, France
January 7, 2007 2:07pm

Wow! You're ahead of the curve on this one. check out http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6238227.stm

J. D.

J. D. Mack, Silver Spring, MD
January 7, 2007 9:30pm

Interesting debunking, however, you don't mention anything about what I considered the main reason to buy organic products while I was living in the USA: the heavy use of antibiotics. What's your take on this ?
Don't you think it's a valid reason to buy organic products, at least for meat and dairy products ?

cedric, Seoul
January 8, 2007 2:24am

Again, the antibiotics approved for use in meat & dairy animals are among the most heavily tested and scrutinized products on the market. Decades of research has demonstrated their total safety. There are plenty of CLAIMS out there about these being harmful, but no valid research that's met any kind of acceptance within the scientific community. Such antibiotics leave the body very quickly, there is no "residue."

Interestingly, many of the same people who protest this type of care for animals have no problem putting the exact same antibiotics directly into their own body when they're sick.

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
January 8, 2007 7:23am

I wonder in there is an opinion on something like the 100 mile diet:

http://www.100milediet.org/

I actually try to support my local farmer, be it organic or conventional. Though much easer in to do in the summer I store what I can for the winter.

Sven Heinicke, Yardley, PA
January 8, 2007 8:41am

Your concern for acreage and efficiency makes no mention of the benefits of eating lower on the food chain--organic or otherwise. Most of that forestland is being cleared to make room for cattle grazing, since Americans have an insatiable appetite for cow carcasses. Cutting back on meat would mean that farmland is used more efficiently--growing food crops for human consumption, instead of animal consumption. Try guilt-tripping yourself for eating meat instead of guilt-tripping organic shoppers for avoiding synthetic pesticides.

Matt, Tucson, Arizona
January 12, 2007 8:27am

You seem to willfully discount any evidence against your target of the day, and only play up the evidence supporting your case. I think a more honest assessment would say that there is evidence to support both sides of the argument. I realize this is the Skeptoid site and you see your role as one of myth-debunker, but the science isn't as clear cut on this one. It's clear that organophosphorus pesticides are bad news for farm workers, with the resulting health impact ranging from respiratory problems to a variety of cancers and even birth defects. Clearly, accumulating that stuff in your body isn't a good idea. As a parent, that goes double for my kids. This study: http://www.ehponline.org/members/2005/8418/8418.pdf found that the level of organophosphorus exposure in children dropped like a rock when they were switched to an organic diet. This meets your criteria of being measurable. How about some acknowledgement that the science isn't definitively pro or con on this one? For a citation on pesticides: http://www.ehponline.org/members/2006/8526/8526.html
It's an eye-opener, and proof to me that your line, "They're supported by decades of studies that demonstrate their total safety." is a crock.

Chris Moyer, Decatur, GA
January 26, 2007 1:42am

Regarding Chris Moyer's reference to the article in Environmental Health Perspectives. The article is clear in stating that "clear linkages" with health problems have only been made for extreme exposure. I suppose I don't want to ingest pesticides, but I may prefer a moderate amount of that as opposed to higher priced food. Here is the abstract of the article:

Abstract
A major goal of studying farmworkers is to better understand how their work environment, including exposure to pesticides, affects their health. Although a number of health conditions have been associated with pesticide exposure, clear linkages have yet to be made between exposure and health effects except in cases of acute pesticide exposure. In this article, we review the most common health end points that have been studied and describe the epidemiologic challenges encountered in studying these health effects of pesticides among farmworkers, including the difficulties in accessing the population and challenges associated with obtaining health end point data. The assessment of neurobehavioral health effects serves as one of the most common and best examples of an approach used to study health outcomes in farmworkers and other populations exposed to pesticides. We review the current limitations in neurobehavioral assessment and strategies to improve these analytical methods. Emerging techniques to improve our assessment of health effects associated with pesticide exposure are reviewed. These techniques, which in most cases have not been applied to farmworker populations, hold promise in our ability to study and understand the relationship between pesticide exposure and a variety of health effects in this population. Key words: b

Don Jennings, Torrance, CA
January 27, 2007 10:55am

I just went back and listened to this podcast again - didn't realize I could actually read it until now - because of an ad that I heard on the radio for our local organic food store. I found it interesting because they're claiming that their produce has 50% more nutrition and that the "bad" non-organic stuff has something like 20 different poisons on it. (This is approximate since it's from memory - guess I'll have to listen to the show they sponsor to hear the ad again.) How can they make these claims - couldn't they be charged with false advertising or something?

Leslie, Buffalo, NY
February 10, 2007 6:46pm

I am a pretty skeptical person, but this is one-sided. While there is some hype around organic food, there is no question in my mind that the food I buy from my local farmer's market, or Whole Foods, tastes a hell of a lot better than the plastic crap you get elsewhere. Yes, I am willing to pay more for an apple that hasn't been coated in pesticides and petroleum. Sure, we can tolerate a small amount of pesticides, but what no one has considered is the culmination of all the toxins we ingest. I started eating organic food a decade ago and will never go back. I feel great, have tons of energy, and look much younger than people my age. My physical health is measurably better than it was a decade ago, despite the fact that I get very little sleep and tend to be a workaholic. And I am not some kid with dreadlocks and a drum. Give me a break. If you're going to be a skeptic, why don't you talk about government subsidies for conventional farming and destroying forests to raise cattle? Why don't you talk about the damage pig farming does to the water supply? There is plenty to be skeptical about. This smells less like skepticism and more like politics.

Joe, Houston
February 19, 2007 1:09am

I enjoyed the skeptical look at organic. I'm not sure I agree with the statement:

"When you take the exact same strain of a plant and grow it in two different ways, its chemical and genetic makeup remain the same."

It may be simplistic, but I remember the red food dye experiment in elementary school, and how the [insert plant of choice here] turned [insert dye color of choice here] when exposed in the water. The average person would ask, if other chemicals are in that water, and the average fruit is basically a water storage unit, why wouldn't those chemicals end up in the fruit?

I know there is some chemistry that will prevent this from happening for certain chemicals, and it may not be any better to have organic chemicals in the fruit.

All I'd like to see is a balanced measurement of both the absorption of chemicals and the result of chemicals in the soil.

Overall, a non-biased (empirical) study of all man made pollutants and their concentrations around the world would be very helpful right now.

Al, Manchester, NH
February 19, 2007 5:35pm

OMG !!! Your opening paragragh shows just how narrow minded you are! What a pathetic attempt to discredit the organic farming indusrie! Please people!do your own research before you listen to idiots like this!

vee, Sydney
February 26, 2007 6:10pm

You should probably recheck your facts on this one. Without going through the entire podcast point by point, I will only point out some major flaws. Consumer Reports does recommends organics especially for certain foods and children. The government regulation about pesticides and hormone use have been changing after the results of recent studies. But these change are slow.
While you are trying to make the point about the agribussiness in the organic market, you miss that one of the fast growing efforts is in local produce and CSA.
You should also evaluate your comment on the genetics influence on the nutrition of food. Grapes taste different every year, even from the same plant, as you state in your podcast on biodynamics. How do you explain this contridiction of yourself? Flavor and nutritional content are a blend of genetics (a subject that you completely miss the connection with agribussiness vs local produce), the growing condition, and the handling conditions. I think that you need to do a bit more reading before spouting off.

Nanette, Lancaster, PA
February 27, 2007 5:31pm

First Congrats! for the great job you do, you are one of my favorite podcast, regarding Organic Food I research myself and came to the same conclusion, I bet any of those assholes that claim organic is better in every way, if you put 2 of any vegetables, he can't taste the difference between them, and like you say it, lets starve 1/3 of the world so those assholes can enjoy more "good food", I DEAR ANY ASSHOLE TO FIND ABOUT **NORMAN BORLAUG*** and ask him about your fucking organic food, organic food is like religion, you tell some idiot that is good for you and people just simply believe it because another idiot told you so.

Danny Zepeda, Morelia, Mexico
March 7, 2007 1:44pm

I enjoyed this podcast and learned some things I hadn't considered from it.

"vee" from Sydney does have a point: The first paragraph could be construed as "poisoning the well," which is a logical fallacy. OTOH, I prefer a bit of color and provocativeness. Altogether, I find Mr. Dunnings' argument persuasive.

Tim Gowan, Yokohama, Japan
March 12, 2007 8:32pm

Some advice for this writer:

This is a great article if you just like to get responses from people. However, if your intent was to sway people to go non-organic, I think you actually may have done the opposite.
This is article is too subjective in nature for me to seriously consider. Your "facts" used to contrast the two subjects are not credible. Anyone can see this, especially because you are not consistent with quoting your sources. Also, you use your personal feelings to make conclusions, rather than making logical conclusions drawn from concrete facts.

If you were an attorney, I would definitely NOT hire you.

Evelyn, St. Louis, MO
March 18, 2007 11:09am

geez man,
can u lay off the overpersuasive language???
the reason most people become skeptical is because of the lack of impartial views presented to us... read "everybody has their angle"
present yourself with more objectivity and i might read a bit more if you are seriously into discussing skepticism of popular myths/advertisements.
if you feel like replying you can do so to brendanworth@hotmail.com as i would not visit this site again after this read
the reason i reply at all?... you are a good writer.
you present your argument in a convincingly popular style, it would be nice if it could remain more impartial

brendan, west australia
April 2, 2007 9:46pm

The fact I find interesting, having majored in biology and genetics, is that the true definition of organic xxxxx, is that the substance contains carbon. I have to chuckle when I hear people talking about the virtues of "organically-grown" food. All foodstuffs are organic, and the process of food growing is an organic chemists dream. Even those "dangerous, man-made" chemicals could be considered "organic" because they contain carbon (read your labels, people!). I'm glad that there are some people in this world that haven't gone completely off the deep end. Now, let's cover the myth of global warming.

Barry, USA
April 3, 2007 2:26pm

Hey Skeptoid.
I enjoy your podcast!
Regarding organic...I like having the option to purchase organic or conventional food. And yes, organic has become a marketing gimick in many ways.
Interested in your information regarding the downsides to organic farming. I will definitely continue to educate myself in this area. I am concerned about run-off of pesticides and that sort of thing. I know that over the years in the Midwest many of the creeks and rivers have been polluted by industrial waste and agriculture waste. And here in Topanga we have been striving to keep our namesake creek clean by curtailing run-off - yard fertilizers, pesticides, horse and ranch waste, and human waste. In your mind are there no downsides that need to be addressed in conventional farming techniques? Are my concerns unfounded about pesticides and fertilizers polluting ground water and streams...as well as residual poisons absorbed in the crop itself? If we have warnings about how many freshwater fish we can eat a month, couldn't we have some similar issues around agriculture too? Don't have info to back this up, just my thoughts. Are there scientific studies which address this?
FYI Re:Trader Joe's. It is actually LESS expensive than regular supermarkets (Ralphs, Vons, etc.) and Whole Foods. That's why it is beloved in SoCal. I like the selection, easy to navigate store, and friendly help.
Keep up the great podcast! I'll keep listening!
Cheers,
D

David Emery, Topanga, CA
April 8, 2007 8:30pm

Great and clearly argued podcast, especially given the time contraints. While I've never had an issue about "organic" fruit, vegetables and especially grains for most of the reasons you've already given I am less sanguine about meat and egg products. I don't pretend to have done nearly enough research into this topic but the problem of antibiotic resistance and cruelty of intensive animal farming have lead me to try to choose meat & egg products produced without the broadscale use of antibiotics and that could be described as "free range" if I can access them while at the same time knowing that such claims may prove to be false or misleading. I would be grateful if you'd consider producing an "Organics II" podcast that dealt more specifically with meat and animal products. Keep up the good work.

Cheers Tony

Tony Eales, Rockhampton Australia
April 17, 2007 2:04am

Right on, the organic myth is really silly.
On the other hand, the problem of eficiency has a really good solution: go vegetarian. One would need 10 times *less* area and resources in general (water, fertilizers, etc.) and could feed the entire world - no problem. Besides, all that soy and corn and whatnot that cows and pigs eat - right onto our plates as veggie burgers, no waste there.

:)

Pedro Homero, Madrid, Spain
April 19, 2007 7:28am

The Center for Consumer Freedom (consumerfreedom.com) started out as a front group for the hotel industry, trying to give the illusion of a grassroots movement against restrictions on smoking in hotels. While they've expanded their clientele (they're also taking money from the alcohol industry, while fighting against tightening drunk driving laws) they remain an industry front group.

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Center_for_Consumer_Freedom

In April 2005, they spent $600,000 on a nationwide ad campaign fighting the "hype" over obesity. They have an advisory panel which includes brainpower from such notable scientific groups as Phillip Morris and Outback Steakhouse.

Looking on their website, they call Marion Nestle "one of the most hysterical anti-food-industry fanatics". As someone who has read her work, and that of actual fanatics, she is no such thing.

Fascinating that you would base your conclusions on a source like this one.

It's misleading to say that antibiotics are intended to keep animals healthy. It would be more accurate to say that antibiotics allow them to be crammed into filth and squalor beyond anything that an animal's immune system was meant to handle.

A carrot is not a carrot is not a carrot. You take two plants with the exact same genetic makeup and grow them in different soil, you end up with different tastes and nutritional values. Your assertions about blind taste tests are sourceless and factless.

Bryce, SLC
April 29, 2007 5:58pm

The assertions about blind taste tests were not *sourceless*. The host clearly stated it was a Consumer Reports survey. The consumerfreedom.com link was cited as only one source for information about organic farming as big business, not the primary source for the entire podcast. Any carrot that is claimed to have superior nutritional value over *mere* carrots, should have the data to back up the claim.

Watch out for that corporate hate-energy, man.

Kerry Maxwell, Arlington
May 3, 2007 9:30am

"walk into the most expensive specialty supermarket in town"

You mean Wal-Mart?

"Fails to address the primary benefit of organic farming--ecological benefits. No discussion of the ways organic methods prevent salinization, eroding top soil, soil compaction, or the ways it improves microbial profiles. Completely glosses over research about residual pest/herbicides in convential crops verses organics. Absolutely no mention of groundwater contamination that conventional farming leads to. Nitrogen levels in the underground aquifer around here are approaching dangerous levels thanks to the wholesale dumping of anhydrous ammonia and the like." From: http://www.metafilter.com/61465/Support-your-local-Reptoid#1703916

swha, CA
May 24, 2007 11:23am

Listen, there is a reason that so many people are getting cancer and dying young. Yeah, maybe it is just better medical detection so we know now what has always been killing people, but I believe wholeheartedly that part of our culture's general "sickness" and malaise is due to what we're putting into our bodies. We are so far from how people used to live. We have absolutely no connection to the food we eat, and I for one find it disturbing to pick up a conventional loaf of bread and discover that I can't understand many of the ingredients listed. Why the hell would I want that in my body? If nothing else, organic food is SIMPLER and CLEANER. More natural, and closer to how people have always eaten. I for one am willing to pay a little more for having more normal foods, not those stuffed with ingredients that I can't pronounce. And no, natural doesn't always mean healthy, but at least it's been around. All of these lab-synthesized things are scary. That's my two cents.

Betsy, Augusta, GA
May 24, 2007 2:23pm

Organic growing methods had nothing to do with contamination of the spinach. It was proximity to a cattle farm. This from the New York Times 9-21-06:

"There is also no evidence so far that Natural Selection Foods, the huge shipper implicated in the outbreak ... failed to use proper handling methods. Indeed, this epidemic... probably has little do with the folks who grow and package your greens. The detective trail ultimately leads back to a seemingly unrelated food industry — beef and dairy cattle."

You write: "Consumer Reports found no consistent difference in appearance, flavor, or texture. A blanket statement like 'organic cultivation results in a crop with superior nutritional value' has no logical or factual basis." Appearance, flavor and texture are not measures of nutritional value. You offer no other evidence to support your conclusion.

That some people who prefer organic foods distrust corporate farming has nothing to do with whether organic foods are healthier. You want to make it seem that all advocates of organic farming conflate the two issues, but it's not true. In this case, it's you doing the conflating.

Trader Joe's customers do not pay premium prices. Its prices are generally cheaper than standard supermarkets. As for shoppers appreciating its "small-business family atmosphere," few people don't know it's a chain.

John, San Francisco
May 24, 2007 11:35pm

"Fails to address the primary benefit of organic farming--ecological benefits. No discussion of the ways organic methods prevent salinization, eroding top soil, soil compaction, or the ways it improves microbial profiles. Completely glosses over research about residual pest/herbicides in convential crops verses organics. Absolutely no mention of groundwater contamination that conventional farming leads to. Nitrogen levels in the underground aquifer around here are approaching dangerous levels thanks to the wholesale dumping of anhydrous ammonia and the like." From: http://www.metafilter.com/61465/Support-your-local-Reptoid#1703916

The reason growing organic 'improves' all those things is that half the plant matter dies and returns to the earth before it can grow. Organic ag is unsustainable ag. The reason farmers jumped on technology so quickly was that farming 'organic' is grueling, unrewarding work. Small, disease addled yields that were difficult to get to the markets before total spoilage.

Pesticide and GM technology has been a godsend for the third world, where crops can finally be grown in conditions where conventional (and by that I mean organic) crops would ultimately fail. There was a great comic in the NY'r showing a fat disgusting European pig taking away GM grain from starving Africans with the caption "We need to test this further to make sure it's safe"

Europe and the US have used GM grain safely, for decades. This eco terrorism has to stop.

Jack, Iowa City, Iowa
June 5, 2007 5:44am

Listen, it's not only been scientifically proven, it should also be good old fashioned common sense that putting synthetic chemicals into your body can have potentially lethal effects. It's hard to believe that people actually spend time and energy trying to debunk this fact.

Now, concerning sustainability, I guess that is a question for research and continued improvement in the way that we produce food. But I would like a list of all the "PhDs" who are decrying organic food as scourge to the third world. I would agree of course that synthetically produced food is better than no food. but then you are rolling the dice because it could cause disease.

james, honolulu
June 24, 2007 8:43pm

"Consumer Reports found no consistent difference in appearance, flavor, or texture. A blanket statement like "organic cultivation results in a crop with superior nutritional value" has no logical or factual basis."
Actually Consumer Reports said "Critics argue that we're wasting our money because there’s no proof that conventionally produced foods pose significant health risks. Now, however, there are many new reasons to buy organic. First, a growing body of research shows that pesticides and other contaminants are more prevalent in the foods we eat, in our bodies, and in the environment than we thought. And studies show that by eating organic foods, you can reduce your exposure to the potential health risks associated with those chemicals."
and "Organic fruits and vegetables are farmed with botanical or primarily non synthetic pest controls quickly broken down by sunlight and oxygen, instead of long-lasting synthetic chemicals."
Sounds good to me. Seems logical and factual to me that foods "reducing exposures to potential health risks" might be considered as having a "superior nutritional value" and that foods increasing exposures to potential health risks might be considered to have an inferior nutritional value, but hey, one constructionist's preconceptions are another man's poison, I guess.

Geronimo John, Santa Fe
June 24, 2007 11:43pm

I love your article. I represent the future of farming and am studying Animal Sciences and Economics in college. I hate how the media has misled America. It hasn't been the way we make food that has caused health problems. The real problem is the way we eat food.

Jennifer, Manhattan, KS
June 28, 2007 2:53pm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6272634.stm

Thought of your podcast when I saw this on the BBC site. The BBC, although peerless in many respects, is notorious for being run by dim-witted arts graduates, so I look forward to your comments!

Ari, London, UK
July 5, 2007 4:27pm

"Americans believe organic food is healthier... despite the lack of any evidence supporting this"

That is a strong statement which I wouldn't wish to make about anything unless I had read every paper ever published.

In any event:
"Organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly less nitrates than conventional crops. There were nonsignificant trends showing less protein but of a better quality and a higher content of nutritionally significant minerals with lower amounts of some heavy metals in organic crops compared to conventional ones." -
Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Worthington V.
www.pubmed.gov

I'm sure I could find many more (including recent news about tomatoes) - despite the lack of _any_ evidence.

Dan, Ottawa
July 15, 2007 9:59pm

Enjoyed your podcast on organic vs. conventional. I've echoed the same argument for some time.

I'd like to hear your stance on Genetically Modified Organisms in food production. These reduce the amount of pesticides required for food production, yet GreenPeace and similar groups rally against it just as much. The only argument they make is "Well, who knows? It could be harmful."

People could have made the same argument when the first man-made hybrids were made.

Dan Danford, Kansas City, MO
July 16, 2007 8:48am

It is sad and true that corporate farms are dominating the organic food market and making huge profits but this article misses the "spirit" or true intention of organic farming practices. This article is based on shallow research and fails to acknowledge all of the harmful effects of commercial farming practices. The pesticides and synthesized fertilizers of commercial farming techniques kill biodiversity in the soil and land, pollute the water table, and in the end you have inferior food in quality and nutrition.

I think this author should do 2 things: 1. Research into the amazing Polyface farm in Virginia, that is profitable, productive, and environmentally sutainable. and 2. Go to a farmers market and compare food grown in healthy natural soil to the genetically modified crap at 99% of grocery stores.

It is good to be a skeptic but in this case I greatly disagree.

Miguel Matos, Tulsa, OK
July 17, 2007 11:06am

Thanks your report on Organic foods. I still have hope that we can produce healthy food in healthy ways some day. I don't think you addressed the production of those synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. I'm not an expert on this but would like to hear some research on this. Also I know that it isn't the most efficient way of producing food but is it bad to buy food at the local farmers market and support the local farmers? Great podcast, I'm working my way through them all. Keep up the great work.

Chris Amonson, Seattle, Wa
August 2, 2007 12:27pm

I hope you will really take seriously the intelligent, descending comments about your postings position and thusly provide a valuable service to the 'health of mankind'. I'm an intelligent homemaker that researches, to provide quality at a worthwhile price for us. Your comments were too one-sided, without validation. So that does a 'dis-service' to mankind.

Joan Foresman., Napa, CA
August 18, 2007 10:29am

how does being one-sided and without validation do a 'dis-service' to mankind ?

That's a weak defence.
Am I being one-sided and doing mankind a dis-service if I post a critical analysis of faith-healing ?

premise 1) Wether this article is true or not requires research since Brian doesn't want to reveal his sources.

premise 2) doing research on a subject is a step towards knowledge and progress.

premise 3) stimulating people to progress and acquire knowledge is a service to mankind.

4) from 1 it follows that Skeptoid stimulates the reader(s) to do research on (a) subject(s).

conclusion: from 2, 3 and 4 it follows that Skeptoid does mankind a service.

QED.

A3n, Belgium
September 23, 2007 6:21am

The one where it suffer in the CONSTIPATION, trying one time my KOMBUCHA, how is? Kombucha is the healthy beverage which has been popular with New York. My kombucha is 100%kombucha. Part is different from kombucha of wikipedia.
When drinking, incerting in cola or juice, please drink. Drinking kombucha, it seems that you can defecate after 4-5 time. How to make is detailed e-mail to me. address: barasusi-oyaji@paw.hi-ho.ne.jp

K.Sako, Sakaishi
October 5, 2007 2:23am

I just got done listening to this episode and it has to be the worst ever done. Besides the numerous logical errors the information is contrary to the scientific data concerning crop yields and nutritional content of organic v. conventional crops. Where did the author get his information from? Was it based on any research or merely just assumption?

Here's one study which showed that organic crops increased yield over time and had higher nutritional content over the conventional crops which showed a slight decrease in crop yield

http://orgprints.org/8270/
http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5339
http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs/nwl/2007/2007-2-leoletter/ltar.htm

Doug, Wichita, KS
October 7, 2007 11:43pm

Doug -

true, but if you read those studies carefully, the conventional crops are on a Corn-soybean 2-year rotation, wheras the organic crops are on corn-syobean-oat/alfalfa rotations, since corn is by far the hardest hitter as far as soil depreciation is concerned, the fact that the organic plots, which had corn only once ever 4 or 5 years, did better than the conventional plots is not exactly surprising. Also, I don't know about you, but since humand can't eat alfalfa, I'd rather not skip a year of eating. Next time, read your own research carefully. The quote below comes directly from one of your cited sources: “the organic alternative requires greater mechanical inputs, more labor and yields a higher return to the operators. All of these factors combine to yield greater amounts of income-based economic impacts in the study region.” Translation: organic costs more and produces less.

Luke, Wilmette, IL
November 25, 2007 12:14pm

Doug-

You need to use reputable sources to defend your rebuttal. Those links you provided are to just random interpretations of science. Cite primary literature, for all you know, the authors in your sources could completely delusional. Also, some specific points on which you disagree, accompanied by data would be helpful.

Everyone else-

One issue I often find myself thinking about is carbon emissions in organic and conventional farming. If organic yields average around 60% that of conventional yields, then does that also mean that for the same carbon investment you would make into a conventional crop, you would only get 60% as much of an organic crop? If so, then the carbon cost of every pound of organic produce you eat, would be twice that of every pound of conventional raised produce you eat. I have not seen any data in the primary literature that would answer my question.

I believe it is impossible to be environmentally friendly in every single regard. I have therefore picked a single issue in which I would like to make the largest impact, and that is to monitor my carbon emissions. Although I have not seen any data solidifying which farming technique emits the most carbon, I suspect that organic farming has a much greater carbon cost since the yields are so low.

Great podcast by the way, keep it up!

Eric, Boulder, Colorado
December 6, 2007 6:49am

One reasoning I think has a problem:

Why do Chinese only drink hot tea?

I don't think they drink hot tea because it kills bacteria. They drink hot tea because it tastes a lot better made in hot water than when it's cold.

I don't think you make tea often, but if you put tea leaves in cold or room temperature water, the flavor never really comes out. It comes out best a certain temperature a little after the water is boiled... that's why they boil it.

Ask any Chinese or any other person who makes hot tea and ask them why they boil their water to drink tea: None of them will say they do it to kill bacteria.

Terry, CA
December 7, 2007 11:34am

Though I like the show in general, this episode and the "rebuttal" offered in the listener email episode has to be some of the worst "skeptical" reporting I have ever heard.

First of all, snide remarks and labeling people with nasty names is the antithesis of skeptical inquiry. So right from the first line we have "Today we're going to put on our tie dyed shirt, grow our hair long and dirty, claim hatred for science and corporate America." Mr. Dunning needs to do some research on demographics. My mother buys organic foods for goodness sakes and she is about the furthest thing from a hippie as you can get. She and my Dad are both politically conservative people and certainly do not hate corporate America.

"I'm not exactly sure why anticorporatism wound up on the organic food agenda." Well that's because it hasn't that I know of. I hang around with lots of lefties on the internet and real life because I am a member of the political left that Mr. Dunning so despises. Apart from a very few "out-there" people being I have never heard anti-corporatism as a reason to go organic. So basically this is mostly a straw man argument. I realize one could probably find some places that come from that direction but to claim it is one of the main reasons is just part of Mr. Dunning's fantasy world where only "dirty hippies" buy organic. (And again, what place does his obvious anti-left biased name calling have in "skeptical inquiry"? What about the disdain for anti-corporate types?...

Vince, Columbus, OH
December 19, 2007 9:28am

are we really to believe that a person cannot be a skeptic and have some problems with the way the corporate world operates?)

To move on to other things lets take on the claim that organic cannot feed the world. I suggest Mr. Dunning take a look at this study by the University of Michigan: http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=5936.

Now I realize that this study came out after the podcast but one could hope that maybe Mr. Dunning would now retract his incorrect statements. As the study showed , on a practical level, organic foods may feed more people since the developed world cannot afford the chemicals to get the proper yields out of other crops. This is not the only study that shows this. There was another by the university of Iowa that showed similar results. They also showed that it doesn't take all that much more land than conventional farming for many types of crops. Maybe if Mr. Dunning would actually read the science instead of ideologues from a right wing rag like The National Review he would have known this along with the fact that reputable studies have indeed shown that organic foods can be higher in trace-nutrients.

Lastly how can someone report on organic foods and the environment and mention nothing about soil erosion?? Mention nothing about pesticide run-off?? Is there a special term for an argument that is a straw-man by omission?

If Dunning wants to avoid people thinking based on ideology then perhaps he needs to avoid mirrors

Noone, somwhere else
December 19, 2007 10:12am

Minor correction. When I said 'the developed world cannot afford', I obviously meant developing world.

That Mr. Dunning could not find any evidence of organic foods being more healthful in certain ways (trace-nutrients and phyto-compounds for instance) can only be because he didn't bother to look as such studies by reputable people are simple to find. If he instead disagrees with those studies (as some researchers did and do) that is fine. But, to present it as "there is no evidence" or to 'forget' to mention that qualified people disagree with him is either a result of intellectual dishonesty or incompetent research by Mr. Dunning.

The one thing I can't stand about some skeptics is their tendency to try to slip personal political beliefs (values) or their personal take on an issue where reasonable people can disagree into the skeptics community. People on both sides of the aisle do it but I have seen it much more from the right wing. Penn and Teller's show Bullshit was a good one for doing that.

Organic food has credible scientific support and is not something that skeptics have any business lumping in with the other subjects that skeptics tackle.

Vince, Columbus, OH
December 19, 2007 10:40am

First I do want to thank you for your skeptics podcast it certainly does seem like we are falling into an age of irrationality with the twin rise of flat Earth fundie Christianity and New Age trite crap.

Having said that I think you are all wet on this one for several reasons:

1. Organic growers often grow heritage varieties of crops that were bred for their nutritional value and not for better packing, higher water content (bigger appearance for cheap), and better appearance on store shelves. I guarantee you I can tell an organic heritage tomato from our local co-op from a hothouse GMO tomato from a corporate grocery store every time. The pale watery agribusiness tomato isn't even close to the organic tomato in taste.

2. Food co-ops and farmers markets that promote organic food often promote locally grown food as well. If you want to reduce your carbon footprint by local first. I think you will find that organic food is FAR more likely to be local than conventionally produced food.

3. Pesticides and herbicides are made from oil and thus increase your carbon footprint. Remember too that pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are transported all over the country again increasing the carbon footprint of your food compared to organic food where manure and other natural amendments are available locally.

In the spirit of increasing skepticism and debate keep up the good work and next time do your homework more thoroughly.

Sincerely,

Matt Rogers

raven200@gmail.com

Matt Rogers, Traverse City Michigan
December 27, 2007 11:45am

Just did a websearch to find out, but it seems clear that most, if not all of the e coli outbreak of 2006 was due to conventionally raised spinach. Which shouldn't be surprising, because the method of farming is not related to the incidence of outside contamination.

Ellen, New York
January 9, 2008 10:22am

Who wrote this sh|t?!!! This person is an idiot. Are the big companies REALLY feeding the starving people in Africa?!!! That's news to me. Antibiotics, huh? Good thing we saved the cattle from the epidemic...oh, wait. There was no epidemic. The only cattle epidemic I am aware of can't be treated with the ever over-used antibiotics. I can't possibly see how that would help over-crowded & abused & suffering animals. But then, the pharmaceutical companies are far more interested in treating symptoms than finding cures. The sick are more profitable. How about we abolish the commercial meat industry & use the land that cattle are raised on & the land used to grow cattle feed to grow crops for people. THAT would go a much longer way to taking care of the hungry people in the world. THAT would be a much more efficient & healthy use for the land. WITHOUT chemicals. You also claim that regular commercial produce is not inferior to Organic produce. It has already been proven that the average produce item, grown under strict traditional organic guidelines contains a higher level of nutrients than those grown in the depleted over-farmed commercial fields. And how about those premium prices at Trader Joe's?! NOT at any of the Trader Joe's I'VE been to. They have much better prices than the average supermarket in California. You seem to be having an extremely difficult time grasping the concept of FACTUAL INFORMATION.

Ed Smith, Palm Springs, CA
January 14, 2008 9:43pm

For the "skeptics" which decided to deny the facts and would only accept direct scientific studies on the nutritional content of organic vs. conventional food:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=pubmed&uid=11327522&cmd=showdetailview&indexed=google

Also, to the other "skeptic" who assumed alfalfa was inedible, FYI, it is a livestock crop and as far as I know people still eat beef. Besides, if you look at the studies organic crop yields are higher than conventional if done properly:
http://www.ag.iastate.edu/farms/02reports/ne/OrganicConvSystems.pdf

Skeptoid is just a Libertarian podcast, not a skeptical one.

Doug I, Wichita
January 27, 2008 10:10am

Wow, very disappointing.

I am (was) a fan of Skeptoid and the skeptical mindset, but this time Brian clearly shows his naive anarcholibertarian roots.

Since Brian is neither an expert in agriculture nor even a scientist, I can understand how he is unable to separate his political ideology from the actual evidence. A shame. It's a good thing that organic/local agriculture is here to stay, no matter how many ill-informed corporate apologists are out there.

Brian: please read "The Maxism of the Right," the best critique of libertarianism I've read lately: http://www.amconmag.com/2005_03_14/article1.html

TimD, Virginia
January 31, 2008 1:10pm

Just a thought about organically grown meat and milk based products.

In order to make these animals grow large and robust they routinely inject them with many types of hormones and antibiotics.

Considering how careful we as americans are about what medications we are willing to prescribe to a breastfeeding mother, one would think we would have the same concerns for ourselves.

Any additional illness a cow may possess due to not having these injections can be safely eliminated by thoroughly cooking the beef. However, the cooking process is not an effective method of eliminating the chemicals contained in the meat.

Travis McGowan, Portland, OR
February 3, 2008 9:37am

Travis - It's awesome that finally this question has occurred to someone. You should alert the food producers to this, because obviously nobody has ever considered it.

Eric Schulman, Corona, CA
February 3, 2008 9:40am

A good resource is this Wikipedia entry that cites references.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pesticide#Health_effects

Check out the "Health Effects" section and subsections "Consumers" and "Public."

Unfortunately, it looks like they do effect us, the consumers. While it may not be mainstream information yet or widely accepted, DDT was used for many years under the assumption it was fine. This type of lag time happens often enough to be wary of ANY research that indicates a deleterious effect on us.

Kevin, Orlando, FL
February 15, 2008 7:55am

Kevin, organic pesticides use exactly the same compounds as synthetic pesticides. They have to, or else they wouldn't work. And since they're less efficient, they're used in higher quantities. So if there are any ill effects from the use of pesticides, these effects can only be higher from organic food.

Eric Schulman, Corona, CA
February 15, 2008 8:05am

Disappointing: high on prejudice, low on hard facts and skeptical reasoning. A few points:

- Where is your evidence for "Organic methods require about twice the acreage to produce the same crop"? Of course any study has a risk of bias, but here are just two links that point to serious studies that give very different figures:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/07/050714004407.htm
http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=1091304

- Where do you get the idea that today's pesticides are totally safe? Even if the residual amounts in the food we eat aren't enough to harm us, what about the effects on other species? At present the most likely reason for the decline of the honeybee seems to be either lethal or non-lethal doses of insecticide:

http://www.i-sis.org.uk/requiemForTheHoneybee.php

For Eric Schulman: of course the different pesticides do not use exactly the same compounds. As to the different amounts of pesticide found in organic or conventionally-grown foods, have a look at what the studies say:

http://www.consumersunion.org/food/organicsumm.htm

The idea that "organic = woo = bad" is far too simple. In order to advance, we need to get away from the ideological dispute between "organic" and "conventional". Only careful scientific study of the available evidence and continuing research will permit us to decide on the best way to produce food of the highest quality, with the least cost to the environment.

Michael, Mannheim, Germany
February 17, 2008 10:47am

If these Large farmers in the US, (the ones that the world depends on for food) could produce the same or better food and yields with cheaper, more available processes, don't you think they would do it? They are businesses too, they have bottom lines like everyone else. Maybe that's why they have all changed from organic to efficient.

Cody, Milwaukee WI
February 18, 2008 11:00am

I think you're making a straw man argument in favor of agribusiness. And I see a bit of the slippery slope in there, too!

Ever read the late Robert Rodale? I highly recommend it.

I just love it when folks drag out the old "is organic food more nutritious?" argument in order to denounce the organic food industry. Of course it's not.

I eat organic food for one simple reason: it does not have pesticides or herbicides in it. These chemicals are poison. If you want to put poison in your body, have at it. It's your body after all.

Me? No thank you.

Mary T, SLC, UT
February 19, 2008 2:23pm

Mary - You might want to better educate yourself if you think the nutrient compounds delivered by organic pesticides & fertilizers are any different than those delivered by synthetics.

Eric Schulman, Corona, CA
February 19, 2008 2:25pm

After hearing your podcast on this subject, I looked up organic food and farming on Wikipedia and got some different information. Less pesticides by far are used in organic farming, not seven times as much. Non organic food production uses very powerful pesticides which are not entirely safe, especially environmentally, and the runoff is being blamed for the giant areas of algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico, along with runoff from the factory farm produced beef and dairy. Farm workers exposed to chemical pesticides have a high incidence of nervous system damage, respiratory illness and other debilitating health issues. Also, the pesticides in non organic foods show up in children's bodies and viewed more as a lifetime exposure issue. After eating organic food for a few weeks, the chemical pesticides present in the blood of children drops dramatically. Because Whole Foods and now Walmart are offering organic foods, it is thought that organic food production methods will change dramatically over the next few years, and not really be the sustainable and environmentally more friendly choice that it once was. Now people are looking to local farmers markets and smaller producers. People have tested organic fruit and vegetables to be better tasting (to my taste better by far). It's confusing to have such wide differences in the information offered. There is also the ethical issues of cruelty in factory farming for meat and dairy.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_fo

Lucy Raubertas, Brooklyn, NY
February 22, 2008 5:26am

Your clear bias is revealed in your very un-skeptical wording:

"Organic food is a conventional food crop (genetically exactly the same plant variety as the regular version)"

Since when is non-organic the "regular" version? The entire world farmed basically organically until the very recent advent of nitrate-based fertilizers.

"...and for animals it requires that they have not been kept healthy through the use of antibiotics."

So now animals that aren't injected with antibiotics aren't healthy? I'm not sure if you're aware, but antibiotic use for food animals is also a very recent development - Somehow, someway, humankind managed to raise healthy animals without the use of these synthetics for thousands and thousands of years just fine.

The entire crux of your argument basically only applies to industrial organics - Which, to be quite honest, not many people would defend. To group them together with the local grubshedding farmer or organic home gardener is not only unfair but entirely inaccurate.

Cole, Missoula, MT
March 12, 2008 2:24pm

Mostly a well-written article but indeed there is quite a clear bias. The weakest point however is the land use issue - needing bigger farms for organic food.

While this may be the case, you'll find that a lot of proponents of organic food are also vegetarians. And because vegetable crops use a tiny proportion of the land needed to farm animals, this would more than cancel out the lower yields factor.

Simon, New Zealand
March 19, 2008 1:19pm

I agree with the posts that the homework wasn't done. There are lots of organic farming tecniques, from the psuedoscience of biodynamics (homeopathy and astrology) to the mainstream, well tested scientific methods (BioGro and Agriquality here).

Modern organic methods are competitive with conventional in the bottom line and also with production per hectare. And most organic farmers take a longer view in terms of soil structure and fertility than conventional ones. That is forced on them by the lack of the chemical fix for weeds plants and animal health.

I would disagree with Simon that most of the proponents of organics have a vegetarian bent. Certainly almost no organic producers are so inclined as animal production is an intergral part of farm (and financial) management.

Most of the agricultural land in NZ would necessarily go back to the conservation estate and provide no sustanance for humans if we didn't graze animals as most of the property is suitable only for pasture production. Only a few cattle are feed lot animals (waggu for Japan) and very little non pasture product is regularly fed out on any sort of farm, so the argument of growing grain for cattle and not for people doesn't really apply here.

Just my opinion as an organic farmer.

kem johnson, 12 rd Rakaia New Zealand
March 20, 2008 1:01am

If you're truly an organic farmer, can you discuss why organic proponents believe that organic fertilizers and pesticides would be somehow better or safer than their synthetic counterparts that deliver the identical compounds?

Many people who buy organic do not understand that it's simply a growing method, that there is no plausible reason to think the biochemical content would be any different or "better".

Eric Schulman, Corona, CA
March 20, 2008 4:10am

http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=5936 this article from my alma mater from July 2007 it states that in the "1st" world organic food growth yeilds exactly the same production as "conventional" foods AND in the "3rd" world yeilds from organic processes are up to 3 times greater then those of "conventional" methods. I am not into organic because of the health benefits but because of the amount of chemicals and oil used to fertilize the crops in conventional growth.

Todd Norris, Auburn Hills, MI
March 20, 2008 5:58am

The nitrogen fertilser we use on our farm comes from the legumes we use in the pasture phase of our rotation so leachate into the local aquifer is minimal. The application of minerals is only as soil test prescribe and they are in an orgainc programme in elemental (not ionic) forms so they take longer to weather into the system and become available for plant uptake. You have to think ahead to make it work for you but there is again much less loss of product so environmentally friendly. It is also cheaper as you can use less.

We are fortunate that we need to use no pesticides at all in the arable part of the farm... well lead poisoning for hares, rabbits, stray cats and possums (one of our kelpies is a star). In the greenhouse we use neem oil and parasitic wasps for aphid control, both pretty safe. For most of the rodent control, our cat is queen although I do use brodifacoum judiciouly in the woolshed in the winter. We are looking forward to the reintroduction of the nz falcon for passerine control soon.

The amount of minerals has been shown to be generally greater in organic vegetables, probably because the use of soluable nitrogen inhibits the uptake in plants. It is difficult to purchase conventional vegetables with the flavour and texture of organic. It is just too expensive for commercial growers to deliver this sort of quality.

I'm about out of words but I could wax on about the advantages of organic, pasture fed, and free range animals.

kem johnson, 12 rd Rakaia New Zealand
March 21, 2008 11:15am

What was your experience as a conventional farmer?

My brother in law had to change his farm to organic about 5 years ago, and he reports an experience opposite to yours. He spends 3 times as much on chemicals, not only because they cost more, but because he needs to use so much more of them to get a comparable yield. He can charge more for the crop, but it's still a net loss.

Eric Schulman, Corona, CA
March 21, 2008 11:24am

He had to change? I thought Amerika was the land of the free.

Anyway, we have dabbled in glyphosate and direct drilling (wheat) but didn't follow up with the requisite chemicals so the crop was basically poor in yield and the protien and falling number put it into the feed category. Good lesson, do it right or not at all. We are mostly pasture and a tiny bit of horticulture.

Not sure what sort of inputs american organics allows or what it costs... don't care really.

We know a reasonable amount about conventional agriculture because we:

1) live in NZ
(if you watch prime time in NZ you will lots of ads for herbicides, fungicides, drenches and farm machinery)

2) read

3) are surrounded by large conventional farms; our neighbors.

I wonder if the organic inputs he applies are not subsidised by the taxpayer (like many conventional ones)... hmmm. NZ did away with all subsidies by the mid 80's and it has worked well.

Hope things get better for him.

kem johnson, 12 rd Rakaia New Zealand
March 21, 2008 5:21pm

Eric Schulman:

Thanks for your seemingly informed comments in this discussion. Too bad "confidence" doesn't equate with "knowledge."

Fortunately, as somebody said above, organic agriculture is here to stay, no matter how many ill-informed corporate apologists try to convince us otherwise.

--LFP

discipline, Virginia
April 11, 2008 9:13am

You seem to not completely understand organic food. Have you ever read the book Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey M. Smith? In fact USING pesticides/herbicides DOES affect the plant AND the surrounding agriculture. Organic food is more natural, and while you did spew out money that organic companies brought in, why not mention in comparison with other companies that have no organic food how much production they had? Especially now that 80-90% of food in America is genetically modified, AND very few people even know what it is let alone why it's bad for you. I don't know if food - other than vegetables and fruit - are even conventionally made anymore, there's a problem if food has to have more than 5 ingredients in it. Or are you just more interested in the PRICE of the food and not the nutrtient content? Oh and Genetic Roulette is another good book by Jeffrey Smith, it discusses proven health problems and diseases associated with genetically modified food. I would pay more to live a complete natural and life than less and have health problems!

Stephanie

Stephanie, Michigan
April 12, 2008 3:49pm

I agree that "organics" is a load of crap. Another gimmick to take your money. Support local farmers organic or not.

GMO is the way to go. Lower your ethical shields and let science produce higher yielding crops on less land using less water....and then clone it.

Ross, Connecticut
April 20, 2008 4:19pm

Not to mention the fact that "organic" food is a total misnomer. How is this food more "organic" than other foods? Last time I checked, all food is still made out of the organic compounds, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, etc. The problem with the name is that it causes people to think that foods that are not "organic" are made out of evil chemicals and genetically changed so that they aren't good for you anymore.

Grace, Michigan
May 8, 2008 9:29am

The people for organic foods say, "Isn't it worth to pay a 'little' more for organic food than buying conventional foods?" I say no. Here is why. In comparison, organic apples can be as much as 3 times the price of conventional apples. How is that a 'little bit more'?

Next on the list, it cost more to grow because there are no subsidies, more weeding, more worries of disease. Since I have lived in an agricultural rural town for 15 years, is that a load of bupkiss. You can still get diseased apple trees when using chemicals, weeds rarely pose a problem for apple trees, the people yanking the weeds out are normally poorly paid workers. And like any business, proper planning and management of funds, land, and marketing for an organic farm should be no different than say running a print shop. Also, if they failed to study up about the land they wish to use and purchase for organic foods, such as the apples I have been using, the would-be farmer should read up on the history of the land to find out if the places has had epidemics in the past and what was done to resolve the problem.

Also! Support your local farmers. Emmett has a Farmer's Market every Wednesday and Saturday providing fresh foods at reasonable prices. Why not do the same and support your community?

I'm sorry, but organic food is such a suburbian hype ploy to make more for working less, IMO.

I will never buy organic food from large organic farms because of this. Just the locals.

Cheers

Steven, Emmett, Idaho
May 11, 2008 10:30pm

I still don't understand how the organic crowd can rationalize all the deaths that occur in third world countries over the whole frankenfoods stigma that caused some countries to not accept all the food that was sent to them for starvation releif.

People died because of their holier than thou, ignorant accusations.

Daniel Van Dusen, Houston
May 14, 2008 9:46am

Americans just eat too much that's why we're unhealthy. I guess one benefit of organic food if you buy it is that its extra cost is a reminder not to over-eat and save some for tomorrow.

John, Los Angeles
May 15, 2008 10:43am

"keep an open mind but not so open that your brain falls out"
"Organics" what a load of bullshit!
I will never buy organic food and will always support GMO:)

Susie Tribe, Adelaide Australia
May 27, 2008 11:44pm

Quote: "grow our hair long and dirty, claim hatred for science and corporate America". Fringe groups like hippies don't hate science. Science is actually on their side. It is the profiteers that tend to ignore the best science. I.E. global warming denial, etc.. Why is it you do not quote any scientists, only Consumer Reports?
Quote:<comment>"I still don't understand how the organic crowd can rationalize all the deaths that occur in third world countries over the whole frankenfoods stigma that caused some countries to not accept all the food that was sent to them for starvation releif." Thats rediculous. Those countries made their own decisions based on the best science possible. Europe made the same decision. Are you calling England a Third World country?
Listen people, you can't continually maintain soil fertility with petrolium by-products. Organic agriculture is a proven and sound science. My grandparents ate organic food, and I do to.

Joel Wyatt, Kentucky, USA
May 28, 2008 10:20pm

I love Skeptoid, have listened to all of them, and think you do the world a great service. I'm a big fan of science, but that's why it bothers me that you make a claim here that I think is scientifically unjustified:

"When you take the exact same strain of a plant and grow it in two different ways, its chemical and genetic makeup remain the same...but its fundamental makeup and biochemical content is defined by its genes, not by the way it was grown."

That's just not true. Living things are much more complex than that. The chemical makeup of a plant is affected by the soil, water, and air in which it grows. That's why the same Cabernet grape--indeed, genetic clones of each other, propagated by cuttings--grown in different regions will have measurably different properties that a sommelier can taste.

While it's true that the "organic" label is mostly big-business hype these days, it's also undeniably true that plants fertilized with animal waste rather than Haber-process fertilizers will be chemically different. There's no evidence that those differences affect the long-term health effects of eating those plants, but that's because there aren't any good studies. We just don't know.

While I'm glad that chemical fertilizers have helped feed the world, I wouldn't blame anyone for wanting to buy food plants grown in ways that more closely resemble the conditions under which our equally complex bodies evolved.

Lee Daniel Crocker, Sacramento, CA
June 12, 2008 9:51pm

Hey skeptic.....I do enjoy your articles and the debates, however the more I read the more frustrated I get. You quote only from studies that support your point of view. I could do the same and write a convincing article while coming to the exact opposite conclusion. That doesnt just go for this episode, but virtually all of the ones I have read.

I can find study after study that shows organically grown food to have a much higher vitamin and mineral content than conventional grown. I can also find studies that suggest some of the pesticides used in conventional farming have been linked to birth defects.

So since we can find muliple studies that contradict each other, I say the best thing to do is use common sense. Would you rather put something in your body that has been "treated" with chemicals or eat something that was grown without chemicals? Seems pretty simple to me.

Mike, Bakersfield, Ca
June 15, 2008 12:03am

hey i love your stuff and your humour but the Ad hominem fallacy was displayed when yuo attacked 'hippies to start off with'adn that annoyed me that you aren't arguing objectively. we have evolved over time in accordance with nature-nature too has evolved yes? do we have the capacity to evolve to withstand higher concentrations of chemicals found in mainstream produce? i don't think so certainly not in a few generations! it's true, non-organic foods don't detramental amounts of toxins in them per serving-but the accumalitive affect ove rtime hasn't been documented and until it does well i'll stick with the natural FOOD i'm otherwise skeptic but i don't actively seek organic out but i'm not against it-devil's advocate

John, Melbourne, VIC Australia
June 19, 2008 6:16pm

"So since we can find muliple studies that contradict each other, I say the best thing to do is use common sense. Would you rather put something in your body that has been "treated" with chemicals or eat something that was grown without chemicals? Seems pretty simple to me."

Obviously, the one with chemicals.

Chemicals are not bad. Water is a chemical. Vitamin B is a chemical. Given a choice between chemicals designed to kill bacteria and the bacteria, I'm going to eat the chemicals every single time.

Gregory Lynn, Kingston, MA
July 7, 2008 7:09pm

Greg's logic: Bacteria are not bad. Yogurt has bacteria. Given a choice between bacteria and antibiotics, I'm going to eat the bacteria every single time.

Max, Boston
July 7, 2008 9:35pm

As a current Animal Science/ Plant science double major, it always frustrates me to come across people that defend organically grown produce/meat. They most often have no formal education in the field and do nothing more than spit out a few buzzwords they obtained from various websites. Im very glad to have found somebody out in the media defending our stance. The podcast was very well done and accurate in every way. Great job. Keep up the good work.

Jim, Clovis, CA
July 10, 2008 4:25pm

I agree with the preponderance of the comments here. I enjoy the show, as it makes me think. I decided to take Mr. Dunning's perennial admonition to "be skeptical" and apply it to this episode, and I found it lacking in almost every way.

The meat of the issue (no pun intended) has already been covered by the other commenters. I'll just throw my weight behind the view that it's sad to see politics dressed up as skepticism. It is nice, though, that such biased opinions as those expressed by Mr. Dunning in this episode can have the fringe benefit of getting us to do our research to see how one-sided his reports are.

Tim, Morristown, NJ
July 14, 2008 12:37pm

I sent this link to someone I know who is is a believer in organic farming, and he immediately dismissed you as a "stooge for agribusiness". Do you have any connection to any agriculture business? I suspect this is the usual ad hominem attack you get from true believers. Is there any cause to believe you are biased in any way on this subject?

SaulOhio, Cleveland, Ohio
August 16, 2008 4:32pm

Thanks for such a great summary of the relevant scientific truths. As a physician and biologist, I've been saying a lot of this for years to my well-meaning but misguided friends. The whole notion of what is "natural" vs. "unnatural" is more a CULTURAL construction than anything else.

Debbie, Bklyn, NY
August 25, 2008 7:12am

Do you ever provide sources to back up your claims? I'd like to know where you get your information. As a self-proclaimed skeptic, you should know that we skeptics will not take anything at face value.

Check out these sources:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/oct/29/organics.sciencenews

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article622466.ece

Brandon, Madison, WI
August 27, 2008 11:24am

"Study shows organic milk may be better than normal milk!"

(*Study funded by OMSCO, a major UK organic milk company)

lol

newspaper are rarely good sources.

Jon, Canberra
August 28, 2008 12:06am

In my experience, organic milk sours (turns into yogurt), while regular milk spoils, perhaps because the antibiotics in it inhibit the growth of lactic acid bacteria and allow mold to grow.

Max, Boston, MA
August 28, 2008 9:52am

I am in no place to say the author has all the facts or that everything is true, but it does make you think. For me, I don't want to consume all of the additives in most non-organic food. While times are changing, organic seems to be the best way to not have all the artificial ingredients. I don't know about you, but if I am eating something like a strawberry fruit bar, I don't want artificial flavoring.

Rachel, Detroit MI
September 14, 2008 3:07pm

Well, I just listened to this podcast and although my comments are a bit late, I just want to tell you that your research regarding Trader Joe's is way off the mark. Trader Joe's isn't about organic, although some of its products are...it's about unique food products at great prices! I have been shopping there since the 1980's and Trader Joe's has always offered better value and better merchandise than the grocery stores.

I am in general agreement with the rest of your podcast on this subject but honestly, your comments about Trader Joe's leaves me a bit skeptical about your research and resources.

Anyway, I hope you get a Trader Joe's someday in your neighborhood - you won't want to shop anywhere else.

Lisa, Newport Beach, CA
September 16, 2008 11:11am

I shop there all the time. Are you saying they're not owned by Albrecht, or that they're not a successful company? I'm unclear on exactly what you're disagreeing with.

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
September 27, 2008 2:47pm

Lisa was disagreeing with your assessment that Trader Joe's is expensive. Your intro walks us into "the most expensive specialty supermarket in town.” The only market you subsequently name is Trader Joe’s, about which you say their customers “pay their premium prices to get that healthful image.” I have never thought of Trader Joe’s as having a particularly healthful (nor vegetarian) image. They sell lots of wine, meat, cheese and candy, at well below premium prices. I’d say they have much more of a frugal gourmet image than a health food one. Their products are overwhelmingly less expensive than those of a normal supermarket. Below are ten items available at Trader Joe’s compared to comparable items at Vons. I did not cherry-pick—I tried to use ordinary items anyone might buy, and I didn’t check the prices until after I committed to the items (you have my word.) Where Vons offered a Vons Club sale price, I used that:

Milk, 1/2 gal: TJ’s $1.79 Vons $3.79
Pork tenderloin, 1 lb: TJ’s $4.99 Vons $5.99
Butter, 1 lb: TJ’s $2.79 Vons $4.29
Almonds, salted, 1 lb: TJ’s $4.49 Vons $10.64
Red bell peppers (2): TJ’s $1.99 Vons $1.50
Yellow Tail chardonnay: TJ’s $5.49 Vons $6.49
(Generic) Cheerios (15 oz): TJ’s $2.29 Vons $2.50
Natural peanut butter, 1 lb: TJ’s $1.79 Vons $3.65
Triscuit-style crackers: TJ’s $2.29 Vons $3.99
Canned cat food (6 oz): TJ’s $.59 Vons $.45

All of which implies that a) TJ's is not expensive and b) I have too much time on my hands. I love your podcast!

Kristin Ferguson, Los Angeles
October 9, 2008 7:44pm

Kristin

One of the things that has a huge affect on price is volume sold. Trader Joe's prices are so cheap is because they sell more items than Vons. While they do not sell as much as a Walmart supercenter, they still sell a ton of volume.

Joseph Furguson, Brawley, ca
October 28, 2008 5:35am

Hi, Joseph,

Trader Joe's has always been inexpensive, even when they were a tiny local chain operated by Joe Colombe. They have a policy of buying cheap and passing the savings on to their shoppers, though this means they are not a full supermarket (you can't buy diapers there, for example, or trash bags, or diet root beer, or many other items that regular stores feel they have to offer.) Sometimes they have a great product selling for way less than anywhere else, but a few months or years later it's discontinued. When I did the comparison for the above entry, I noticed that Triscuits and Cheerios were sold in slightly larger amounts at T.J.'s (for less money!), which implies to me that General Mills wanted to shrink the amount in their standard boxes to increase profits, and remaindered the larger-sized inventory to Trader Joe's. Just a guess. Anyway, I'm merely defending Trader Joe's against the accusation of being overpriced. I couldn't let my beloved be slandered by Skeptoid without a rebuttal.

Kristin Ferguson, Los Angeles, CA
November 12, 2008 11:24pm

Dear Brian,

Love the pod cast. There were a few things that I would take issue with about Organic foods. Have you read the Omnivores Dilemma? It's a great book... I think you'd enjoy it... it's not really what you'd call pro orgaic... but it really expanded my knowledge about the politics of food; he went after big business Organic just like you did. Now I don't have a copy of the book with me... but I remember there were some scientific studies mentioned in it that found differences between organic food and food raised with pesticides. Something to do with flavanoids... and how the plant resists pests. It was an interesting study. I refer you to the book to read how conventional methods cause many problems as well. It's not a crazy new age book at all... I found it well researched and a fun read... check it out.. Franco

Franco Farina, Melbourne, Australia
November 13, 2008 10:22pm

I have only one issue with the article besides its writing "style" (you're kind of grating to the senses Brian, do you know that?).
Plants do store things found in soil. They are not completely determined by their genetics... environment plays a factor - in any organism.

Need proof? Every kid knows that if you put celery in water and put food coloring in the water the celery will change colors.
Organisms are all made up of a mixture of absorbed materials as well as compounds formed and directed through enzyme catalyzation (aka DNA priming).
We breath air, eat food, and drink liquids for a reason... and what is absorbed is stored and later used if not used right away.
Some compounds cannot be used by the body but seem useful and the body (of all organisms) in such a case will choose to store it.
That, for example, is exactly what our body does with corn syrup. Too energy rich to throw out, too foreign to use: store in adipose tissue on the belly and hips.
---------
At any rate, all of these issues in the article are exactly the kind I like to bring up to my organic nut friends and fellow health practitioners because in addition to wasting a lot of money, they also force an unhealthy dose of superstition on people through guilt laden proselytizing. That is annoying, too. So don't feel alone, Brian D.

Where's room for the middle ground around here?

A Careaga, San Diego, CA
November 15, 2008 11:19am

"That, for example, is exactly what our body does with corn syrup. Too energy rich to throw out, too foreign to use: store in adipose tissue on the belly and hips."

I hope you realize that corn syrup is mainly glucose. Glucose is the carbohydrate of choice in the human body and our metabolism is great at using it. Just look into glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, the electron transport chain. All are specially designed to metabolize glucose (even though they can also metabolize other energy-containing molecules).

Also, the genes of a plant do determine most of the plants nutrient content. Only minerals are greatly affected by soil composition. The vitamins remain pretty constant unless the soil is so poor that the plant can't thrive (in which case the farm has bigger problems than the mineral content of their soil).

Steve Loeffelholz, LeClaire, IA
November 15, 2008 11:39am

Wow, I'm an atheist and skeptical about almost everything under the sun. But when I grow my vegetables in my back yard using only cattle manure, and then I chop the parsley or tomatoes in the kitchen, the aroma lingers throughout the whole house. The food has actual taste! Something I never get from the non-organic food section at the supermarket. I find it so hard to believe studies were inconclusive about this. It really baffles me and I'd really want to see what kind of tests they did. Taste is also the reason why we buy so much produce from the Mennonites.

Organic food is essentially 'fed' organic food, while non-organic is fed 'pills''growth hormones' and 'multi-vitamins.' Ofcourse pesticides and unnatural fertilizers probably won't alter the plants dna, but chemical residues enter the plants through the roots and pores in the leaves, the same way that mercury pollution in the oceans found its way in tuna. It's easy to hypothesize that these pollutants will have dire health effects if they accumulate in the body. And there haven't been long-term studies to prove otherwise, but I wouldn't take my chances. And did I mention it just tastes better?

Anna, Toronto
December 9, 2008 3:00am

But you are giving us anecdotal evidence. That is the first step in science not the end result.

The answer for your claim might be simple: the food probably smells better because it had less distance to travel to your plate. You can wait until the food is absolutely ripe before picking. That is something farmers do not have the luxury of. You can with the extra 2 or 3 weeks for absolute ripeness.

I am pretty sure that if I grow my own food using the commercially available fertilizer, spraying pesticides as needed and harvest at the peak of ripeness, I would be making the same claims.

Joseph Furguson, Brawley Ca
December 9, 2008 7:30am

If you take the price factor out do you suggest it is better to have food grown with pesticides over food grown organically in a natural way.

I am pretty sure that lots of the diseases we see in the developed world is not see in the not so developed ( black and brown ) part of the world is becuase of the food they eat.

Can you give your opinion on the same ?

Bachan Anand, Irvine
December 20, 2008 8:50pm

Great article! You're a man after my own heart, and if you were a chick I would kiss you.

I want to add something....

The reason "organic" fruits and vegetables sometimes taste better is due to the freshness factor and variety grown (probably a less productive variety that tastes better). I've grown food using both conventional and organic methods, and noticed no difference. If you like an "organic" product because it seems fresher or tastes better, then more power to you. If you're buying it for any other reason, then you're full of sh*t!

Scott Vines, Napa, CA
December 27, 2008 1:59pm

I used to farm, there is not enough natural fertilizer on the earth to grow everything "organic" I used to grow popcorn chemical free, when they tested one year it came back positive, I had not used any pesticides, they rechecked this time packaged the sample in a paper bag instead of a plastic, behold came back OK, go figure. There is no way at the current level to produce all the organic food that fills all these stores everyday for it all to be organic. The check and balances have not been in place long enough in America let alone world wide. When companies "run out" of something does anyone think they are going to sit idle waiting for the next crop to come in, no way they go and buy what they can get thier hands on, which still meets thier criteria for appearance and taste, and fills the warehouses and pipelines to " Stay in Business". If they all started and stopped operations they would all be broke. I like the reduced use of pesticides, however they are a tool just like every other item we use in our lives to make a world with a lot of people bearable and working. Grow a brain, do your research and make an knowledgeable decision. Moderation in everything.

Eric g, Omaha NE
December 29, 2008 1:21pm

I think that for some foods the extra trouble of growing organic yields few if any advantages; others benefit greatly. I think many people posting here are confusing foods that are "certified organic" according to USDA rules vs foods that are locally grown (maybe even as close as your back yard), are premium varieties, etc.
For example: If you go to a farmers market and purchase a tomato (conventionally grown) you will likely get a tomato that is a variety known for good flavor, was ripe on the vine, picked yesterday and transported very carefully to market. If you go to the mega-mart and purchase an organic tomato you will be getting a tomato that was grown according to USDA organic standards but was still picked while green, gassed to redden it (ethylene gas is on the allowed list), was trucked unceremoniously from a long ways a way, and is a variety known for standing up to shipping well. This is only one example to be sure but a relevant one.
Many premium varieties that would be better anyway wind up getting grown organically just so they can get the label and charge that premium too. Consumers wind up equating organic with quality.

I just want to throw one thing in the mix that I think has been neglected in the comments here.
Antibiotics in meat. I freely admit that consuming antibiotics is very safe for humans. They are the same ones used to treat us. Thats the point. I want them not used in meat so that they will still work in me when I need them to.

Kyle, Des Moines IA
January 10, 2009 2:03am

In response to
"I am pretty sure that lots of the diseases we see in the developed world is not see in the not so developed ( black and brown ) part of the world is becuase of the food they eat."

Frankly I'll take the diseases that the developed world has that the not-so-developed world doesn't, over the diseases that the not-so-developed world has that the developed world doesn't.

Paula, Gatineau, ON
January 10, 2009 8:20am

This is my favorite of Brian's episodes. I am using it as a reference for a term paper in my Environmental Studies class about how organically grown food is bad for the environment. I can't wait to see my hippy teachers reaction to it. I think it will knock him down a few pegs.
Wish me luck!

Max Dardas, East Lansing, MI
January 22, 2009 3:57pm

Read the Omnivore's Dilemma by Micheal Pollan for an unbiased view of the organic versus corporate monopoly grown foods. Brian is basically an uninformed apologist for big agro-business. I would not be surprised if he is pulling a salary from Monsanto or Cargill.

G William Shea, Vancouver BC
February 2, 2009 10:37am

G William Shea,

I couldn't agree more!!!

well, actually he is very very very uninformed on a lot of subjects, including the scientific method!

anyway, another one to see about GM and a real eye-opener in my eye ;)

'The world according to Monsanto'

Pindar, Holland
February 10, 2009 9:09am

hello this is great im writing a paper on this and you have helped mr out alot. my dad is a vet and and professor and agree completely
thanks

Dillon, Iowa
February 17, 2009 11:17am

But the Center For Consumer Freedom that is referenced is far from a neutral source. Great libertarian name, but dig deeper. They are supported by the restaurant, food, tobacco, and alcohol industries. I expect better from Skeptoid.

garman, Morris, IL
February 18, 2009 11:21am

This article is eye opening. I'll send it to all my friends.

Manni, Miami, FL
February 20, 2009 10:31am

It's a fact that organic farming is less efficient that normal farming techniques. As the human population increases we will need more and more food. Where's it going to come from? Not organic farms, that's for sure. And as for fertilisers and pesticides, organic farms use more and therefore suffer greater runoff, leaching chemicals into surrounding waterways, killing aquatic animals and poisoning water. Just because they're organic doesn't mean they're not toxic chemicals. Horse manure is highly acidic and can toxify land and plants in high volumes. I'm sure the starving millions will gladly watch the world go organic while they continue to starve.

Andrew, London, England
February 20, 2009 11:50am

I don't want to argue about whether organic food is healthier because i dont know if it is. I just have a few remarks:

first of all, i believe that your e.coli argument is bull. My grandparents, and all of their neighbours, and hundreds of thousands of people in my country grow their own vegetables in the back yard for personal use on cow manure for 40 years now without any chemicals. Never ever has there been an e.coli infection in my family, or a wider outbreak. Compared to the supermarket vegetables, these look a little worse (they look good, just not perfect), but taste and smell a lot better, as in much more intense. Mind that i am not saying anything about health benefits.

As i always try my best to see the big picture, therefore not being neither a dreadlocked white kid nor a corporate advocate,
I'm not saying that conventionally grown food is health threatening and causes cancer, because i don't know if that is true, but your article didn't help me at all with that, because it was one-sided and just badly written. For example, while it is true that much more organice pesticide is needed because it is less efficient, that info is irrelevant since you dont say how much more non-organic pesticide is environment and health threatening. You only talk about volume and not absolute impact, and that shows how selective and biased you are in presenting the info.

You should cite more sources to back up your claims, because this way your article sounds like and angry...

Bojan, Croatia
February 23, 2009 12:12pm

Organic produce has up to 40% more vitamins than monoculture versions (in some cases way more than that, as in some cases monoculture fertilizer based cropping can produce oranges with almost no vitamin c for example)

See:
http://www.greenyour.com/lifestyle/food-drink/fruit

For a better article on the pluses and minuses.

blah blah, blah
February 23, 2009 12:39pm

I think you better start doing some more research, that is is you did any at all.
1 Organic crops and conventional are not the same. Certified organic growers are not allowed to use treated seeds, and if an organic seed is available for a crop we have to use it. That means the vast majority of our seed is open pollinated. Where not allowed to use GMO or hybred seed.

2 you claim California alone produces over $600 million in organic produce, most of it coming from just five farms, Where is your supporting data? The usda census has NEVER done an organic census till this year and the data won't be released till late 2009.

3 We don't use raw manure on fields. Buy are certifying agency rules we have to compost it first

4 chemicals, even natural ones you don't need them. Look at the prices of organic pesticide. There is no way you could afford to use the stuff on a large scale. Get the ground healthy, you have healthy plants. When you have healthy plants you won't have bug problems

5 Production, sorry to tell you this but your wrong again. Last year conventional farms around here averaged 191 bushels to the acre. My cousin produced 180. My organic corn made 183. OSU has run test plots that the last few years that matched or exceeded local conventional averages.

FYI, I have bee certified through OCIA for 14 years and OEFFA for the pas 6 years.

Robert M, Ohio
February 23, 2009 3:06pm

This article really caught my attention, but I must say that if we stop supporting organic farming, would it not be more likely that GMO crops would be impossible to avoid?

Organic soy is preferable to non-organic, which is almost always GMO, similarly are potatoes and almost always CORN.

How are we to communicate to big business that we don't want this crap on our plates, when the American government does not make it mandatory that these items are labeled?

claudiaware (at) gmail (dot) com

Claudia, Alabama
February 23, 2009 4:01pm

Claudia wrote: "This article really caught my attention, but I must say that if we stop supporting organic farming, would it not be more likely that GMO crops would be impossible to avoid?"

No, why?

I live in New Zealand - here we have an agriculture industry and a government that is deathly afraid of anything GM.

We also don't have a particularly large organic food industry (there is some, but not that much).

But why would a decrease in organics lead to an increase in GM? And just what (exactly) is wrong with GM anyway?

I have no issue at all with produce being labelled as GM or not - but really, what is the issue with GM food nutritionally?

Brenton, New Zealand
February 23, 2009 6:16pm

Nutritionally GM Crops are more or less the same as conventional food, except that you may get nut allergies from tomatoes because nut genes have been introduced into their markup.

The problems with GM Crops are more as described in WP here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GM_crops#Controversy

Nabla, Oldenburg/Germany
February 24, 2009 1:56pm

"you may getnut allergies from tomatoes because nut genes have been introduced into their markup. "

Of course GM foods might also reduce blindness in populations because you've introduced the capacity to synthesize beta-carotene in rice.

Of course with any new technology, there are risks. But with those risks come remarkable rewards. The anti-GM crowd are religiously and irrationally Luddite, to the great misfortune of this world.

Henry, Los Angeles
February 24, 2009 4:23pm

One very large concern regarding GM crops is that the seeds are typically owned exclusively by whatever company modified them.
There have been several cases where these seeds blow into neighbouring farms, and because they have been modified to grow more aggressively, the farmer struggles to eradicate the crop.
As a result, these farmers have been sued by the corporation that owns that seed because the farmer has not paid to grow it. Even if it cross pollenates.

Here is an article about one such case concerning GM seeds made by a large corporation and a non-organic farm that was affected and sued as a result by the company;

http://www.percyschmeiser.com/conflict.htm

Huge private corporations are often demonized because of choices they make which put profit so far ahead of the right's of the rest of us, and everyone, including government struggles to stand up to their agenda.

Rob, Calgary
February 24, 2009 6:13pm

I'm not sure that ARGUMENTUM AD HOMINUM arguments have a place on your pages, skeptoid; I expect them from your unreasonable opponents. Also, NON-SEQUITURS aren't typical of your usually reasoned approach, any more than the STRAW MAN arguments used here. yet we have all three in this article, to wit, 1. Organic food proponents are hairy and unwashed and uneducated compared to the Ph.D's who understand farming, 2. Organic food growers make money, some of them a lot of money, and 3. all pesticides have harmful effects.
Even with these flaws I appreciate what is new evidence and (some) new arguments, thank you. I'm just disappointed that you're reduced to those tactics. A bad day??

Jim Ison, Surrey, BC, Canada
February 24, 2009 6:55pm

For more info on what Rob is saying, check out the documentary, 'The World According to Monsanto' you can find it on the popular video sites out there for free.

Justan, TX, US
February 24, 2009 6:56pm

Nabla, You'd only get nut allergies in tomatoes if the inserted genes led to the expression of certain nut proteins. This would be pretty easy to test for, and labelling would solve that one, surely.

Rob - regarding Percy Schmeiser, I understood he wasn't an innocent victim of wind-fall - I had read that he was actively collecting Monsanto's seeds and planting crops from their material - which were still under development.

In essence, and if my memory of the circumstances is correct, it was a case of intellectual property theft

Brenton, New Zealand
February 24, 2009 7:01pm

Your post assumes so much, but especially that the extreme increases in agricultural production are sustainable. You also ignore the immense amount of petrol-chemicals involved in contemporary American farming, and the growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico from pesticide run-off.

If you focus only on historical and current increases in food production (which is only a question of quantity), then your argument is fairly compelling (even with the above-mentioned informal fallacies).

But the problem is not to justify the status quo; the problem is dealing with the implications of monoculture, the ownership of biological processes, the desertification or sterility of fertile land, the multifarious effects of carbon-intensive cultivation, and the implications of unfair government subsidies for certain crops (which hurt the farmer, especially the corn farmer, the most, and help Cargill, Coca Cola, and Monsanto, the most).

The argument against your position is far to complex for such a short space, but I have hinted above the direction it should take.

Jay, Philadelphia
February 24, 2009 10:09pm

The problem with Skepticals is that they are so commited in defending their skepticism regarding a new trend of established idea, that they go too far and do not balance correctly what is in play. They can also say total BS to become a true "SKEPTIC".

I guess what is deeply missing here are :

1-synthetic fertilisers are not renewable. They depend mostly on petrol. So, not sustainable and for "rich" people.

2-The productivity boost is true but on the short-term only. In the long term, it KILLS the soil. Every specialist cry about that.

3- Many cancers have an environmental origin and there are studies showing that what we eat "pollute" us from the inside.

Note 1 : I sincerly doubt that "Food production is among the most regulated and scrutinized of processes, and today's synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are completely biodegradable. They're supported by decades of studies that demonstrate their total safety.". I am no specialist but I hear all the time about dangerous water reserves by overuse of fertilizers !

Note : the sentence "fermented urine, which I don't want on my food whether it causes any diseases or not" is SO RIDICULOUS and COMPLETE NONSENSE. If I have the choice to choose between drinking a glass of pee and a glass of petrol, I would obviously drink pee, not you ?
We all do that anyway from the beg of times without realizing it (by shaking hands with others for instance and putting our fingers in our mouth afterwards).

Newtoon, france
March 2, 2009 2:59pm

Newtoon, no doubt the situation in different in France, but where I live, people wash their hands after visiting the lavatory...

Brenton, New Zealand
March 2, 2009 3:32pm

Around here at least Trader Joe's is often cheaper than the competition. In fact, that is why many people go there. Some of what they carry is organic and some is not, although sometimes they will carry only an organic form of a particular item. Usually this is because the price differential is small and they have limited stock. That is the main disadvantage of TJ's - you can't always find everything you want in one place, but it is a fair approximation of a normal supermarket if you remove all the incidentals like the pharmacy, sammich shop, etc. I am not contradicting your article, I realize, but I thought I would elucidate the difference between that store and some sort of all-organic market for those readers not accustomed.

Adam Kauffman, Santa Barbara, CA
March 9, 2009 8:07pm

from above:

"and for animals it requires that they have not been kept healthy through the use of antibiotics"

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/opinion/15kristof.html

I cry BS!!

JusticeB, Mesa, AZ
March 18, 2009 3:46pm

The problem with Skepticals is that they are so commited in defending their skepticism regarding a new trend of established idea, that they go too far and do not balance correctly what is in play. They can also say total BS to become a true "SKEPTIC".

YES!! I completely agree!!!!
They DEFEND they don't xexamine!

If you read all the articles you see that they are alsways defending the status quo!

NOTHING MORE! They aren't very creative

Btw they don't have too!

The top gets his order from NSA
Well if you can have a top in a skeptics community

Pindar, Holland
March 29, 2009 5:37am

You mean defense is not reading claims analyzing evidence and going where the science leads us?

Skepticism is the neutral position. You are the ones making the claims, therefore it is up to you to prove them correct. That is how it works in science.

So far, the science tells us that organic foods taste no different than foods laced with evil pesticides. Actually, the only reliable science tells me that you have a better chance of getting sick from organic foods because of the manure used in the growing of certain vegetables.

Why call it organic? To me that label tells me, "we made sure this thing was alive before we killed it!"

Well, if we are not creative, it is because of our competition. I mean look who we have to work against. The competition has yet to stir our creative juices and resort to poorly worded insults. The best you can come up is saying that we are not creative and we get our orders from the secret masters, like revealing that information somehow makes it true.

The best tomatoes you will ever have comes from a can. any chef will tell you that.

Joseph Furguson, Brawley, Ca
April 3, 2009 3:11pm

Why call it organic? To me that label tells me, "we made sure this thing was alive before we killed it!"

It usually tells me "this is priced 2-3 times higher than 'factory farmed' food".

Lewayne, Near Des Moines
April 6, 2009 4:41pm

Skepticism is the neutral position

No it is not it is rejectin in the firsdt place

critical is ok but skeptic is not

Pindar, Holland
April 12, 2009 10:50pm

So far, based on those evil scientific studies, the organic food label is merely a placebo.

Organic food is not any more nutritious than stuff grown with pesticides.

All food is organic, it is whether or not pesticides were used being the real issue here.

But I can be swayed by science. All you need to do is provide a link and I'll consider the evidence.

Jakob Ambrose, Holtville
April 13, 2009 6:49am

Just keep buying at the Mall ;)

Pindar, jasmijn
April 17, 2009 9:51pm

This is very interesting and enlightening. Although these arguments are valid, I still buy organic, mainly because I like to support local farmers. In my area, there is an organic farm; it is more expensive, a longer distance than the local grocery store, and doesn't have the same variety available as the local grocery store, but it makes me feel better. I like that I can support a small group of nice hippies who grow veggies that frankly, taste better to me. Several of my friends and I split the tab, the ride and the products, and we feel better. Call me a sentimental idiot, I don't care. We do what we feel is best for the local market, and for us, thats it.

Sofia A., Tampa, FL
May 3, 2009 11:05am

When you think about it, alot of this is common sense. Why do we not eat our own feces? Because it's bad for us. Why are we modernizing farming? To get more out of less. We will need that if the population keeps going the way it is. Why does this not work? It's inefficient and really just a load of bull to sell things to hippies.

Wimbledon P. Twiddles, Port Hope, ON
May 3, 2009 2:53pm

maybe you like refined sugar too!

it is very very very bad!

read 'the sugar blues'

bleeeeeeehhhh

Pindar, Belgium
May 8, 2009 10:42pm

Refined sugar has been through a refinery, I assume. Refineries like the water plant, which removes nasty things from our water.

'maybe you like refined sugar too' is like saying
'maybe you like tap water too'

It makes no sense. You're a joke, Pindar.

Joseph, Norman
May 10, 2009 4:49pm

well well well

you think THAT about sugar?

very simple but ok

please read the book:

"The sugar blues"

sugar is poison!

Pindar, austria
May 12, 2009 7:17am

I have not had a chance to read all the comments, so please forgive if I reiterate anything. Everything must be taken with a grain of salt. There are so many factors that go into food production. I think the author here is attacking the image of organic foods that most people have, and perhaps the false correlations they draw, rather than the concept in general. Although there are probably studies that could reinforce any pro or con involving organic farming (or almost matter) it is important to ask pointed questions and read the fine print. Very few people (dare I say nobody?) are immune to clever marketing. Not every organic label should be treated the same. There are minimum standards that are regulated by the government by which a product may be sold as organic. That doesn't mean that it is as environmentally neutral as, say, growing it in your back yard. I think that in many cases it is easy to concentrate on one part of one issue of a larger problem. I am admittedly no expert and have offered nothing here but logical argument and opinion, but perhaps it would be more productive to lay off arguing over the organic label as a whole (since it encompasses so many variables) and concentrate rather on critiquing individual aspects of food production. One step in the right direction that we could all take is to grow something at home. A small herb garden, done sensibly, can go a long way, especially when multiplied over a large sample size.

Joel C., Durham, NH
May 14, 2009 12:17am

I believe you are overlooking a very simple, completely irrefutable point in your 'sugar is poison' hypothesis...

EVERY SINGLE LIVING THING MUST USE GLUCOSE TO SURVIVE.

Viruses do not, but they are not alive.

C6H12O6, or glucose, is a simple carbohydrate. It is used by plants, animals, and bacteria to generate adenosine triphoshate-ATP. They use glucose to manufacture cellular energy.

All living matter contains sugar. There isn't a single thing on the face of the planet without some form of sugar; it's even bound into the structure of protein.

Therefore, sugar CANNOT be poisonous, otherwise life would not exist.

Joseph, Norman
May 15, 2009 8:05pm

Mr. Dunning, please do another organic episode! I agree with the original, but would like more information on the environmental debate (the health issue is more than clear, no need to go over that again). There do seem to be some environmental benefits to organic farming, not necessarily outweighing the alternative, but I would like to hear you discuss both sides.
In America, and probably most industrialized countries, it seems waste is a larger problem. We probably throw away enough food to feed a third of the world's population. We consume way more meat than needed, or should even want. I'm a happy meat eater, but our excessive meat intake probably causes more environmental problems (and excessive weight) than organic farming. Please do another podcast addressing all issues related to organic and conventional farming; it seems needed based on all your comments episode.

Amy M., Tulsa, OK
May 18, 2009 9:10pm

Organic growing methods are better for the environment:
The answer is simple. Stop eating meat. That way you can keep your rainforests and stop poisoning them too. A little population control wouldn’t go astray either. If you’re looking for a way to grow the same crop faster, stronger, healthier, and on less acreage then perhaps you should do some homework on permaculture and biodynamic farming – they are your answer. To suggest that streaming poisons into the environment is ok is one of the most irresponsible things I’ve heard anyway say in a long time.

Rebecca, Tokyo
June 3, 2009 7:48am

Buying organic food benefits small farmers, and represents a blow to the big food corporations, NOT!

See this web page from a "sustainable and organic agriculture" web sight for a visual diagram.

http://www.cornucopia.org/graphics/OrganicTop25Jul07.pdf

David, Minneapolis
June 10, 2009 2:30pm

Many of the claims made here are misleading. Just as misleading as the claims made by the hippies pushing organic food.

Organic milk is higher in vitamins than non organic

In many tests, vegetables grown organically yield many more vitamins and minerals than their non-organically grown counterparts.

free range chickens are far healthier and less bacteria ridden then their mass produced counterparts

Switch a cow away from corn and onto grass for a week and the e-coli count goes down by 80 percent.

Zen One, ny, ny
June 21, 2009 6:32pm

"Free range chickens are far healthier and less bacteria ridden then their mass produced counterparts"

He's done an episode on this, too, I seem to recall. I also seem to remember that his conclusion was the same as an acquaintance of mine, who also happens to be a veterinarian: there's no benefit to free-range chickens over 'regular' chickens.

Safe-Keeper, Bergen
July 2, 2009 9:28am

The point in eating eggs from free-range chicken is less the content of the eggs but the conditions under which the animals are kept: at least here in Germany big chicken farms are a disaster. i would rather not eag any egg then support this kind of housing.

birdy, hamburg
July 7, 2009 12:14am

"When you take the exact same strain of a plant and grow it in two different ways, its chemical and genetic makeup remain the same."

Genetic makeup: Yes, you are correct.
Chemical makeup: You fail at science.

Do you believe you can eat anything you like and not change your chemical makeup? Do you believe nutrition is a myth?

No?

Do you think plants are any different? That they somehow magically adapt to different inputs, unlike us imperfect humans?

Seriously, help me out here. I'm trying to comprehend what sort of alien philosophy could have produced that sentence. Please don't let me believe it's just ignorance.

Two minutes of googling:
http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/Arun/Facts%20&%20figures%20from%20soil%20association.pdf

Fned, San Francisco
July 8, 2009 1:35am

I was expecting Eutrophication to be mentioned here.

Ellie, London
July 12, 2009 8:12am

"The point in eating eggs from free-range chicken is less the content of the eggs but the conditions under which the animals are kept: at least here in Germany big chicken farms are a disaster. i would rather not eag any egg then support this kind of housing."

Lots of free range chicken farms are a disaster, too. Chickens aren't as peaceful and tranquil as one would like to believe, and often peck on each others when "set loose". Words like "pecking order" didn't come out of thin air.

Safe-Keeper, Norway
July 18, 2009 11:02am

Fned - the catchline of the site you linked to might provide a clue as to their angle on things "Health begins in the soil; Healing begins with hygiene; Liberty begins with freedom."

The site clearly has a guiding philosophy. Sure so does skeptoid but that philosophy is one of rational thought based on evidence. And evidence is what really matters.

I think the point is that when actually tested, organic foods overall don't come out any better than non-organic. So despite the differences in fertilisation methods, the nutrition isn't improved. So what is the point in paying the extra money and using the extra land?

Some of the claims made by interest groups like the Soil Association are not what they seem. Perhaps their strongest claim is that "organic milk is on average 68% higher in Omega 3 essential fatty acids". Given how strongly the benefits of Omega 3 are pushed this sounds great. However all O3 is not the same. The supposed benefits of O3 come from the ones found in fish (EPA and DHA). The ones in milk are merely ALAs. These have to be synthesised by the body into the more complex ones and the process is VERY inefficient. The result is that the amount of organic milk you'd need to drink would be vast just to get the same effect as one fish oil capsule.

The FSA say "Organic milk may contain more short-chain omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk, but this does not translate into clear nutritional benefits for consumers"

Neil, UK
July 21, 2009 8:28am

While it is true that per-acre production is decreased with organic farming, so is the damage done by pesticides and fertilizer. Biomagnification, eutrophication, water pollution, and soil damage are just a few that come to mind.

In the future there are hopes that genetic modification can replace pesticides and increase yield so perhaps more money should be invested researching this considering the human population is on an exponential growth rate.

By the way, you forgot to mention that organic foods taste better. I used to live in a country where little to no pesticides were used and once I came to the US it was like my taste buds had turned off. Gardening in the back yard has saved me.

Zryan, Kansas City
July 28, 2009 1:56pm

New meta study finds: no important differences in the nutrition content, or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food.

http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2009/jul/organic

Elkin Fricke, Münster
July 30, 2009 8:29am

In response to Zryan from Kansas City, Penn and Teller have just recently run an episode of their hit show on Showtime called Bull S**t. This weeks episode was about organic foods. They ran blind taste tests with people who swear they buy only organic food, and 89% of them chose the non-organic over the organic option. They even cut a non-organic banana in half in secret and told the testers that one half was organic and the other wasn't. They 9 out of 10 people said that the half that they were told was organic tasted better. It is psychological. I agree that organic foods generally taste different but I would not say better. But I agree with you that home grown food is generally better for you if you don't use pesticides, and tastes a heck of a lot better.

Mike, Newport, PA
July 31, 2009 7:13pm

I am not living in North America right now and I am Canadian.

You made a lot of very valid points. I would have to research your findings cause I am also skeptical of them.

Okay, organic food growing and farming takes up more space. That is too bad.

Maybe, one of our biggest problems is that we already eat way too much food.

I was wondering if by chance you have had the time to watch the film "Our Daily Bread".

The first thing that struck about this film is that not one of those people working in the agricultural and farm (mass producing) look like they like their jobs, their eyes are empty.

If you want to talk about taking up too much space for our massive apetites then you will be floored by this film.

How much food do we waste?

E.coli, are there not ways to check for this during the farming? I thought there are ways to regulate this.

Do you know anyone who has died of E.coli personally?

Who are these huge agricultural organization that make our supermarket foods? Do you think the workers that work for these corporations are being paid fairly? Have you even checked? Of course, there is the argument that organic farm workers are not being paid well that is true. I do not know if this is true or not. I would have to go and personally investigate these organic farming places.

I always thought that the pesticides and herbicides used in super farming where very bad for us.

Am I wrong?

thanks for the forum

M.Cloutier, Japan/Tokyo
August 5, 2009 9:33pm

Brian, would you respond to the claim that Trader Joe's is the 'most expensive speciality supermarket in town'? Is it more expensive as you say, or *less* expensive as some commentors wrote?

Thanks for the great podcasts.

Alec, Seoul
August 9, 2009 3:07am

Hi Brian, I enjoy your podcasts and usually agree with you. However, I have to point out that organic gardening in my back yard has saved me TONS of fuel and money, as I no longer have to drive to the store to buy vegetables!
If everyone grew their own vegetables, a lot of fuel would indeed be saved, because no one would have to ship them anywhere. You just walk out into your garden and pick the freshest, most tasty pesticide free veggies ever!

Cheri, North Hills, CA
August 9, 2009 3:14pm

Mike, Newport, PA: Your post makes no sense to me. You spent a lot of time typing out the results of Penn & Teller's test (which CLEARLY and STRONGLY showed that organic food does NOT taste better, and that people's reports of such a difference are purely psychological), but then you ended with a statement that completely refutes what you just said!

Food that is grown at home "without any pesticides" is ORGANIC food (that last part is the very definition of "organic"), and although you just provided evidence that it doesn't taste any better than other foods, you still maintain that it "tastes a heck of a lot better."

If there is such a difference, I think that's probably because you grew it at home and picked it at an optimal time (rather than early to market), and not because you didn't use pesticides.

Sheldon W. Helms, San Ramon, CA
August 10, 2009 2:37pm

Excellent article. It's amazingly sad the way people ignore or refuse to accept scientific fact. And what are the organic folks implying about farmers and scientists? That they are all evil?! Doesn't make any sense at all.

Fred, NH
August 11, 2009 3:04am

All natural is NOT the same as grown using an Organic Standard.

The USDA Organic Standard is regularly being revised and refined. Similar to ASME Standards or NIST Standards the USDA Organic Agricultural Standard was formulated with the oversight of scientific minds.

Oregon Tilth is an organization that cooperates with farmers and corporations so that they can move towards more sustainable organic practices.

Small milk producers on the Oregon Coast were able to keep their family farms by converting to Organic.

Linda Sebring, Corvallis, OR
August 17, 2009 6:31pm

About the author: "A few years ago, I began searching for interesting and unusual phenomena in Internet forums and mailing lists. More than once, I tried to open a discourse offering alternate, more reasonable explanations for the reported phenomena."

I don't understand why you feel that your opinion on something, or things, you haven't researched thoroughly is worth writing about. Do you just find yourself so smart?

From what I see, and correct me, please, if I am wrong, it appears that you read a few articles and then write a little post about the more reasonable explanation you were able to come up with. But what makes your opinion so reasonable? Really, tell me, how do you know about this than say, me, or my sister, or my sisters stupid ex boyfriend who seems to think he knows so much from reading your dumb article.

You grew up in California, studied computers, and now figure you have such a wise opinion about organic food that you think its worth publishing out there in the world of internet?

It seems you were well educated in computer science. Why don't you write about that? Leave the farming to the experts in farming.

andrea, spain
August 19, 2009 3:54pm

My husband and I were diagnosed with infertility after we married. We paid thousands of dollars out of pocket to the best reproductive endocrinologist in the state. We were unsuccessful. Doing some research in the medical journals (I am a registered nurse) I found that pesticides are linked to infertility. Having nothing to lose, I put my husband and I on an all organic diet, and one cycle later we were pregnant. When we wanted another child, we repeated the same thing, again, next cycle we were pregnant. Perhaps there is no in vitro test sensitive enough to pick up the damage that pesticide residue does in human tissue, but there is plenty of in vivo evidence. Remember, science once thought that D.E.S. was a perfectly safe remedy for morning sickness. Thallidomide, also perfectly safe. X-rays during pregnancy, no problem. The history of modern medicine is a wash-rinse-repeat cycle of "Oh, this is perfectly safe, nothing to worry about here, chuckle chuckle, we've tested it. It's scientific." followed by "Whoops, my bad." and then on to the next certain thing. Why should the reported safety of pesticides, the studies of which are often paid for by the manufacturer in a clear conflict of interest, be any different?

Traci Perg, Oklahoma City, OK
August 22, 2009 4:08pm

Correlation is not necessarily causation, Traci. Particularly of anecdote.

Marius vanderLubbe, Nullabour Plain, Australia.
August 23, 2009 12:14am

Hello. I am the overpriced organic farmer. You are full of shit and you should enter some footnotes next time to direct people to your mis-info. Pesticides,hmmm. I use many organic pesticides. For Aphids I drop a million lady bug larva along with green lacewings, for moth larva I bring in parasitic wasps, for ants:ant lions, catterpillars:ground beetles, and for grasshoppers and anything else I use praying mantis. If I feel like keeping the mosquitoes away I'll spray some garlic water in any areas of standing water and pick fresh lavender to rub on my clothing. I plant bordering herbs and flowers that repel certain pests and attract more beneficial ones. I bet you never new that some bugs eat other bugs. That probably wasn't in the article you plagiarized.

Now on to your kick about the food not being healthier. Did you know that organic food takes longer to grow?? I'm sure you did, I mean we are so inefficient not using chemical fertilizers and all. The studies you will find on organic verses chemically grown will tell you the vitamins are all the same. BUT they wont tell you that the chemically grown vegetables grow SO FAST that they are deficient in virtually all TRACE MINERALS. You know those little things that most of America is deficient in and linked to hundreds of diseases and disorders? Organic vegetables grow nice and slow getting all that is missing. You do know that organic farming is the only farming there was before the salesmen came peddling their chemicals?

Andrew, Merced/CA
August 24, 2009 10:34pm

I happen to know 99% of the farmers in the Merced and surrounding areas, and I know of no one named "Andrew" or "Andy." If this guy is for real, he's a small farmer or someone who recently got into the profession. Given enough time, he'll come to see that Brian's information is correct. Using ground up beetles? Sheesh! He'll be out of business within two years. What a bunch of lunatics this web site attracts. I'm sorry that Brian even has to deal with such people and their venom.

Sheldon Helms, San Ramon, CA
August 27, 2009 7:52pm

Andrew, Did you know that organic food comes from the same seeds that the "evil" kind grows from. The only difference is that organic food is allowed to stay on the vine a little longer.

Here is something you probably should be made aware of Andrew: the tomato does not care if it is on the vine for 6 weeks or 6 months because it has already gotten all the nutrients out of the soil after about a month growing time. While it is leeching more nutrients out of the ground, it is not storing any more beyond that what it gained in that first month. You are making a false correlation: Tastes better= more nutritious.

Guess what: pesticide goes on the skin of the plant. The molecules are not small enough to make it through that waxy layer around it. How do you get rid of pesticides? you wash it under cold water water for 15 seconds.

So far the empirical evidence does not agree with you. There is nothing about organic that is better for you than the other kind.

Joseph Furguson, Brawley, Ca
August 28, 2009 8:29am

@Dan from Ottowa:

Your pubmed study had a poor excuse for an abstract, so I looked up the author. He is a chiropractor and nutritionist who lists the address of his practice as his laboratory. Considering you don't need a real science degree for either of those professions, and just by those two facts I can peg him as part of the naturopathic life style, I see no reason to consider this to be legitimate, especially since the other studies I've read say nothing of the sort. Find a better study.

Kirin Furst, New York New York
September 10, 2009 7:09pm

I think this guy is incredibly biased in his reports. I am skepitcal about this skeptoid guy. People only see what they want to see and because he is already labeled himself as a "skeptoid" it automatically means that he will write everything off befere he has done his reasearch. He should be a lawyer who tries to "reason" his way out of everything. I am going to do my own research and not let other people like skeptoid man tell me what is true and what is false. I appreciate the good intentions but I smell a big ego running this site.

Jennifer, Honolulu
September 22, 2009 3:42pm

Andrew,

> The studies you will find on organic verses chemically grown will tell you the vitamins are all the same. BUT they wont tell you that the chemically grown vegetables grow SO FAST that they are deficient in virtually all TRACE MINERALS.

Why won't the studies tell us this, and how else can we verify if it's true?

Max, Boston, MA
September 22, 2009 7:20pm

Jennifer,

If you'd spent any appreciable amount of time listening to Skeptoid or reading the content of the website, you would know that Brian Dunning advocates the exact opposite of what you're accusing. He stresses whenever it's relevant that you shouldn't simply take him at his word - you should do what you just said that you would do and look into things yourself.

All Brian does is present an easily digestible conclusion based on his own research for convenience's sake (and yes, Jen, he DOES do the research before jumping to a conclusion). If you want the full story, you're welcome to do your own research, evaluate all the evidence, and see if you come to the same conclusions. THAT'S THE ENTIRE GOAL OF SKEPTOID. The goal is to make sure that people don't simply take ANYONE's word for granted, and instead look into claims yourself with a measured, unbiased approach.

If you're going out and doing your own research, then the "skeptoid man" has achieved his goal. Good for you! Just make sure you check the validity of all your sources with the same skepticism that you approach skeptoid.com. Don't give any source a free pass just because you happen to like them. Check their actual credentials first, then proceed with care and a desire to truly know reality from fiction.

Eryn, Calgary, AB
September 23, 2009 2:22pm

Okay, a few problems with your article here. One, organic food is not always genetically the same, since organic food cannot be genetically engineered; however, GMO wheat, corn, soy, and canola dominate the non-organic food supply. I'm talking 80-90% of those crops are genetically engineered. I eat organic mostly to avoid eating genetically engineered food, which is engineered to be resistant to pesticides and herbicides, NOT to be more nutritious. Basically, it is to increase profit. Now, I will gladly pay more for organic food if it means I'm not a lab rat for Monsanto. Whether or not GMO foods are safe is debatable, but there's no shortage of scientists who doubt their safety. We just don't know yet the long-term results. But, I got sick of reading labels and finding HFCS in everything. Organic, I don't have to worry about it.

Secondly, organic crops may yield less per acre, but the crops are generally rotated, keeping the soil better longer. If we stopped the corn subsidies, stopped making it into ethanol and artificial sweeteners just to maximize profit, we wouldn't have to plow down forests for more farmland. We are farming so much corn we actually have to pay these farmers to make any profit.

"Faster" and "less acreage" are okay, you can say that, but "better" and "healthier" are inaccurate. Ever tasted an organic tomato versus one that's engineered to be fatter, meatier, grow faster, keep longer? The first will be flavorful and ripe; the second, totally bland.

Erin, Janesville, WI
October 2, 2009 7:24pm

""Faster" and "less acreage" are okay, you can say that, but "better" and "healthier" are inaccurate. Ever tasted an organic tomato versus one that's engineered to be fatter, meatier, grow faster, keep longer? The first will be flavorful and ripe; the second, totally bland."

This will come as a surprise to you, but you're mistaken. Whenever consumer groups test organic foods versus conventionally grown produce, the result is either a tie, or the organic food losing. We humans -all of us- automatically think something tastes better if it's advertised as better, or is more expensive.

Try it yourself - have someone buy a bag of organic apples, and one bag of similar-looking conventionally grown apples, for you. See if you can figure out which is which.

Safe-Keeper, Bergen, Norway
October 3, 2009 5:19pm

I didn't see any actualy scientific proff to back up your claims. I am not a huge prganic buyer; I just buy what looks best at the store that week, but saying something is or isn't safe isn't proof that it is. You need to back your smack talk up with a few studies that are done by groups with no ties to the industry.

Kim, Dallas, Texas
October 7, 2009 11:50am

Organic or not, in the end, consumer have to check out the food themselves. Not all organic food is the same. Yes I have came across organic tomato that is way superior in taste compared to conventional (industrialized) farming. But I've also tasted "industry" tomato that is superior than organic tomato.

In the end it depends on the seedling (genetic) and the farming method used. There is no need to go anti-organic or pro-organic, just choose the best food/fruits/vege there is.

Your buying power will change how the industries produce the food. If more people choose better testing/healthier tomato, we will all have better tomatoes in the future, organic or not.

Lim, Malaysia
October 11, 2009 6:46pm

Erin is wrong on a couple of things about the GMO foods. For one it is not engineered to be resistant to pesticides and herbicides but is engineered to fight insects and molds with out the use of pesticides and herbicides and using less chemicals on food is better for the environment. Also Some GMO foods are modified to be healthier, the golden rice was an example of that which failed partly because people scared developing countries from taking it for free because it was a "frankenfood" and golden rice could have been a useful weapon in fighting malnutrition in developing countries.

Blaine, Skykomish
October 11, 2009 11:54pm

Organic food must not be view as a isolated issue. Organic foods may take twice the land to grow but vegetarianism or veganism would reduce agricultural land usage by about 80%. If the majority of the persons in first world nations would adopt a vegetarian or near-vegetarian land usage would not be an big an issue and we could support an even larger population.

Also here in Berkeley many folks practice the 100 mile diet or a variation thereof, they eat only or mostly foods produced within a certain distance of their home with a big focus on local farmers markets and buying from independent farmers as much as possible. Most of the grocery stores also list the where produce was grown some being so specific as to list the individual farm. SO with a little bit of research (skeptics should be used to that) you can shop mostly for locally grown produce picking organic or conventional by availability and budget. Local and organic foods are just a good habit to get into for those areas where its possible.

As for the organic fertilizers, there are many environmentalist that oppose the use of some of the more hazardous ones. Anyways who cares about "fermented urine" that uric acid its in tons of products even ones we eat, dont fear monger with a bunch of scary sounding substances that are actually properly used, that's just what hippies do with crap like mercury.

Jam, BeROAKEville
October 16, 2009 6:15pm

Your arguments would be much stronger if you backed them with some factual scientific information. Otherwise, people like me will dismiss your opinions due to lack of credibility and agree with the other side of the argument, which has plenty of scientific information to back its claims.

Chris, Indianapolis
October 25, 2009 6:03pm

Hey Kim did you not read this?

"According to the Center for Global Food Issues, organic foods make up about 1% of all the food sold in the United States, but it accounts for 8% of E. coli cases."

Brent, San Marcos, TX
October 31, 2009 10:26am

From what I've read elsewhere, it seems that the 8% statistic, created by Dennis Avery at the Center for Global Food Issues, isn't based on any conclusive or even factual data.

He quotes the Center for Disease Control as the source of this statistic, but when they were questioned about this, they pointed out they do not conduct any research on organic or natural foods and that he may have made a mistake, which lead to Dennis Avery admitting to a mis-reading of the CDC data.

Unfortunately, by this point, the fictitious statistic had already been published and disseminated into the media at large to be quoted in articles such as this.

Brian, you should probably remove that stat from your article so as not to further propagate the fiction...further reading is available at these links:

http://tinyurl.com/yd2svbe

http://tinyurl.com/y9lqq3e

There is conflicting evidence that the use of manure can result in more pathogenic bacteria, but it isn't necessarily resulting in a comparative eight-fold increase in e-coli cases compared to it's non-organic counterpart.

Essentially, an organic farm that is following guidelines regarding composting will not result in a net increase in pathogenic e. coli although there will be more fecal/composting matter on the vegetables.

http://tinyurl.com/yzkgrlt

What a minefield?!

David, London, UK
November 2, 2009 7:32pm

Organic farming methods offer several benefits for the environment and human health as a whole, but unfortunately, there are many misconceptions and falsehoods being spread regarding organic food and farming methods, both by proponents and detractors. Here are the facts about what organic methods can do for us and what they can't.

http://www.selfdestructivebastards.com/2009/11/organic-myths-and-realities.html

Canada Guy, Toronto
November 3, 2009 10:42am

Nooo you did not source the Center for Consumer Freedom, especially on a skeptical site!

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Center_for_Consumer_Freedom

"The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) (formerly called the "Guest Choice Network") is a front group for the restaurant, alcohol and tobacco industries. It runs media campaigns which oppose the efforts of scientists, doctors, health advocates, environmentalists and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, calling them "the Nanny Culture -- the growing fraternity of food cops, health care enforcers, anti-meat activists, and meddling bureaucrats who 'know what's best for you.' ""

Organic means non-GMO. Watch a movie such as The World According to Monstanto, free on google movies.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hErvV5YEHkE

for proof that GMO crops are dangerous and prolific.

Doug, Newport, RI
November 27, 2009 11:58pm

Chinese people like hot tea not because they want to use the boiling water to kill the bacteria in the tea, but cold water can not make tea and hot water can make tea good flavor.
You are showing your ignorance...

Peng Wei, Beijing
December 6, 2009 11:32am

I think that neither side gives REAL evidence but relies upon personal opinion

Peter Combest, Michigan
December 6, 2009 6:58pm

Doug - that's one biased article you linked to. I stopped reading when it called the centre "Pro-mercury" because it questioned the health risks of mercury in fish.

Right, so if I don't think the mercury levels in fish are enough to kill you, it can't be because I've discovered through scientific testing that this is the case; it's that I'm "pro-mercury" (which must mean "a supporter for mercury in fish", or "a supporter of the ingestion of mercury").

Sure, just that the article is utterly ridiculous on that one point doesn't make it worthless, but reading on, I found plenty of other dubious material there. You've not convinced me.

Safe-Keeper, Bergen, Norway
December 28, 2009 9:09pm

Great Article...

Thx A lot

Haha, Hong Kong
January 17, 2010 5:32am

I would like to point out to Doug that GMO's are strictly controlled to prevent any of the harmful side-effects that are ever cited as being "the problem with GMO's." I would also like to note that it only plants modified through transgenesis that are potentially harmful; the process of cisgenesis, which is the most common form of GMO creation, is in reality no different from traditional plant breeding, save it is more efficient in modifying only what will improve a plant. Making a statement like "GMO's are dangerous" is akin to saying "people are rapists"; yes, there are some that are, but you can't judge a population by a few individuals.

Realism, Utah
January 17, 2010 2:57pm

If major food corporations were actually feeding starving people in Africa you might have at least one point.

However, the problem of hunger in the world continues to be primarily a problem of distribution. Organic farming neither contributes nor decreases from this.

I do not see any logic to your statement that anyone would need to cut down forests to grow organically. We currently have an overproduction of monoculture crops and very low food costs. A shift toward organic would be a drop in the ocean in our country.

Your other points are valid, though.

Summer, Columbus Ohio
January 28, 2010 8:01am

I'm a dreadlocked white boy AND I think organic crop production is retarded. I think it's unethical to kill 3 billion people. Hitler x 500! Norman Berlaug himself was right.

jimmy, saskatoon
January 29, 2010 8:35pm

One missing point in your argument about people wanting both organic food and to stop deforestation is that most of these people also support having fewer children to slow over-population. Maybe if people stopped having a bazillion kids we wouldn't have such a hard time feeding the "growing population" with organic foods while preserving trees. I also find that you failed to mention the link between excessive fertilization and oceanic dead zones. Conventional farms tend to overfertilize to increase production, excess fertilizer leaches into the water system and goes out to the ocean, reaking havoc.

Ariel, Seattle
February 17, 2010 9:57am

""One missing point in your argument about people wanting both organic food and to stop deforestation is that most of these people also support having fewer children to slow over-population. Maybe if people stopped having a bazillion kids we wouldn't have such a hard time feeding the "growing population" with organic foods while preserving trees.""

And maybe if people would just stop speeding, we wouldn't need as much police patrolling the roads.

Nice thought, but firstly, many families NEED children to make sufficient money to buy food and clothes and whatever else they need, and secondly, this is simply not going to happen. Ideas like "if only people at less meat" or "if only people had less children" sound good on the surface, but actually implementing them... not going to happen.

Safe-Keeper, Bergen
February 20, 2010 4:07am

I will have to agree! Our world is starving! What we are producing today is not considered food! Soil barely considers it food! SALT FAT SUGAR. Thats our diet. Fad? Its not a matter of IF but WHEN it hurts him and his family will something be done. I'd try to see his point of view but I just cant put my head that far up my A**! I wonder if he is being paid by Monsanto. Over half of our food production is into junk food that is not even good for us of processed foods and burnt through our cars and burnt through our homes for heat! I wonder what this could be.... CORN! We are starving? What a load of crap! Don't bring in starving countrys in to make yourself feel good about having to do more overproducing as we already are! How much energy and oil goes into making soda happen to hit your hand is ridiculous. Concentrating on money. Keeping our people dumb of what we are doing is only helping big businesses. We are just like fatten cattle ready for slaughter except our pocket books pay for it. We cant afford GOOD HEALTHY NUTRITIOUS FOOD but can afford cancer, diabetes , food illnesses and further on? Im also guessing cancer and all of our diseases and health problems are also myths too? Terrible.. just terrible

Paul, Wisconsin
February 24, 2010 2:54pm

What about hormones and genetically altered animals and food? Author seems to consider them healthy, but are they?

Food manufacturers would definitely do anything that can increase profit, no surprise there.

If there are long lasting negative side-effects of the food they are selling which would be very hard to prove 10-20 years after, they'll go for it.

That certainly doesn't mean that their processed food is healthier.

If you limit yourself only to processed food, you're increasing the risk of being poisoned by some of ingredients that you didn't really need, but that were good for the business.

Fred, NY
March 9, 2010 8:35pm

Well Fred, what hormones? And what about genetically altered animals and foods is dangerous?

If it is hard to prove that it had negative side effects, just how negative could they be? Organic food could theoretically be dangerous if we want to throw around 'what ifs' all day.

That certainly doesn't mean that processed food is less healthy.

Oh, and processed food does not equal non-organic. I don't know why you seem to think it does. There are processed organic foods. There are non-organic whole foods. But do please try to explain how poisoned food could possibly be good for business.

Brandon, Falconer NY
March 10, 2010 5:45am

Amazingly limited scope of vision on your part. No offense personally, but you obviously do not spend a significant amount of time on the subject. Maybe you should stick to debunking UFOs, creationism or whatever else you do..

Just a few points you failed to consider. The acreage and fossil fuels that it takes to manufacture and transport inorganic fertilizers. USDA and other independent studies that DO find significantly higher levels of nutrients in organic produce. The differences between organic and synthetic nitrogens in run-off pollution.

And when you mention the starving millions outside of the US, you fail to realize that our agricultural surplus and OVER-production collapses food markets in other countries, thereby plunging farmers into poverty. Starvation exists on Earth not from a lack of agricultural output (its been a long, long time since that was the case), but rather from a lack of distribution.

I, sir, am skeptical of your comprehension of the issue.

Mike, NY
March 10, 2010 2:47pm

I too am skeptical of the argument in its entirety. But there are very valuable points in the argument as well.
First and foremost, I need to do more research myself to verify the claims made in this podcast. I encourage others to do the same.
Dunning's mantra is "Be skeptical." If he is honest, he will encourage us to do the very same thing with his podcasts. Ultimately his aim, if I comprehend correctly, is to encourage us to think for ourselves. To quote the wise cliche, "how to think, not what to think."

While the argument may have flaws, it is true that the word "organic" and the methods it refers to are not a panacea. Furthermore, there does seem to be much misinformation associated with the "movement". Point being, our beliefs should not take form based on what we're told simply because we're told it.

-The reduction of meat-consumption is desirable and more realistic than the eradication of it. Reduction is a worthy goal and is feasible with the proper culture and EDUCATION.

Beyond that, I think a consequentialist view is best, in regards to what methods to proceed w/. What methods will create the highest benefit with the least suffering? We cannot know if we do not inform ourselves.

Steve, Portland, OR
March 10, 2010 6:26pm

This is nothing more than a piece of propaganda from the desperate food industry. It's 5% truth laced with 95% misinformation.

One example, the human/animal waste fertilizer Chinese farmers use is collected in a pond, "cooked" by the sun, and fermented before being used on crops. The pond looks like a boiling pot during the process and no E coli could survive in it. The guy obviously did not know that organic wastes kill bacteria through heat!

And why should we destroy land to mass produce food for a skyrocketing human population that we should keep under control to begin with?

Shame on the author and his pseudo science! But I am not going to stop him from dying of breast and nut cancer by eating artificial foods. It's called natural selection.

weju, Atlanta
March 21, 2010 7:51am

As someone who often takes a very cynical view towards any fad, I also have to say that this article is a little myopic.

It is true that organic farms are big business - and often plants grown under the Organic label are in fields alongside fields of non-organic foods.

However, to blame organic-food on worsening environmental and social issues isn't exactly accurate. As Mike from NY pointed out, we have over-produced food, especially corn. However, feeding the poor is not profitable-so instead, we have high fructose corn syrup, ethanol, and cheap (unnatural) food for livestock.

Overproduction of monoculture, especially for support of the animal industry, is doing much more to hurt the environment than organic farming.

Chris F, New Haven
March 21, 2010 4:16pm

Mr. Dunning,

Why did you feel the need to start this post with a strawman and ad hominem attack?

Paul, St. Louis
March 22, 2010 8:33am

Great job at finally introducing some skepticism in this much hyped field! Thankfully, you've taught me to be skeptical of over-emotional claims that lack sufficient research- like yours.

You totally fail to mention the effects of soil degredation that industrial farming (whether the product is conventional or organic) produces. Self-sustaining smaller farms have no choice but to use other forms of pest deterrent (beneficial gardens are one example) in order to preserve their soil so that they may continue farming on the only land they have access to. Traditional larger farms have no qualms about that- they have the ability to consume much more land that, after the soil has been destroyed, simply buy more. And as it has been stated above, soil degredation is a HUGE environmental problem.

If you want to point out the myth of industrialized organic farming, fine. But perhaps you would be better to attack scale of production and distinguish which types of organic farming are beneficial and which truly are a myth.

Carrie, Columbia, SC
March 29, 2010 9:37am

Trader Joe's is not organic, vegetarian or expensive (compared to Whole Foods and Safeway). Don't let the facts get in the way of your rant though.

Organic is the original. So much for trendy - actually pesticides are the trendy. If you like your toxins, fine. But why push this crap on others? You couldn't be more wrong if you tried. I am hard pressed to find anything intelligent in this diatribe, more less correct.

It sounds like you work for the agricultural industry. if not, you sure are due a big hug from them for pushing their agenda.

Are small organic farms conspiracy theorists? I see you like to use that phrase on anyone you diss, don't understand, can't explain or dislike.

A.B., Palo Alto, California
April 2, 2010 3:12pm

Center for Consumer Freedom.. Ugh....

Bryce, Finger Lakes, NY
April 5, 2010 11:31am

Hi Mr. Dunning,

Everyone has opinions but what I feel is more important is how educated they are. What are your credentials and/or what industry do you work in?

I agree the organic industry may be in its infancy stages and nothing comes without a price. I think its great that people are becoming more concerned with where our food comes from and should be aware of the subsequent consequences of every action.

Right now modern agriculture is not sustainable (i.e. soil compaction of soil, tilling, salinization, monoculture, sludge and pesticide use). If you want to bring awareness to people include suggestions of how these current methods can be improved, don't just focus on how organic farming is flawed.

Tanya, Victoria BC
April 17, 2010 10:23am

Pesticides allowed under organic regulations also include Copper Sulphate. Not only is this not organic (no carbon!) but it does not degrade naturally. Like DDT, it just builds up the food chain, stopping at us. Since DDT was introduced lots of lovely new diseases (mainly of the neurological type) - I wonder what Copper Sulphate could bring!

TomR, Immingham
April 18, 2010 2:26pm

Organic is not new. Organic is how my parents farmed 50 years ago. when cows were fed grass and chickens were fed whatever they are ment to eat. If you know how MRSA and VRE came about (the super bugs caused by over use of antibiotic) you would know why its dumb to give animals routine antibiotics. Have you had your dose this month? Really?

I appreciate you bringing out that big companies took over most organic products, like Horizon dairy, much less good fats than grass fed organic. But many more cows and set up like a more modern farm :(.

laura wells, Ingalls
April 29, 2010 5:23pm

wow whoever wrote this is verry. you sir..get off the computer and stop making these false claim.s teach people th truth...dont talk about organic farming being the problem. dont get mad that the crops yield is a little lower for the first year than a farm MONOCULTURED FULL OF PESTICIDES AND CHEMICALS which is killing all life around it.. dont mistake a clean healthy biodiverse organic farm with any corporately owned company such as hood milk.. i dont know what you are trying to accomplish by this blog but you seem to have all ur facts skewed. who do you work for monsanto? WHOs paying you to write this stuff sir? i am a college student and will not stand for this nonsense.. spread the truth .. ill call you fox news from now on buddy

MATT, plattsburgh
May 2, 2010 6:35am

Maybe you havent realized, but up until just after world war II, agriculture was made using absolutley none of the chemicals we use today. These new chemicals we use, most of them are chemicals modified from bombs! I'm pretty sure i dont want that in my food. Also, what about kids, the chemicals they use in these foods are shown to cause brain damage in children. Yea, becuase thats what i want for my children! And did you know that the antibiotics they use on animals are the exact same ones that we use. So when we eat to many of these they are less effective when we actually need them. Maybe i'm only 13, but i've been brought up on organic foods, and i know that they are much healthier then all the chemical crap they are putting in our food today!!

Kate, Ontario
May 2, 2010 9:02am

Fascinating... You have citations to items that were updated after your podcast aired in 2007. Just a tip from a real researcher: you do the research and THEN form a conclusion.

Also, much of your information comes from highly biased sources: just a little checking into that ACSH web site shows that they have an agenda, so either you selected them to promote your own agenda, or you were too hasty to detect it.

That said, there is no proof that organic food is healthier (heck, there can be "organic" cookies made with "organic" HFCS). But consider the folks who have to work with these hazardous chemicals. Apparently, they're not part of your equation.

Additionally, antibiotic resistance is a real threat. Thanks for contributing to the problem!

And, yes, there are plenty of big companies behind organic. That's why people have become locavores.

Only a portion of what Trader Joe's (and Whole Foods) carries is organic. Don't be a dumb consumer, read the label. It'd be impossible to be a store that carried only organic items.

Finally, do the public a favor: try searching PubMED for some better and less biased resources before you host your next health-related podcast.

A, New England
May 2, 2010 2:35pm

For a skeptic, you're pretty far biased towards industrialized farming.. You artfully dance over critical issues of industrialized farming such as animal treatment, conditions in meat-packing plants, and the terrible viruses and bacteria that have developed from absolutely stupid biotech companies to push artificial food over onto our plate.

Sandro, Media
May 10, 2010 10:04am

Organic farming can be and largely IS industrialized, so I have no idea what Sandro is talking about. I especially have no idea what the 'terrible viruses' that biotech companies supposedly developed in conjunction with 'artificial food', whatever that is, are.

That's ok Brian, I know you are more hurt over being told off about 'dangerous chemicals' by A New England. And here I thought there was just one New England.

Brandon, Falconer
May 10, 2010 2:43pm

I don't quite know where all these people are getting their "facts" against organic farming (which is far, far different than small local farms who often can't afford organic certification and may be using more conventional methods anyway, don't mistake the two!). Anyway, you have facts, backed up by studies... and they have angry rants with no backing whatsoever.
Conventional methods use far LESS pesticides and chemicals than organic farming. Did you all miss that? You all seem to be worried about your children eating chemicals... if that's truly the case, you'd never ever feed them organic food. The chemicals used on conventional farming are just modern and improved versions of old fashioned pesticides.
And don't mistake it- you don't get a little fewer crops, you get at least half as many.
If the whole world used organic growing techniques, it's estimated we could only feed 4 billion people. Organic growing is wasting good farm space.
Where can you find things to back these facts up?
Look at
http://www.acsh.org/publications/pubID.103/pub_detail.asp
or google "organic food problems". There are plenty of well documented studies on the issues with organic growing. Learn.

Lynn, Toronto
May 25, 2010 7:37pm

"Maybe you havent realized, but up until just after world war II, agriculture was made using absolutley none of the chemicals we use today. These new chemicals we use, most of them are chemicals modified from bombs! I'm pretty sure i dont want that in my food. Also, what about kids, the chemicals they use in these foods are shown to cause brain damage in children. Yea, becuase thats what i want for my children!" [sic]

Oh, Kate.. Is this a joke? It made me laugh, either way!

Matt, Vienna, Austria
May 26, 2010 5:23am

"These new chemicals we use, most of them are chemicals modified from bombs! "

I remember as a kid watching my grandfather microwave some food on a styrofoam plate. It melted the plate a bit, and he threw out the food on that melted section. I thought that was odd--I'd eaten food that had melted a styrofoam plate before--so I asked about it. Turns out he used to work in a plant that dealt with the stuff (along with tank armor and a lot of other interesting things, in addition to normal welding/machining work). The styrofoam they used was made from by-products of musterd gas manufacturing. Now, neither of us could say that modern styrofoam is made from those chemicals, but it still stuck with him. After a brief conversation, however, it became obvious to both of us that the styrofoam was NOT mustard gas. One was made from the byproduct of the other, but the two are very different chemically.

Similarly, even if the statement about pesticides is true (I know no evidence for it), it doesn't matter. Once you modify the chemical, it's a different chemical and has different properties.

Either argue the nature of the chemicals we use, or the benefits of whatever chemicals you're advocating (and everything is made of chemicals--check the Periodic Table). Arguing where the idea for the chemicals came from is pointless, like arguing that the wiring in my house is evil because it's from coper salvaged from a Nazi stronghold.

Gregory, Alabama
May 26, 2010 9:50am

I'd just like to make it clear that rotenone has not been used in organic foods in the US since 2005 because the National Organic Program did not approve it. It's obviously toxic!

Jillian Calderon, TX
June 1, 2010 11:54am

'Did you ever wonder why Chinese drink only hot tea? They boil it to kill the bacteria. Most local Chinese farming uses organic methods, in that the only fertilizers used are human and animal waste: Without being boiled, it's basically a nice cup of E. coli.'

Your logic here is poor and gives skeptics a bad name. I agree that boiling water will kill bacteria but you can't assume that the bacteria present comes from organic farming methods. A poor water supply can demand a boiling
procedure to purify it. Nothing to do with farming tea using animal/human waste.

Maybe the Chinese boil tea because it brings out the flavour of the tea better.

Maybe they prefer the effect of a warm drink to a cold one.

Mate this pop-analysis of critical phenomena.

I was really hoping for something better. I believe there are some myths around organic farming but this is not the way to combat them.

Chris, Melbourne, Australia
June 8, 2010 7:32am

I never heard anyone other than Brian claim that tea is boiled to kill bacteria. Green tea is steeped in hot, not boiling, water to extract flavor, not to kill bacteria. Any bacteria should've been killed when the tea was steamed.

The Chinese do seem to steam vegetables instead of eating them raw. I don't know if killing bacteria was a reason for that.

Max, Boston, MA
June 8, 2010 9:53am

TimD:

What does a "critique of libertarianism" have to do with organic vs conventional farming?

*****RED HERRING****

Rebuttal fail.

Al V, Sioux City, IA
June 8, 2010 11:35am

"In the United States, 2006 brought two major outbreaks of E. coli, both resulting in deaths and numerous illnesses, ultimately traced to organically grown spinach and lettuce."

There was a news story about that today.
"A 2006 outbreak of E. coli in fresh spinach killed three people and sickened 200. The FDA was not able to confirm the source of the outbreak but said it could have been wild pigs defecating in the area or contaminated water."

It doesn't list organic fertilizer as a culprit, unless that's what contaminated the water.

Max, Boston, MA
June 9, 2010 1:07am

I read this article as a direct result of a Google search inspired by watching the "documentary" Food, Inc. Have you seen it? It's all about how big business farming is so horrible and in the end, urges the viewer to buy organic.

I'd be very interested in hearing your Skeptoidalism on this film.

Barry Dirks, Saint Johns, FL
June 17, 2010 2:36pm

Barry,

Here's what Brian thinks of Food Inc.
http://skepticblog.org/2009/08/06/a-question-to-a-professor/#comment-10901

Max, Boston, MA
June 17, 2010 7:07pm

Thanks for this article Brian. I am researching organic foods and found your article interesting. Those interested in further reading might like some of the articles here: http://www.biblelife.org/organic.htm

porcupine73, Buffalo, NY
June 23, 2010 8:57am

You seem to have omitted a few issues with non-organic farming. Chemical fertilizers and affluent from factory farms have caused flora and fauna to choke the river systems and cause algae blooms that have choked out natural life and basically caused huge dead spots in the rivers and oceans. Pesticides have killed the natural predators of bugs and other pests, but in turn have made the bugs and pests stronger and immune to the effects of the pesticides. So the pesticides are make stronger and even deadlier. The vicious circle continues. You also failed to mention the millions of acres or sterilized ground, that can no longer support growth. Soil has to have organic matter added constantly.
I continuously hear the nutrional quality is the same, yet kids today are sicker than we were. When I was born there wasn't as much chemical farming. We were seven kids and rarely missed a day of school. Today my co-workers with 2 kids are continuouly staying home with their sick kids. No one had peanut allergies and asthma when I went to school. Now just about every kid has at least one of those. WHY??? Long term effects of chemical and factory farming are now showing side effects in large number. Of course this is being denied by governments and big business alike. Afterall money talks. I think your comments are also short-sighted. Like anything else more regulation is needed and yes the prices are to high. Clean water is the spice of life, this planet dies without it! Mass food or not!

Debbie, Vancouver, BC
June 27, 2010 12:16pm

i notice you quote

Avery, Dennis T., Avery Alex. "Tainted Spinach Raises Big Questions of Manure on Food Crops." Center for Global Food Issues. Center for Global Food Issues, 27 Sep. 2006. Web. 9 Nov. 2009. <http://www.cgfi.org/2006/09/27/tainted-spinach-raises-big-questions-of-manure-on-food-crops/>

which is where you get the "1% of all the food sold in the United States, but it accounts for 8% of E. coli cases."

But the group quoted say CDC has never compared E. coli risks of organic, traditional food

you can further read: E coli risks of organic food - pure propaganda

http://ngin.tripod.com/averylies.htm

Kev King, london,UK
July 5, 2010 11:00am

The 2006 e:coli outbreak in the spinach was not caused by the organic farming practices. Was it from animal feces? Yes, but not manure used as fertilizer. Run-off from a nearby cow pasture are thought to have caused the outbreak, both things that could happen to conventionally raised spinach. Also, you should read this article containing links to studies on E. coli occurances in organic vs. conventional produce.

http://www.misa.umn.edu/Organic_Spinach.html

Melissa, Valparaiso, IN
July 13, 2010 11:15am

Since organic food has a shorter shelf life than ordinary food, it's often a lot fresher, and therefore tastes somewhat better. That's the only real benefit, but definitely not enough of a plus to pay 5x the price!

Dani Richardson, SLC, UT
July 30, 2010 9:44pm

"I continuously hear the nutrional quality is the same, yet kids today are sicker than we were."
Evidence?

"When I was born there wasn't as much chemical farming."
Evidence?

"We were seven kids and rarely missed a day of school. Today my co-workers with 2 kids are continuouly staying home with their sick kids."
Oh yeah, the old "everything was better before" deal. Do you have actual evidence people were healthier before?

"No one had peanut allergies and asthma when I went to school. Now just about every kid has at least one of those."
Yes, allergies and asthma have become more prevalent. There's a multitude of reasons for this, the most well-known one being that kids today live in far more sterile environments, and thus their immune systems don't "get used to" the stuff around the kids.

"WHY??? Long term effects of chemical and factory farming are now showing side effects in large number. Of course this is being denied by governments and big business alike."
Sorry, but you can't just say there's no evidence because of the government or Big [insert industry here]. If you have no evidence for your claim, you have no evidence.

Øyvind, Bergen, Norway
August 1, 2010 9:58am

Øyvind, your questions are great but you didn't address his first more important paragraph

"You seem to have omitted a few issues with non-organic farming. Chemical fertilizers and affluent from factory farms have caused flora and fauna to choke the river systems and cause algae blooms that have choked out natural life and basically caused huge dead spots in the rivers and oceans. Pesticides have killed the natural predators of bugs and other pests, but in turn have made the bugs and pests stronger and immune to the effects of the pesticides. So the pesticides are make stronger and even deadlier. The vicious circle continues. You also failed to mention the millions of acres or sterilized ground, that can no longer support growth. Soil has to have organic matter added constantly."

ghanshyam, toronto canada
September 13, 2010 6:43pm

He likely didn't address it because the EXACT same problems occur with organic fertilizers. If they were as cheap or as in widespread use, it would be the same situation. The solution isn't to switch from conventional fertilizer to organic fertilizer (both of which are chemical fertilizers by the way), but to use fertilizers correctly and safely in the first place.

Brandon, Falconer
September 13, 2010 7:34pm

Good response Brandon.

The only way to prevent that problem is to not use pesticides at all. Then you meet the low yeld, need more space, less trees or people go hungry problem.

Brian, Iowa
September 16, 2010 8:29am

This article makes me sick. The one reason you give that organic farming is worse for the environment is less crop yield, which leads to more land being farmed. This is not even close to the amount of damage conventional farming creates. The amount of fertilizers and pesticides that get leached due to non organic farming is immense. The practice of ongoing monocultures depletes the soil of nutrients where organic soil has more abundance beneficial organisms. Maybe your right and everything I've learned at Chico State is wrong but I seriously doubt that.

Not to mention that organic homegrown foods taste so much better than GMO's! You've never had a tomato unless it's homegrown.

Amy, CSU Chico Crop Science Major
September 28, 2010 6:11pm

@Amy,
you, as a crop science major, should know that organic farming uses pesticides as well. The pesticides used for organic farming have some of teh same issues as the ones of conventional agriculture, leaching, honey bee toxicity,non target organism tox, etc. there is no doubt that some organic farming practices are efficient and should be embraced, but to make clasify "organic" as good and "conventional" as bad is pure non-sense.
As to your comment on homegrown tomatoes, I agree. But I have grown mine conventionaly for the past 30 yrs, with judicious use of carbaryl, not organic, and I can assure you you have never grown a better one organically. Also as for the comparison of GMO tomatoes, the Flavrsvr tomatoes were mostly grown for processing tomatoes, not for produce sale. And seeing that they havent been on the market in almost 13 yrs, and you are just in college, I doubt you would have remember eating one anyway, or be qualified to make a taste comparison. Please hit the books a little harder for your major.
this is also what is the problem with the arguments surrounding these issues...oyu made several blanket statements above that are unsupported by any evidence, though you hold them to be true. In addition, you make a comparison, supposedly based on your own experience, that has probably never existed.

Steve, Raleigh/NC
October 1, 2010 10:03am

"The amount of fertilizers and pesticides that get leached due to non organic farming is immense." Where as Organic pesticides don't do any harm? strange, the containers have all the same hazard warnings on... Why would that be?

Tom H, Kent, UK
October 1, 2010 1:10pm

True organic gardening is the USE of organic and non organic materials that ARE SAFE for us and the environment. If all of us gardeners would learn from good and passionate organic gardeners and from our own experiences, then we would be talking about our wonderful gardens instead of some of these discussions that aren't making our gardens any cleaner or healthier. I know I'm only one person, but I really believe in common sense, and truthful to ourselves knowledgeable organic gardening. It can be simple, healthy and very rewarding.

Buddy, Louisiana
October 8, 2010 2:47am

No Buddy, you would be talking about your small garden that is balanced with a multitude of plants that you call organic.
I have never met an organic farmer or gardener who actually practices the mission statements. Every item grown or husbanded is at least 1/4 anthropogenic and usually on damn fine soils. Apart from pesticide issues etc organic is a nice idea but very wasteful of areas that could be put to high yield cropping.
Organic should stick to its mission statement
On the flip side of the coin, a hell of a lot of farming is low intensity low spray on under treated soils. Its called organic by default. The minimal vast yield cropping what you and I are familiar with is small in comparison to this. But its exactly that cropping that makes the difference.
The perverse thing is, whilst you think your garden is nice, its environmentally more friendly to live in cities with centralised food, transport, power, sewage and sewage recycling.
If you were really organic, you'd move to an apartment city and let farmers make your food choices for you. You could finally start on some power replacement, transport infrastructure, true waste biofuels..
I know it sounds off topic but you cant grow organic in this environment if you stick to the mission statements. The point of organic then becomes harm minimisation. At present organic is unscientific at best and uses non scientific at worst. Its organic that needs to reassess what it is. Not the technologists.

Henk van der Gaast, Sydney
October 9, 2010 9:59pm

The bit about the tea and chinese is quite frankly a dumb statement. The chinese don't drink hot tea because of bacteria but because you can't extract flavour from cold water. Also tea should never be boiled either.

Mister Fantastic, Eurp
November 3, 2010 1:37am

Critical thinking would require that both conventional and organic are scrutinized equally thoroughly and I'm under an impression that the author is slightly bias towards conventional - I much prefer the view once discussed by the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe folks who say that SUSTAINABLE is the true value in the entire argument and both Organic and Conventional have issues in terms of sustainability - I choose organic many times over conventional because it seems to me that pouring less chemicals into the ground is more sustainable (granted some of the organic methods are questionable as well) and I don't buy the whole efficiency argument - it's efficiency at a cost of for example dead zones in seas created by tons of fertilizer washed down the rivers into the seas and oceans.

polaCk, Asheville, NC
November 23, 2010 6:24am

Thank you PolaCk for making the only intelligent comment on here.

So often I hear the argument that conventional farming is more "efficient." I believe such thinking comes from people who are not critically weighing the environmental costs of the destruction that petrochemicals have on our environment.

wakeuppeople, Sioux Falls, SD
December 11, 2010 10:56am

You have some serious flaws in your argument. I am an organic farmer and am permaculture certified in tropical and temperate permanent agriculture. To start off, organic food is not the same crop as conventional. Organic regulations do not allow for genetically modified organisms to be classified as organic. In your article you made several very broad claims that are not true at all. You have absolutely no knowledge of the methods of bio-intensive food production, health or the psychology behind one that chooses to eat organic. Claiming that organic foods are less healthy is the most obvious farce in your article as well as your blind belief that pesticides and herbicides are healthy and biodegradable. They might biodegrade, but not within a million years. If you are a "skeptic" then why would you believe monsanto funded studies. I can't even begin to debunk your article because it is backed up with not legitimate facts or resources other than the lies that have been crammed down your throat. I suppose the accumulation of neurotoxins that are found in many conventional foods could be affecting you so it's not really right of me to blame you. I would really recommend you reading more about organic farms and possibly even doing some work on a farm because you can really learn a lot from us people that know what they are talking about. It is actually really offensive to me to see you try to "debunk" organic food. It is a tradition that spans thousands of years

Tyler K., Athens, Ohio
December 12, 2010 6:24pm

The type of farming described in th9is article has only been in full use since the end of World War Two, the 1950's, and is responsible for the depletion of organic matter in the soil, the destruction of our soil. This so called "conventional" farming is also responsible for the destruction of insects and other animals, ie. our environment, to the point we may be in real trouble. "Conventional" farming is not sustainable because it depends too much on non renewable reources to grow foods, expensive non renewable resources.

KimmSr, Grand Rapids. MI
January 24, 2011 4:44am

This article is so full of mischaracterizations and outright falsehoods that I hardly know where to begin. It's pretty obvious that you've been reading "research" that comes from the agribusiness companies.

As others have pointed out, most studies regarding the "efficiency" of organic vs. conventional farming ONLY take into account the land that is actually being farmed. They do not take into account the land use, damage and costs associated with all the OFF-FARM products that need to be used to support a conventional farm. An organic system produces much or all its "fertilizer" and manages pests on site - it's a total apples to oranges comparison. To claim that it's simply a "philosophical" approach akin to kosher food, as if there are no practical differences, is astoundingly wrongheaded.

The large farming corporations who are simply continuing the same practices as conventional farming (out of ignorance) but substituting different organically-approved products (fertilizers, pesticides) are not actually practicing organic farming correctly and therefore aren't going to see any of the benefits. Yet these are the comparison farms that are used in these studies.

I'm frankly shocked that anyone calling himself a skeptic would post such a crazily biased article. This does worse harm to the public than many of the silly superstitions you debunk, and I would seriously suggest you look at other research (such as Rodale Institute) and retract this article.

Lee Flier, Atlanta, GA
January 24, 2011 12:14pm

A person who doesn't care about the future generation and the nature can only write this article. Even a layman can understand the health effects of pesticides which is the main tool in the conevntional agriculture. Be impartial and think. You will get the answer. Also try to understand that we are here because our previous generations has done good things or they haven't done any bad things to our nature.

Radhakrishnan, Hyderabad, India
February 4, 2011 7:28pm

Every leyperson can also see that organic farming also uses chemical fertalisers and pesticides, as well as alternatives that largely rely on importing invasive species into the environment to "control" pests, which is not great for bio diversity.

If you care about future generations and the environment you should ask why organic yealds average less food, and why you should believe their chemicals are any less harmful.

TomH, Kent, UK
February 5, 2011 5:32am

Great article,

In reading the other responses not a single one of them said anything constructive but, "how dare you".

There is no way around the fact that organic farming yeilds less per acre...this drives up the price of food by creating shortages and this starves people in the thrid would and sparks revolutions in places like Egypt as most are protesting because the price of food is going up.

It is fine for folks to want to live forever and sit around camp fires singing Kubiya, but even if we all could live and extra year by eating organic...it is not worth starving people and all the violence that accompanies such a scenario.

Again, great article.

JohnnyR, Greenville,NC
February 10, 2011 7:27am

Most of your arguments are very sound. However, one statement you make does not live up to my experience: my family generally saves quite a bit of money by shopping at Trader Joe's compared to the other chain markets like Ralphs, Vons.

Thanks, Brian!

Kenny H., Valley Village, CA
February 23, 2011 12:18pm

written by a victim of the eugenics propaganda, to condition the public to accept GM poison.

Philip Porter, Newcastle upon Tyne
February 25, 2011 4:31am

Use of chemical pesticides is really the only reason I buy organic foods. Certain foods absorb pesticides in a way you simply cannot wash off and those you should buy organic. For the most part at a place like Whole Foods, they are about the same price as conventional since they buy in such bulk.

http://green.yahoo.com/blog/daily_green_news/332/the-new-dirty-dozen-12-foods-to-eat-organic-and-avoid-pesticide-residue.html

Some fruits and veggies it doesn't matter and as long as you wash them good conventional is fine.

We also buy from our local farmers market and many of them are not organic per se. They complain about the standards and explain the processes they use if you ask them. My egg guy isn't organic but he just lets his chickens roam around a huge yard and they eat bugs and grass and whatever else they want. Their meat is insanely good and the eggs yolks are deep bright orange instead of yellow and are really flavorful. I also buy Amish eggs if we miss the farmers market and they are not organic either but are similar in taste and quality as they roam free and eat what chickens are supposed to eat instead of processed feed. Same goes for milk. I care more that a cow is grass fed then if its eating organic grain. The author is right about organic milk. Its a total scam for the most part. Cows SHOULD NOT EAT GRAIN. Thats why they are sick all the time and need drugs. Look for grass fed more then organic.

Ed, Brooklyn NY
March 2, 2011 7:50am

Organic farming might have a lower yield, but that's not the reason the third world is starving.

Currently the world agricultural production is estimated at 4000 calories per person, twice the average required amount. The reason why many are starving is not because production is not keeping up with demand, but rather political - they are not given access to food. If more food was produced, what is to say they will be provided access to it.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-niman-food-20110109,0,5891428.story

Tony, Vancouver, BC
March 8, 2011 3:11pm

Wow. So many sweeping statements with nothing to back you up.

There is nothing worse than a pseudo-intelectual. Which you are. If you can't add to a healthy debate about issues, please refrain from chiming in, when your opinions are invalid.

Seriously. You would lose any good debater, as you are simply making broad, sweeping, uninformed, baseless statements.

Cam Gould, Brisbane
March 9, 2011 12:58am

I work in a large chain store and all the stores supplies come in stacked on top of each other on the same boards. 85% percent of our organics hail from Mexico. I'm sure they're 100% Organic... lolol! Oh well people see that sticker and open they're wallet to feel a little bit more on a pedestal, and more comfortable with they're food choices. If they want to be seen throwing money away, my hand is always out.
The only difference in organic bananas is they are wrapped with plastic at the base and not sprayed with an adhesive to stay bunched together. People buy those up like crazy. That's some expensive plastic wrap they're buying.

craig, nevada
March 15, 2011 12:37pm

Some of you hippies need to stop watching scare-tactic shows like dateline and chill out. Organic food is no better for you. It's not worse for you. It's the same f***ing thing. Some of the harmful pesticides "found" on conventional food products is measured in billionths. A cup of coffee (i can assume ALL of you organic freaks frequent the coffee house) contain more cancer-causing substances than an entire year's worth of non-organic produce by 1000x. There is no peer-reviewed or empirical evidence that shows organic food is ANY better for you. Look for it; you're not gonna find it.

Patrick, Hickory
March 15, 2011 1:22pm

It is quite likely that the salad vegetables you are eating today have been sprayed with systemic insecticide and sold within the withholding period, Patrick

Here in Australia it is not unusual for harvested crops to be dipped or sprayed after cropping to increase shelf life

I do not buy seafood from China because there have been instances when antibiotics have been found on the food, used again to increase shelf life.

Thank you for your advice on coffee. Like many people I buy from prize winning sources where the coffee is grown correctly. I also only buy Arabica. My stomach does not seem to like Robusta. Too much caffeine!

I bake my own bread - it isn't hard when you use good yeast (it's always the yeast) and properly milled bakers flour with a high protein content. That way I avoid the additives used for mass production and shelf life. Flour purchased this way is a quarter of the price and better.

High quality ingredients that are unmodified and free of contaminants are part of a pattern of safe and delicious eating that continues into the area of cooking methods and temperatures (always below 190Centigrade for deep frying, always boil chips in water before cooking to reduce carcinogens etc.)

In a salad I may use several different kinds of lettuce that I grow. Some are naturally pest resistant anyway. I use seeds legally imported from Italy.

In desperation I may use a spray - three times in two years. But I ensure that the withholding period is adhered to

Phi, Sydney
March 15, 2011 2:40pm

@Cam Gould
He listed his sources at the bottom did you just scan the text or something?

@Tony
True, politics will always get in the way of equality, but if what you say is true, then if all farmers were to switch to organics, then that would lower the percentage down to 100%, and something tells me that won’t help the starving people much.

Cordell, eugene
March 18, 2011 6:37am

Could someone please site the source for the 'up to 7 times more fertilizers needed' quote.

I need it for a debate.

Steven N. Saksa, Burns TN.
March 19, 2011 3:23pm

Many organic farming methods are certainly worth a closer look. One is the used of mixed crops instead of vast fields of single crops. Organic farming is much keener on such natural methods as crop rotation. It does not seek to produce the same cash crop year after year in the same location through potentially excessive use of chemical fertilisers.

Organic methods seek to explore what works rather than battle against nature the whole time. Not every crop will naturally grow in any location. Diversity is often the key to success.

Here in Australia we have problems with land use zoning. If good quality farming land is wanted by a developer for a major housing development he is quite likely to get his hand on it by seeking rezoning from local authorities or State Government. Political donations are a major way of life here. In fact the state government here took over the planning controls - so far as one can see - to get more of the cake. We are about to throw it out in an election.

In the meantime prime farming land has been lost. It has been bought as farmland - rezoned and thereby revalued. Productive food locations now have houses on them and roads through them. This places greater productive demand on what is left

The arguments against organic farming methods often conceal corporate lies. The issues require very careful scientific examination. What started as chemically assisting farmers has become a state of dependency. We need to backtrack a little

Phi, Sydney
March 19, 2011 5:19pm

Phi...

oh dear!

This is a skeptical podcast replies forum. Each one of those claims needs balanced verification.

As stated by Patrick, Organic food is not demonstrated to be any better or worse by current testing regimes.

I would go even further, The food that you (Phi) have made and grown bears (in no way) any claim to organic or "organism" (sorry, cannot help bemusement on such positions).

I think you should start examining the position statements and codes of the Australian organic movement and its produce arm.

Whilst the aims of part of the movement are laudable (turn ruined land into a garden of bounty whilst re-establishing soil and environmental conditions) the sales arm is deluded and misguided and...wrong.

Its your money Phi..

Bakers flour (at $12 a bag) is cheap. Its not a statement of health or philosophy.

Henk van der Gaast, sydney, Australia
March 19, 2011 5:24pm

I make no apology Henk for telling people how to get cheaper food and of the right quality for the purpose used. My point is that controlling ingredients can be cheaper too. This is normal baker's (strong) flour

As for testing, the immediate neutral test is taste and anyone can be involved. Most "organically grown" food tastes better - especially if you seize control and grow it yourself

Your straw man argument is that I have allowed no place for pesticides and artificial fertilisers, which is not the case. Sometimes with Australian soils I find you need them. This is because they have not had the two thousand years of cultivation European soils have had that has made them more easily balanced for agricultural purposes.

But there is one key issue here. No-one is stopping you buying the quality of food you choose. For those seeking a higher quality it is perhaps not so easy. As i said before i find it extremely difficult to buy ripe fruit

As to an organic food movement one would be hard put to find such an item. There are organic growers but that hardly constitutes a movement. There is a strong movement against GM foods - but that is a separate issue

As a consumer i have a right to demand what i see as minimum food standards - I also have medical reasons for so doing.

One final point Henk - I've worked with pesticides and I know well just how much notice is taken in the field of the regulations. Ask someone who knows how they deal with vermin in grain silos

Phi, Sydney
March 19, 2011 10:42pm

Phi, that was not Henks "straw man" argument. In fact his argument in his last post did not reference fertalisers or pesticides, or much of your"summary" there.

If I can find them I will dig out someblind tasting results. Organic and traditional veg cooked the same way to see if they did in fact taste better. (Apparently not. Nobody could tell the difference).

As for organic movements? A few minutes on google finds a plethora of groups. Including the ones Henk was refering to. Try looking them up before you accuse people of making straw man attacks and crowbar words into their mouth.

the illuminatus, reptoid mountain
March 19, 2011 11:16pm

Henk is quite clearly implying that I am taking one side in the debate, Illy - that of "organically" grown food against "conventionally" grown food. That is a straw man. I am not. I even said that i have had to occasionally resort to non organic methods myself

Especially in Australia I recognise that there are many pest problems and many problems caused by infertile land. At the same time I do recognise that the simple chemical solution in such difficult environments can be long term disastrous. You tread carefully. Changes in crops grown in some areas can solve many problems. So can simple land enclosure - as in Sicily.

Mate, I truly do not need your help in tasting food. I actually do know what strawberries taste like, by growing them. I know what apples taste like too -I used to holiday as a child where there were apple trees. I drive well over 100km to buy potatoes in bulk direct from farmers and i grew them as a child - I know what they taste like too.

If you imagine movements on the basis of webpages you will get a very strange idea of reality. The strongest advocacy for organic methods actually comes on TV gardening programmes, watch a few. Do you good

Once more on taste. Much organic cultivation uses different crops so there is no way to make comparisons overall. Tomatoes (which I cannot grow) have many varieties the supermarkets never see. That is why sometimes your pasta sauce tastes lousy unless you use an Italian produced concentrate as well.

Phi, Sydney
March 20, 2011 4:23am

"Mate, I truly do not need your help in tasting food."

No, but your opinion of what tastes better is not objective evidence. It is only evidence of what you as a person prefer.Clinical and trial evidence for the apparent benefits require slightly more robust standards than one persons opinion.

For the majority of people when tasted blind, the difference appears to be marginal. Other benefits seem to be lacking, especially the supposed nutritional value. In meats, especially poultry, there is a different set of results. But "free ranging" is the key, not "organic". Muscles that have been exercised have a different consistency to those that have been confined in a battery it seems.

The "easy comparrisons" that apparently allude you were simply established, by using the same common breeds. As you can imagine, for apples especially, there is a large overlap in breeds.

"If you imagine movements on the basis of webpages you will get a very strange idea of reality." No, but it is clear the lobbying groups Henk reffered to have a web presence that is the easiest way to read the date he was referencing.

For example this:

http://www.australianorganic.com.au

That does indeed appear to be an organisation for the promotion of organic food in australia. Hardly imaginary.

Now that the pesky details of facts are dealt with, I will make the rare mistake of agreeing with Phi that it is ELEMENTS of the organic principles that should be used to COMPLIMENT farming.

Tom H, Kent
March 20, 2011 7:15am

Better taste evidence comes not only from me but even from quality restaurants that are particularly careful about their ingredient sources, some even being involved in their production, and also from thousands of customers willing to pay more for better food. You can check yourself but you’ll need a properly certified product supplier which is where the webpage you refer to comes in

No it is not some sort of political movement. It informs commercial growers wanting to enter a market for which there is great demand, what is required to become a certified grower recognised on national and international markets. As a food exporter this is important economic information in Australia.

With meat it is largely about free range and proper foodstuffs - feeding sheep and cattle on grass. Had this been adhered to it is quite likely that mad cow disease would not have erupted to the near ruin of British cattle farming. The animal you eat is what it eats!

The British allotment system also means many Britons grow food on rented plots. We did - which is why I have an educated taste on food quality.

On a personal note one reason I restrict my intake of much non organically grown food is that it makes my mind foggy and sometimes giddy. This lifts within two or three days of my being more careful about the soure of what I am eating. The problem is less with vine grown items such as pumpkins and beans and RIPE fruit, than with ground grown items such as salad and root vegetables

Phi, Sydney
March 20, 2011 2:01pm

I feel like the entire argument of this article is one-sided. You discuss pretty much ONLY the organic growing practices of the United States and developed countries. Personally, I help run a small organic snack food business that produces dried fruits and chocolates. We pride ourselves on the fact that we get ALL of our product from small, sustainable farmers who's families we know personally, located in South America, Central America, China, and Africa. These people are being driven out of business and out of their homes by the big corporate companies. You were asking why these companies should be seen as evil; here's why: I PERSONALLY witnessed a playground full of indigenous children in Costa Rica being directly sprayed with cancer-causing pesticides and other chemicals from a Chiquita Banana crop duster. I was a pretty good distance away and could still feel my eyes and skin burning from the chemicals being haphazardly sprayed on these poor people. THAT is why I support our organic farmers, who by the way, refuse to use ANY types of chemicals, natural or otherwise, on their crops. Their farms are small enough so that their whole family can properly care for the crops in a way that is sustainable to the earth and does not result in harmful chemicals in our soils and ground water(something you failed to mention). My advice to you is that if you are going to publicly bash a way of life on the internet, at least take the time to properly educate yourself on the subject.

Melissa, Miami, Florida
March 24, 2011 5:05pm

You raise a very important point Melissa -that many organic farming projects are small scale family projects in which the whole family is involved

A recent program in Australia mentioned how here many Italian families keep alive the food traditions of their Italian origin - thus we have inherited traditions of cooking and small scale quality food production and biodiversity from regions such as Calabria and Sicily as well as Greek and Lebanese traditions

These food traditions greatly enhance our culture. Many are regarded as organic or cross-over methods. If nothing else they help break down racism by bringing us all to the dinner table and involving us all in sharing good food.

I think Australia managed to prevent the decimation of ethnic food cultures rather well. We might argue over who gets to wear a hat - but agree on pizza, kebabs, kofta, souvlaki, pasta, curries and chinese food. We all eat Argentinian style steaks, central European sausages and many varieties of bread. We make our own continental style cheeses and prosciutto.

Thank heaven for the family food traditions that our migrants have blessed us with, and the wines and oils they produce.

Come try the best we have - You'll soon be converted! I'd recommend Melbourne rather than Sydney however. Melbourne is probably the world's most friendly cosmopolitan big city. We are very proud of it down here

And the food. Every time I enter the Melbourne markets I promise not to cry. Every time I shed a tear

Phi, Sydney
March 24, 2011 7:35pm

Melissa, thats hardly organic.

Sadly Phiona, none of those are organic either.

Both off topic.

Henk van der Gaast, sydney, Australia
March 24, 2011 9:20pm

No Henk - and you are straw man arguing again, and this time I'm registering a complaint. I want you to stop this. Attacking using this technique is unacceptable

I have made quite clear where I am referring to full organic methods - where to crossover methods and where to the preservation of ethnic cuisine that may or may not utilise particular methods. If you don't get it then you are either having trouble reading plain English, are finding the discussion too complicated for you, or simply trying to find a way to discredit those you see as opponents

Some advocate full organic methods - I do not. I hold this position because as a person growing food on chronically bad soils I can see occasions when recourse to other methods may be unavoidable. But if I can avoid them totally, by changing crops, I do.

I used insecticides and artificial fertilisers some fifty odd years ago on my father's allotments, I used pesticides as a pest exterminator in Europe. They have their place. But their use I prefer to be limited

Unfortunately - as I know from my own behaviour - "limitation" is too hard to regulate and avoidance where feasible is the only safe way

Henk - avoiding toxicity does not seem important to you - if it isn't you are one of the lucky ones. I don't have that resilience. Where you might bring the safety levels up my metabolism brings them down - my contribution to the statistical norm is from below it. Lower levels make me ill - call me a liar if you will!

Phi, Sydney
March 25, 2011 5:01am

No I'll let you do that Phiona..

I have a problem reading your insanely off topic posts having a personal view that only involves phiona world.

Frankly, if toxins means that we love longer, so be it. I think you have a great problem with quantitative assessment.

Your predilection with bread rolls astounds me. Your admiration for folk that can grow, kill, prepare, cook, brew, ferment close to their entire range of foods from childhood on indicates you are essentially in awe of us wogs.

by all means, complain, I doubt your latte preparer will listen. Next time I am out the surf or fishing I will wear a Fez so you can bail me up for cooking tips.

Do you still want that teflon fry pan?

Henk van der Gaast, sydney, Australia
March 31, 2011 12:06am

Quite why you want to dress like Tommy Cooper is beyond me Henk but I can see it might be appropriateI'm truly not stopping you eating rubbish feel free, I however try not to serve it. If you are only wearing a fez you may need the teflon pan to cover your nakedness - moving on...

I'l continue using the properly machined French steel pans I bought from a professional catering supply store and for the rest out there those are by far the best places to buy kitchen equipment (often including GAS stoves). A commercial pan will last forever and won't stick if you treat it properly, and a commercial deep fryer holds its temperature well to help prevent carcinogenic chemicals forming

If you are taking care with your ingredients its worth using proper kitchen equipment - recommend stainless steel lined copper pans too. The cheaper Chinese ones are quite good too. I think cooking may be more advanced in Australia these days thanks to SBS the multicultural based broadcasting service. Overseas persons look at

http://www.sbs.com.au

Specially recommend their "Italian Food Safari" DVD if you have a multizone player - The earlier Food Safari DVDs are brilliant too

Phi, Sydney
April 8, 2011 3:25pm

Read Frances Moore Lappe's DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET...there are more environmental concerns than just land space and starving people do not necessarily get more food just because we grow more food. Sadly, social factors and the distribution of resources matter more than the amount of food available.

Kelly, Maryland
April 28, 2011 9:08am

I am afraid too many pseudo academics still suffer from an ancient Greek error - that science can be reasoned rather than evolved out of practical physical experimentation and observation. Much of farming in the twentieth century was based on - "well this SHOULD work, and therefore it must". It was as much wishful thinking as Plato's forms and much of Aristotle, monuments of ancient Greek thinking that as "science" in the modern world are dysfunctional bosh.

And so we ended up with damaged land that was no longer self sustaining, and dust bowls. Particularly in Australia the already depleted land became further degraded - Agriculture was driven more by capitalist exploitation than rational science. Simplistic use of herbicides and pesticides and indiscriminate land clearing have been a disaster

But times have changed. Organic farmers are no longer voices in the wilderness, here parliamentarians and government research organisations such as CSIRO take a very close look at methods that may offer sustainability. We are developing a school of agriculture that increasingly uses all methods more scientifically. Organic farmers developed their methods using that which was shown to work

What's wrong with that , I ask? sounds scientific to me - it limits risks and offers new paths that are based on knowledge accumulated by experience over thousands of years - experience based on both success and error. Now the chemically inclined are more careful as a result of scrutiny

Phi, Sydney
April 30, 2011 8:29pm

Science also tells us to look at actual hard data rather than what "seems" to work. So lets look at the individual claims Phi makes;

1) Organic farming limits risk. How exactly? Calling chemical compounds "natural" does not change the figures; organic crops use more. Pesticides need to be sprayed more often, increasing the risk of accumilation and contamination. Wow. Thats "limiting". Ah, but what if we use "natural" alternatives like predator species? Whoops, the risk to upsetting biodiversity by introducing uncontrolable nonidiginous species? Never mind... of course we have to ask "limits the risk compared to what"? Agricultural standards for pesticides and fertalisers are stringent, and have to be met regardless of organic or traditional techniques. The risks are limited to the same level.

2) the "new paths" are being opened by organic farming alone. Nope, all that trial and error fareming phi mentioned was by "farmers" not "organic farmers". Fertalisers and pesticides were adopted... oh look because they worked. And why exactly is it insinuated that only "chemical" farmers are under scrutiny seems to be dillusional. Organic farms have to obey the law. They use chemicals too. Horse manure and pig muck; chemicals. That can poison and kill. Organic pesticides? Chemicals that are dangerous.

Add in the factor that organic produce is mostly from farms that ALSO use regualr methods. Oh and regular farmers leading the wetland and hedgerow conservation.

Tom H, Kent, UK
May 7, 2011 3:14am

The Center for Global Food Issues looks like another right-wing front group of the Hudson Institute, and Dennis Avery is a Global Warming denier.

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Center_for_Global_Food_Issues
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Dennis_Avery

Max, Boston, MA
May 19, 2011 11:56am

I want to thank you for this article, Mr. Dunning. This neatly sums up why I am against organic farming. It also has to do with why I am pro-GMO... I have nothing against my friends who wish to farm organically on their own land for their own consumption; their crop yield is their business and if they want to be ineffecient and spend more, fine. But when it comes to trying to feed others, it's inefficient, and I want no part of it.

Jennifer P., Red Deer, AB
July 11, 2011 12:56pm

I love your podcasts and agree with almost everything you say. I don't spend money on organic produce, but it did occur to me that you didn't cover the effect of feeding antibiotics to farm animals and what this might do to raise antibiotic resistance? Or is this just another myth?

Garry Clarke, Carlingford,Ireland
August 8, 2011 3:31am

That would be a seperate subject Garry, as the podcast was about crop foods. But your subject is best answered by: It depends what you mean.

Meat crops have to be vaccinated, and if ill have to be treated with antibiotics like any other animal. The resistance of disease tends to be more an issue of herd immunity, ie that you are vaccinating to protect a large number of animals, and if herd immunity drops too far (like using ONLY organic methods) then the rest of the cattle, innoculated or otherwise get ill.

If a number of the herd get ill, segregation is not always possible, as you have no idea which animals are not showing signs but already ill, so you treat the whole herd with antibiotics in the feed. It is only one kind of treatment used for some kinds of disease.

Normally the "myth" is a misrepresentation of this practice to seem "less clean" than the "natural" organic farming.

Bare in mind also that people mistake "Organic" for "What we did for thousands of years". This is patent bull poo. A lot of organic practice is based around substituting a new practice for a green alternative that simply did not exist before.

Farmers dont go back to iron age methods as they want to make a reasonable return on their crops or flocks.

TomH, Kent
August 8, 2011 9:28am

Antibiotic introduction is never done to prevent infection. There are different reasons and you should avail yourself of your codes.

As to organic, one should read their codes. Most rely on many unscientific assertions. The Most annoying thing about organic is still the sales arm and the users.

If you want organic you can have it. But please, you dont need to invent a new scientific philosophy to promote it.

I buy a lot of my food chemicals from "organic health food stores". I just want the compounds, I dont need the "fellow" hippy rant as I hand over unneccesary dollars.

I may have long hair and a beard, but guilt by association ends there.

Henk v, sin city NSW, Oz
August 12, 2011 4:11am

Well, I am a little skeptic about the point with acreage - your argument is based on the assumption, that all the produce is actually used on the market. But the fact is that we have a large over production in conventional agriculture - at least in the industrial world.

So, a logical approach may come to this conclusion: First let's see how much of the conventionally produced food is thrown away every day due to over production. Than let's calculate, if it is possible to produce the _necessary_ amount of food with the same acreage, but less load to the enviroment. I tend to think, that whoever does this may come to quite interesting results.

This has nothing to do with supporting this organical marketing blabla - but I'm also still skeptical, if the way it is done now in conventional agriculture is the rigth way either...

Markus, Neuss / Germany
August 12, 2011 7:50am

Markus, the same restrictions apply to organic produce. In either method the buyer, such as large supermarket chains, will only buy apples of a certain size, carrots of a certain shape, and so on.

The figures for total produce I found took into account all usable produce picked. That does include the "unsold" stuff that is used for juice, sold for processing, and so forth. They tended to show, to the surprise of nobody, traditional farming has more produce per acarage than strictly organic farms. Not just because of the chemical supplements, but also the spacing of organic farms that use secondary plants to deter pests etc.

TomH, Kent
August 12, 2011 12:31pm

Well stated Tom H.

Given that organic is a mission statement to garner social bucks and given the amount of technological carbon in the atmosphere, please calculate the amount of "real" natural carbon in your produce as opposed to technological carbon.

Its clear that the organic guys never thought this out when making some of their "over estimations".

Its very sad folk who terrorise for greenpeace etc have the arithmetic wherewithall to do the same.

Organic folk have never calculated the health advantage or comparisons of their mission statements for practices, minimised ecologies and disaster scenarios.

They never could calculate this. At lest homo technologist is happy to bear the brunt of misfortue in a further point in risk management.

Organic, when are you going to supply risk data?

Organic too is a political position.

Henk v, sin city NSW, Oz
August 12, 2011 4:05pm

This has got to be some of the dumbest crap I have ever read. Yes, there are evil hordes of organic voodoo witch doctors outside of my home trying to destroy McDonalds.

Organic food is not "philosophically" different, it is different. You want to dispute the merits of Organic food, then fine, but at least come up with a thesis statement that doesn't read like a 4 year old baboon was writing propaganda for a teen magazine. Whatever. I hope someone terrorizes you by forcing you (gulp!) to drink a cup of Organic milk and a plate of Organic Nachos, followed by a cup of Organic coffee. I sure that will be the end of the world.

Jules Larson, Point Place, Nebraska
August 22, 2011 2:28pm

It is very refreshing to see your bashing of this article which has been both helpful and constructive, however as a future note please refrain from such until you have a coherent argument that actually makes sense. Before criticizing others arguments to be written as being "4 year old baboon was writing propaganda for a teen magazine" please at least muster the decency to stop sounding like whiny 11 year old and come up with arguments to actually defend the crap that comes spewing out of your mouth.

Steven J, London
September 3, 2011 1:54pm

Great article, just wanted to point out that during my time working for an NGO in China my experience was that even farmers in the most rural areas had access to pesticides and other chemicals to the point that a lot of run off seemed to be the reason algae blooms were thriving in some of the warmer lakes. In short, China probably isn't the best example of organic as like you pointed out: if they can get their hands on the chemicals, they will (and in fact do) use them.

Isaac, Singapore
September 7, 2011 2:20am

Apart from fertilizers there are a number of other factors that produce algal blooms.

There are a number of studies detailing the release of silver carp into the dams and pondages. The thing to note is the dead zones due to a number of environmental factors.

China is a big place with a massive population and competing ideologies with respect to best environmental practices.

We arent much better for the most. We too are still trying hide our mistakes and woo practices (technological or just ignorant) whilst we learn to get it right.

Henk V, sin city, Oz
September 7, 2011 3:50am

Jules Larson, you come up with any actual evidence of a genuine difference between an organic apple and a regular apple of the same variety, show there is a nutritional difference, that one truly is healthier than the other?

Nope?

Then how are they different? What exactly is your thesis? Did you just forget to mention HOW it is different?

Did anything Brian write suggest he would be terrified of foods EXACTLY THE SAME as those he already eats? Did he infact mention dairy produce at all? (In a podcast about organic agriculture and not dairy farming. Little hint there.) No?

Jules, prove your own point; how are organic vegtables different in any meaningful way?

Tom H, Kent, UK
September 7, 2011 4:23am

The australian experience...

AQIS, rightfully, has a testing laboratory that can test for adulterated produce for exports/imports under the various organic self imposed codes. Whether the testing (other than quality documentation of the producer) meaningfully distinguishes between the various produces is another matter.

The difference is the sales arm.. the perception that organic is better, when its clearly not, sells a lot of apples.

The pity about it all is that FSANZS has a position magazine on its site. Any woo is discussed as if it were valid. It is about the only standards organisation that does this regular blithering publishing on issues that are not tested or cannot be.

Having seen a hell of a lot of coplanting reported from prime agricultural land in the US, I see the sales arm overrode the fundamental philosophy arm a long time ago.

If that is the case, Organic doesnt exist.

Henk v, Sin City NSW, Oz
September 8, 2011 6:17pm

I think what's being missed in this article is the understanding of the core principle of organic food. It's about sustainability. If you think the entire world having 1 genetically altered version of soy bean seed that is protected by intellectual property rights and ONLY Roundup can be used with it is a sustainable solution, I have to question your sanity.

The key to feeding people is not mass producing it by the billions of bushels and shipping it tens of thousands of miles around the world. The key is for each local area to grow what is suitable for that environment (afterall, certain foods evolved to exist in that area for a reason) and to be able to support itself in a sustainable way. Whatever is excess is then sold nationally. How can you expect a 3rd world society to grow only a massive homogenized corn crop and get the nutrition it needs from that? Currently, they have to grow the corn, sell it, use what little profits they make to feed themselves and also save money to buy seed for the next season (BECAUSE THEY CAN'T SAVE THE SEED, BECAUSE THEY DON'T OWN THE RIGHTS TO IT)...this just turns them into indentured servants instead of local farmers.

Way off base in this article...zero understanding of the global complexities of this issue. You're just looking at it as if it's some yuppies from suburbia doing what's hip. I'll agree, some do have this train of thought, but it is not the sole reason. It's much more than that. Food is life...life is food.

Daniel, Jackson, MS
September 16, 2011 1:55am

Daniel, are you going to supply evidence for a genetically altered soy bean that can only be used with roundup? Or is that an excluded middle fallacy?

I mean lets look at the question here: Does Organic produce meet the health claims? Your answer is: It's better than GMOs! That are intellectual property! And all the farms that don't produce soy beans, or GMOs, and aren't organic. You know, MOST the farms on the planet Daniel? What about THEM?

Here's a better idea, have you got any evidence that the organic method IS more sustainable than any other form of farming? (Oh, and by the way Danny, the reason most farmers don't collect the seeds from GMOs is because people like you who talk about Gene-Mods as though they are somehow risky insisted the plants were bred infertile, not because of copyright. Just saying...)Is it more sustainable to pump TWICE as much "poison" into the ground because it is marked "organic" on the tin and in so weak doses it requires spraying more often? Is it more "sustainable" to use fertalisers from less energy efficient sources because they are "organic"? Is it more sustainable to rely on food being shipped FURTHER so the "Organic" label can be used? I don't live in a country where bannanas grow naturaully, or mangos. Is it more sustainable to ship them twenty miles from a non-organic greenhouse, or halfway across the world?

If we are so "way off base" where is your evidence daniel?

Tom H, Kent
September 16, 2011 7:39am

The writer of this article has a clear bias which is unfortunate because good points can be made without ridicule and belittlement.

As for Daniel's remarks, yes I have heard that often farmers who buy genetically modified seeds enter into a contract with Monsanto and are only allowed to use Roundup products. I also believe that the contract denies them the privilege of seed saving of Monsanto-patended plants--it would be stealing.

Also, a lot of commercial seed, most likely both organic and conventional, are hybrids; hybrids are normally infertile.

I do buy organic, but I am not stalwart about it. Why? Because I believe that some organic farmers, especially my local farmers, are passionate about it and use pesticides/herbicides/etc. as last resorts. All of those products can be lessened with proper farming techniques, regardless of being an organic or conventional farm. There is nothing wrong with using manure as a soil amendment; however, if if it used improperly (spread on the actual plant), then it becomes a problem. Some of core concepts of organic farming are nothing to laugh at, and in fact, should be encouraged. For example, crop rotation, composting, biological pest control, etc.

However, I do agree--organic products are no way intrinsically better than others. And this is why trustworthy articles are necessary to inform the population, not attacks.

If you want the healthiest food possible, grow it yourself. It tastes great too!

J.O., PA
September 20, 2011 11:27pm

Unfortunately JO you are grossely misinformed. It is utterly wrong to claim that pesticides and or herbicides are used as a last resort by any kind of farmer. They are a matter of course for almost all farmers. It is unusual for their use to be able to be avoided.

Now, please supply evidence for how food grown yourself is healthier. Show evidence that it either causes less negative effects, or more possitive effects to health through any nutritional means.

Tom H, Kent
October 17, 2011 9:27am

If genetically modified foods are that much better than why has just recently been articles about the fact that the corn that Monsanto has produced having problems with the very pests that it was modified to not be affected by. Another thing since the advent of genetically modified corn is it not true that the farming method known as crop rotation has virtually been eliminated due to the desire for corn for feeds for cattle which by the way cattle do not eat in their natural diet. This increases the amount of antibiotics used in the raising of the mentioned cattle. And as evidenced by the medical community is it not true that many forms of bacteria are developing a tolerance to those antibiotics resulting in more disease. Also due to the use of corn in ethanol crop rotation is being done away with so that a farmer or corporation can produce more non food corn for that product. Maybe I am a poor misinformed person but did we not have a dust bowl created years ago by drought and the soil being unable to support crops due to all nutrients being removed by just one crop being grown year after year. once a soil is depleted of its nutrients it takes years for them to be put back into the soil unless done so chemically. Agriculturalists will tell you that crops must be rotated in order to maintain healthy soil and to help in the control of pests. Also many organic farmers use many natural forms of pest control such as natural predators to control many of mentioned pests.

Steve, Washington DC
October 21, 2011 3:17pm

Tom, do you believe that compounds that can kill pests cannot harm us in any way?

I have to question your sanity if you do. If you don't, well, there's your answer. Organic produce won't have pesticide residues. Thus, less harm (no matter the actual difference in magnitude).

utterly wrong to claim that pesticides and herbicides are used by organic farmers? Isn't organic farming supposed to be pesticide-free?

As for sustainability... Chemical pesticides and fertilizers are made in factories and consume massive amounts of fossil fuels for energy, and must be shipped long distances. Natural fertilizers (manure) and pesticides (animals) are produced right on the farm with virtually no fossil fuel expenditure, at least when the method involves traditional agriculture, which is also organic. There's a huge difference already.

Another issue, however, is maintaining an optimal mineral composition in the soil being used to grow the crops. This is quite possibly the most significant factor in determining the nutritional value of crops. Organic farming by itself doesn't address this directly, I've only heard of biodynamic and traditional agriculture doing that.

Jonathan S., Toronto
October 21, 2011 5:15pm

Aaah Steve and Jonathon our favorite conspiracsts.

Moving logical fallacies?

The topic is Organic food is myth filled. Not only has Brian shown that but organic producers and their codes have proven it.

You should read these things. No point arguing the matter further.

PS Organic food does have pesticide residues, and its indistinguishable from standard crop. This is why a quality system is required with constant certifification and inspection amd design.

Why design in the codes?

Don't tell me you didnt read this somewhere?

Of course not!

A usual, read your codes and mission statements. Organic is the marketing sucker punch for shoppers.

Of course, for folk who do not shop and cook, neither of you would know.

I meant food, not mobile phones and PS3's.

Mud, Sin City NSW, Oz
October 22, 2011 4:26am

There's a pretty big gap between the farmers who genuinely care about the safety and value of their crops and those who hop on the organic bandwagon to make a quick buck. I'm focusing on the former, but it seems that you and Brian are focusing on the latter as if the former no longer exists.

It's true that today, unless you're going directly to a local farmer most organic food is the product of big business. But to denigrate all of organic agriculture because of that is a disservice to the small farmers who aren't going organic for higher profits.

I'm seeing this divergence of perspectives in several of Brian's podcasts. He focuses on one point of view, usually the one that is poorly supported, and fails to mention another, better-supported view taking the same stance. And certain followers are doing the same *cough*.

Jonathan S., Toronto
October 22, 2011 6:15am

I could follow this article and maybe see how it made sense until the very end where he started talking about white, dreadlocked kids supporting organics. That suggests that all organic supporters are just hippies who have no scientific background. As a horticulturist I have to disagree with this statement. I have met PhD agriculturists and horticulturists that totally support organics because organics is as much about soil preservation as anything. Soil is a resource that is not renewable and is destroyed as chemicals are put on and the soil is tilled without any addition of organic material. I don't believe organics is the only way to go or that you should grow purely organically but I believe a organic principles should be applied to conventional farming in order to preserve our soil so we can continue farming it for years to come.We shouldn't just dump pesticides and chemical fertilizers on our fields. We should use natural control methods first and supplement them with chemical controls as needed.

Todd, Cincinnati
October 24, 2011 8:38pm

I actually buy certified organic produce. No because it can be in any way described as organic by common view and can hardly be described as organic by the movement's primary mission statement (which is also organics stumbling block).

I buy organic vegetables from one source because they tend to be heritage vegetables. The same goes for pork and chickens and ducks (although I doubt that even further for omnivores). Heritage beef and sheep around here appears to be unobtainable.

Do I use sprays and dusts for my herbs and fruits? Nope, because I am not equipped to use sprays safely. Its especially dangerous when using the old "organic" sprays.

Do I have any illusions about the safety of genetic engineering? Nope, genetic MANIPULATION by insertion from other biota occurs all the time.

Tell this to the morons at green piece who nailed a field of experimental cops manipulated by exactly the same means recently in Oz.

Thats the problem with being an alarmist politico. You cant be green.

Think I'll be plug casting for a better bass on the weekend!

PS, anything you don't understand, please, there are many lectures on biology and chemistry available to you. Environmental studies is well populated. When you've chewed on and absorbed those lovely sources, hit the current literature.

But populism? It makes the same as common sense.

Mud, Sin City, Oz
October 25, 2011 6:58am

Greetings,

To claim that GMO are identical to non-GMO plants doesn't even make sense. You said it yourself, "[...] but its fundamental makeup and biochemical content is defined by its genes, not by the way it was grown." So what happens when you modify genes? Does that make it identical?

"To feed a growing population ..." This is an argument used by corporations such as Monsanto. The issue of feeding people has never been about food production, it has always come down to affording food. Did you know we are growing so much corn in this country we don't even know what to do with it all?

You're also missing some arguments that proponents of organic food typically make: monoculture and sustainability. The way crops are being produced in America is not sustainable. They are using non-renewable resources to produce higher yields. From the equipment, to the way GMO seeds cannot be reused after one cycle. I worked on a mostly sustainable organic farm last summer and I can attest that we barely used any huge equipment. We used a scuffle-hoe to weed our crops. We squished bugs with our hands. We didn't use ANY pesticides or herbicides. The reason why monoculture is a problem boils down to biological diversity. We are finding that glyphosphates (RoundUp) and chemicals similar to it are creating huge virus/bacterial resistances to these chemicals and as such causes organisms that can overcome the pesticide resistance to flourish and proliferate at astronomical rates.

Eric B, Ohio
October 27, 2011 8:31am

Eric:

1. I was not talking about GMO plants at all. I don't know where you got that.

2. Many of your concerns are addressed in the followup to this episode, Organic vs. Conventional crops.

3. Roundup is not a pesticide, it's an herbicide, and it is not antiviral nor antibacterial and does not create superbugs. It works by interfering with a plant's ability to photosynthesize, and does not affect bugs.

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
October 27, 2011 9:03am

Are you friggin kidding me…Every organic food product I have bought has tasted considerable better….Yes big Corp. don’t care which food you buy????? Really, it sure does not seem like a 50/50 split at the supermarket, do you go there???? I really don’t think you should be writing any other internet blogs, or stories….I am just not going into the rest of your uniformed article…

Are you Serious, Saskatoon
October 29, 2011 8:58pm

I have the courage to say it, I don't care whether black and brown people (and any other color) around the world have enough to eat or not.

For thousands of years people have had more children than they could support. Many of these children died (black white and other). The world didn't end. Then western ideals evolved the notion that no one should ever die, the death is terrible and to be fought against at all costs. We (white people) created medicines and agriculture practices (often heavily dependent on fossil fuels) and taught hygiene and through our war on death we have managed to double the average life-span in about two centuries. To try and avoid war through preventing jealously we have sought to export our methods of increasing life-span to the rest of the world. Where these practices have not been readily adopted we have introduced food and medical aid programs to prolong life. As such, the world human population has entered a period of exponential growth.

These are very noble endeavors if death is the ultimate evil. But consider that perhaps it is just another part of life.

Perhaps it is not the job of the west to feed the east and the south. The world's population of humans is getting to, or is already at the point of un-sustainability and as the cost of oil increases so will the cost of our oil dependent agriculture. As forests are leveled the concentrations of oxygen in the air will decrease.

I want unbiased GMO research. Let Africa feed Africa.

Marcus T., Los Angeles, CA
October 31, 2011 3:46pm

As much as I'd love to eat food that is perfectly natural, I just can't live on wild berries. Oh, and what is a 'uniformed article'. Something military perhaps?
Some members of my family are rabid organic eaters and for the life of me, I can't figure out where they've gotten the idea that they're going to live longer because of it. The proponents of organics had better start weaning themselves off of grains and all the products that are made from them, because not many of us will be able to afford a $200 loaf of bread. I spoke with a farmer near Saskatoon last summer who grows an field every year amongst his other thousands of acres of conventional cropping (just for fun, not political gain). His comment was that the small farmer who gets into organics is typically on his way out of business, so the obvious solution is to stop the inputs of fertilizers and chemicals into his crops. After about 3 years, the yields are so atrocious and the quality so poor that he finally stops producing altogether. If we were to produce only organically, it wouldn't be just the 'blacks and browns' who would starve.
Oh, and medicines are bad now too?
It amazes me that people can get their backs up after half-reading this article and make it about corporations, GMO, etc. Wow.

KP, British Columbia, Canada
October 31, 2011 6:41pm

Hurray! Dunning is looking at the organic food indusstry with clarity.

I just read the posted comments and I can see how the organic food industry has influenced the thinking of the readers. Too bad!

From the mid 90s, when "organic" was legally defined, the natural food industry has made an effort to demonize traditional agriclture. We are exposed to documentaries showing the worst of the worst such as "Food Inc". The film makers had to look hard to find those examples, because the examples are the extreme, not the usual. It's a little like showing the abusive, disfunctional family as the American norm.

Keep it up, Brian. I am encouraged by your voice of reason.
Pat

Pat, Tumwater, WA
November 27, 2011 10:30am

Very interesting post. You raised many issues/ arguments that I was not previously aware of, and appreciated hearing. My family has been buying mostly organics for a few months now, for two reasons; the first being we would like to avoid corn syrup when possible. I have read some information that corn syrup is more readily absorbed by the body than cane sugar, and can contribute to more dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin levels. Do you have any suggestions on good resources for unbiased info on corn syrup? The second reason that we have been buying organic is related to GMOs. I am concerned that GMOs are directly contributing to a decrease in biodiversity, that could have negative effects on the long term food supply. What is your opinion on this matter? Thank-you for your podcasts, they are always enlightening and enjoyable.

Laura, Grand Rapids, MI
December 4, 2011 7:04pm

Brian, i think that main point that is largely missed in the heated debate between pro-organic hippies and cold, hard types in business suites is Balance. There are many areas where we simply go overboard. Fertilizers are not expensive and often used rather generously (see here for more info about Gulf dead zone caused my phosphate runoff from Mississippi delta farm fields http://serc.carleton.edu/microbelife/topics/deadzone/). there also other examples. I am not against use of fertilizers, but balance needs to be achieved). Another important aspect is livestock farming. I typically buy my milk and beef from local farms, and yes, it tastes much better then supermarket meat and dairy. It is not technically certified as "organic", the farmer cannot afford to go though certification process. But the animals are fed only grass and hay and are not injected with growth hormones and antibiotics (which are two things important to me). There is growing body of scientific evidence that meat and milk from grass fed cows results in healthier fat composition, higher in omega3. Not to mention the richer taste. Grains are not natural food for cows, hence poor livestock health resulting in need for medication. This, of course, can only be done on a small scale farm, and i NO, it doesn't cost more then at supermarket.
I think that buying local is more important to avoid burning fuel needlessly on transporting lettuce from 2000 miles away. It puzzles me to see apples from New Zealand here.

Sam, Vancouver, BC
December 5, 2011 11:04am

Very interesting article. I always had the conception that organically grown food was better for you simply because you know, it sounds healthier. I'm predisposed to being a tree-hugging hippy, but I want to do more research that conveys both sides of an argument, especially when it comes to food. So this was an interesting article to read.

However, I don't doubt that animals that are fed and raised PROPERLY have tremendous benefits over animals that are raised in awful conditions that are fed antibiotics just to barely keep them alive.

Genetically modified foods that are altered so they contain pesticides within them, while yielding a higher percentage of crops will also be pretty good at poisoning us from the inside out.

I don't support GMO or conventionally raised livestock, but this article definitely widened my view of the whole organic market, for sure.

Kamran, chandler
December 20, 2011 12:20am

Kamran, could you investigate animal husbandry and rearing for market just a little bit further.

Its the fact that I actually have killed animals for food that has kept me in touch with what i cook and eat.

The fact that some animal handlers mis treat animals has nothing to do with organic.

secondly, if you are going to spout anti science garble, could you at least do yourself the honour of a small critical thinking exercise prior to "print"?

Organic is luddism. Its sold on a completely different philosophy.

Its a bit like the baby jesus and santa claus in religion. as a matter of fact very like it except nobody gets a present.

Mud, Sin City, Oz
January 10, 2012 8:23pm

You shouldn't worry so much about organic as you should locally grown. The food is picked when it is much riper (and therefore has as much nutrients as possible) and doesn't have to travel hundreds of miles. You are also keeping money inside your community.

Travis, Raleigh, NC
January 11, 2012 7:16pm

Those two points are true, but they're at the cost of a much larger overall environmental footprint. http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4162

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
January 11, 2012 7:41pm

Organically grown food is better for you. When you use strong fertilizers and pesticides, it diminishes the value of the soil. There are less pests becuase there are less nutrients they are after. Since the soil has less nutritional value, there is less nutritional value in the plant, and when you consume it you are also getting less nutrients. The nutritional value of a strawberry today is a fraction of what it would have held 100 years ago, we just dont see it. The relationship we have with food is more than just what we know. The complexity is so great that nobody knows for sure, yet ever since we started messing with food and claiming things we are unsure of...we have gotten fatter, died of heart disease, and spent billions on healthcare. In general, we should probably stick to what is natural and stop believing what everyone is telling us.

Jeff, Boston, MA
January 16, 2012 1:49pm

Jeff from Boston forgot to mention that ever since we started messing with food we have also lived a lot longer.... Nice convenient little fact to leave out.

Also Jeff pretty much forgets that Healthcare did not exist 100 years ago. Kind of hard to compare today's expenditures on health with 100 years ago.

It is safe to say Jeff has made a few bold claims.

Rich, Vancouver
January 16, 2012 3:41pm

Organic food is not new. Organic food is not a trend. It's not for hippies. Our grandparents ate organic food, and my grandma was no hippie. Neither were any of her ancestors, who all ate organic, always. Back when organic food was just called "food".

Non-organic food is the aberration.

In this horrendous article, there were a number of strawman arguments, ad hom attacks, and outright falsehoods. Your sources are sketchy as well. Did you quote the entire Julie Guthman book? You also link to a site (cgfi) that promotes fracking as a good idea (!), and then you bemoan the "white kids with dreadlocks" who aren't listening to the experts...?

This article is such BS it makes my head hurt. "I'm not making this stuff up." Yes, you are.

Richard Jigel, Hawaii
February 1, 2012 4:30am

The top few companies are always going to own everything, organics are not immune to this. But I disagree with the authors OPINION stated as fact that nutrients are same. I have listed an article supporting my opinion which uses several studies as examples. The author makes it seem as if you are racist and want to cut down the rainforest because I want to eat organic. I hope that others see that his piece is opinion. Also I have links to the pesticides used in organic farming and conventional. Only about 15 for organic and well i don't feel like counting the conventional it is really long. Toxicity Levels that are lower equal more poisonous, less poison needed to kill you, Tox 1 is bad tox 5 much better. hopefully this info will help people make their own decisions. I doubt anybody will scroll this far down and actually do their homework.

decline in nutrients over last 50 years
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/03/25/HOG3BHSDPG1.DTL&ao=all

organic pesticides
http://web.pppmb.cals.cornell.edu/resourceguide/mfs/01bacillus_subtilis.php

conventional pesticides
http://www.wpro.who.int/hse/pages/agriculturallist.html

o.d., yorktown,ny
February 26, 2012 7:44am

"Many so-called environmentalists generally favor organic farming, at the same time that they protest deforestation to make room for more agriculture. How do they reconcile these directly conflicting views? If you want to feed a growing population, you cannot do both..."

Actually, you can do both. Not only would vertical farming not require pesticides, but it would not require soil either. There are a few hurdles to be sure, but none that some crafty humans can't take care of.

I did a bit or research on it here:

http://seanmaguire.ca/?p=76

Lastly, I think you generalize too much in your views of Organic Foods. Some are good, some are the same and some of it is just garbage. But you can't ignore the long-term effects of Xenostrogens in commercial fab-foods either. Somewhere there is a balance. It is just too convoluted for most of us to find.

Sean Maguire, Halifax, Nova Scotia
March 1, 2012 11:34am

These comments are painfully ignorant, borderline stupid.

http://www.torontoglobalist.org/2010/11/24/the-man-that-saved-a-billion-lives-norman-borlaug-gmos/

Please read and educate yourself. I'll even give you a cookie.

BYPH, Bay Area
March 1, 2012 11:29pm

A cookie? Please don't be so quick to put down the opinions and research of others. Get over yourself.
Just because someone disagrees with you does not make them ignorant. Try checking the source of your fun facts before making such statements.

jim, ny
March 2, 2012 5:50am

Support REAL ORGANIC FOODS. Regular foods are killing us. Do your research! Watch "food matters" on youtuobe or netfix. You will change your diet. Watch "future of food" and u will know whats really going on.

jj, nyc
March 8, 2012 3:26pm

You clearly have a POV that you are pushing regardless of the evidence. You omit all the strongest arguments of the other side and just attack the weakest. As soon as you have to resort to characterizing you opponents as "dreadlocked white kids beating a bongo drum" while representing those on your side as a "Ph.D. agriculturists", a true skeptic's hackles should go up.

I'm married to a Ph. D. biologist and hence about half my friends are practicing scientists in biology, hydrology, or environmental science & policy in some form or another. I can assure you that there is plenty of good, hard science backing up peoples criticisms of the current agricultural system. The mainstream system is demonstrably destroying the top soil, causing anti-biotic resistance and devastating benthic ecosystems with its fertilizer and pesticide run off.

That fact that you ignore these good, science-based arguments and only push your ad hominem attacks and strawmen says measures about your motivations.

Everyone needs to question their orthodoxies, so I applaud you for that, but we need to do it in a honest, rational way.

vitriolix, Oakland, CA
April 5, 2012 12:52pm

Okay vitriolix, if you say that there is ANY SOLID EVIDENCE that organic is any better, SHOW IT TO ME.

We have proof that manure is a no-no.
http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2006/ucm108740.htm

We have proof that GMO can feed the world.
http://scienceheroes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=68&Itemid=116

There is no proof to support the superiority of organic food.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/24/us-organic-foods-idUSTRE64N3O920100524

We have proof that organic farmers use harmful chemicals.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0024320583902163

Everything you said about Brian can be said about you.
I don't see science in your arguement, I ONLY SEE FEAR!!!
DUM F*K!!!

Victor Phillips, Suffolk, VA
April 17, 2012 7:58am

Organically grown vegetables grown at a different standard may not have a radically different nutrient value than non-organically grown vegetables. However does the same apply to livestock? I struggle to believe that chicken's nutriental value (as well as antibodies) remain unaffected when given less than 1cm to move within factory farming. Further, the case of bird flu within United Kingdom at Bernard Matthews would also suggest that factory farming does little more than non-orgnaic farming to stop the spread of mutations and diseases.
What is missed in both those arguing for and against (as I see) organic foods is that both types of foods are produced on a wholescale that destroys topsoil and nutrients. İts not a question of organic or non-organic its a question of stretching resources we have available to breaking point (either type may stretch in one direction more than another; organic=less yield per acre,non-organic= greater yield but doesn't allow recovery within the soil). And the reason these resources are stretched is because of over-population. The tentative solution a offer would be a form of permaculture (which I would have genuine interest in seeing discussed on this site). This does not wholly reject human understanding of agriculture nor all modern agricultural techniques only those (as far as İ'm aware) that stretch resources to breaking point. I offer no references because, as Victor has shown, the internet can be used to find reference to support anything

WTregear, Trento, Italy
April 27, 2012 5:17am

I'm really glad to see someone has already linked to Norman Borlaug, because he was an incredible man and a hero.
So far, I've only found statements from the FDA, EPA, and even usually liberal sources like USA Today all saying there are no known negative effects from pesticides. None.
But if their official statements don't convince you, then GMOs are the way to go. Growing GMOs reduces the usage of pesticides by 60%, because the GMO crops are resistant to pests instead of needing to be sprayed with chemicals.
It's not just the pro-GMO movement's opinion, it's a scientifically proven fact. If anyone is doubtful, they should check out this website and search for "GMOs" and "Organics":
http://junkscience.com/
The articles are written by credible experts who also write for other big name magazines or news websites, so they're trustworthy. I've learned a lot by going there.

Rita, Binghamton
May 2, 2012 6:42am

Yo my man,

Research, Bayer, artificial fertilizer & Alzheimers!

Tell will open your eyes!

Pip, Emerald Isle
May 2, 2012 2:56pm

This article doesn't discuss the issue of overuse of antibiotics in farming and the increasing danger of superbugs.

Lisa, Arlington, MA
May 2, 2012 9:18pm

I can appreciate the need to be skeptical.

The article ignores empirical evidence that shows organic food is more nutrient dense, that organic yields are comparable to conventional yields when normalized for nutritional value per acre, and overlooks the detrimental health effects of pesticides.

Organic farmers use biological and cultural methods to control pests, diseases and weeds rather than crude input substitution. The very few pesticides permitted in organic farming are among the least toxic.

Most GMOs increase pesticide use, rather than decrease it. For one, herbicide tolerant crops are specifically grown with herbicides, particularly glyphosate. This short-sighted approach is leading to herbicide-resistant weeds, which in turn require more and different herbicides to kill if cultural methods are not used. Crops that express toxins to kill insects are themselves considered pesticides. These plants constantly produce toxins, exposing the targeted insects that are again selected for resistance to those compounds.

If specific practices in organic farming are not desirable, it is possible to petition to change the standards and submit the scientific evidence that shows the adverse health effects claimed in the article.

If you want to ignore the scientific evidence of the health and environmental benefits of organic farming and purchase non-organic food, you have that choice. However, "cherry picking" the data to make a case is false, misleading, and bad science.

Brian, Almond, NY
May 3, 2012 6:44am

You are welcome to your own opinions Brian but you are not welcome to manufacture your own facts. There are far too many inaccuracies and outright falsehoods in this piece to deal with them all. You cite Dennis and Alex Avery. Don't you realize that they know virtually nothing about organic farming and are little more than paid hacks who bash organic farming for a living? They are not credible sources. The ecoli outbreak you talk about was in CONVENTIONAL SPINACH. Conventional farmers in this country use far more manure than organic farmers do. Please check your 'facts' before spouting off. A very minimal effort at verifying your information would have told you you were wrong. Manure use on organic farms is very tightly regulated. No raw manure can be used on organic vegetables within 120 days of harvest. No such restriction exists for conventional farmers. The rest of your piece is full of equally wrong and easily checked misinformation. Please do your homework and check your facts before forming your opinions.

Klaas Martens, Penn Yan
May 4, 2012 4:31pm

Hi Brian, I really like most of your podcasts and some i dont have much interest in, but the rest i really enjoy, but about organic and biodynamic farming i think your 100% right in what you say about the economics of it all, but what i think you missed is the reason these forms of farming are important is the micro organisms that are being lost because of conventional farming, if you check Elaine ingham on youtube she can explain the importance of microorganisms, and biodynamics works because what they do is bury the horn and ingredients around 0.6meter for 6 or so months letting the earth worms get in and consuming the ingredients which develops microorganisms then added to water and stirred one direction then changed to the other directions adding oxygen and expanding the amount of organisms, then when its spread around the garden, it adds these organisms to the garden, its a shame biodynamics people add the hocus pocus stuff, but the technique does increase the yield, I hope u could look into this, compare what Elaine Ingham says against the NPK system

Damian, Melbourne Australia
May 7, 2012 1:57pm

Wait, I'm confused. I see a bunch of people accusing the author of cherry-picking his facts.

Here's the thing, you don't seem to go into detail on which ones he's manipulated.

Instead of being vague, why don't you be specific, and prove that he's wrong.

The science has yet to prove that Organic is an overall healthier lifestyle, until that's conclusive, anyone who buys the products are only paying more because of speculation and buzzwords, like saying Organic doesn't have chemicals.

On a side note, everything is a chemical.

Jon, Los Angeles
May 7, 2012 3:07pm

I don't know how someone can look at environmental concerns about this issue without addressing the use of oil in food production and the need for nations to move towards self-sustainability. I saw proof that forest gardens can yield more food per acre than conventional farming, but it will mean a shift in what foods we eat. What are we going to do when it's no longer affordable to import food? Ethics of food animal welfare are a concern no matter if there are no differences in their nutritional value. What about the unethical practice of big agra that prohibits poor farmers from saving seeds from their harvest to plant next year? I think this article doesn't address some important concerns about the future of farming.

Chris, Ontario, Canada
May 8, 2012 2:14am

if you want proof that organics farming works here it is
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/fst30years , and these guys have done studys to http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/index.php , you can also find Elaine Ingham on youtube for more

Damian, Melbourne Australia
May 12, 2012 11:10pm

Anyone trying to eat the best food would employ an ethic beyond the current “organic” and buy from food cooperatives that label sources or farmers markets. Corporations avoid time-consuming details for sustainable healthiness to prioritize profit. Corporations also work to convert traditional farmers from responsibly saving their own seed to depending on them for patented hybrid seed and from best management to depending on them for chemicals.

The article ignores the danger of synthetic pesticide residue on food to state that more natural pesticides are needed. Why would someone wanting to be healthy want to eat plant and animal poisons, meat hormones and antibiotics, and GMO’s if it is not necessary ? USDA Organic allows some natural pesticides, but I haven’t used pesticides (or synthetic fertilizers) in my garden for about 22 years, and a buyer can ask a local farmer what they use. On a farm “Integrated Pest Management” minimizes pesticide use. Best management avoids bacterial contamination, organic or not.

The article focuses on increased land use and ignores pesticide poisoning of animals (including in streams from runoff), GMO genes spreading to organic and wild plants, and synthetic fertilizers reducing soil fauna (worms, etc.). Regarding deforestation, eat tree-produced food (for example chestnuts which I grow).

The closer to home and the more informed one is about the food (and products) one buys, the better it is. Perhaps Permaculture is a better standard.

Bruce, Union City, PA
May 13, 2012 12:26pm

Bruce, garden produce can in no way be described as organic agriculture.

I am sorry to have to inform you of that.

To the general comment about organic, Its out of date and very inefficient.

Anything that can be argued for organic is sadly philosophical and bordering on "majik" in the standards (please read them). Anything additional to the standards is commonly referred to as "gossip" by casual proponents.

If anyone says Organic is more thn the standards, they are inventing a new entity.

Biodynamic has still been shown to be "dreaming" and is totally unsupported.

Now clearly Bruce and Brian are at odds about insecticides. I may point out here that organic produce is allowed to be insecticide assisted as long as the insecticide is not a product of the petrochemical industry.

Finally, on a re-read of Brians post I noticed the term "PhD Agriculturist". Poo Poo Brian, If I did my ecology on the relatively few PhD Agriculturalists wrt respect to EVERY physical science and every life science involved in agriculture, ecology etc etc I would be doing my reading list a disservice.

Its a crying shame that food standards in this country (Oz) have been usurped over the years by well meaning ignorants who have spent about as much time doing science as I have pan frying komodo dragons.

Oh dear, coplanting! How wallet ethical!

PS, yes I grow food in a garden. I am not deluded enough to do so without realising there is no risk associated with that.

mud, sin city, Oz
May 16, 2012 3:56am

Brian’s cherry picking header statement “Buying organic food benefits small farmers, and represents a blow to the big food corporations.”
Fact-According to Organic Farming Research Foundation, as of 2006 there are approximately 10,000 certified organic producers in the U.S. compared to 2500 to 3,000 tracked in 1994. Measured against the two million farms estimated in the U.S. today, organic is still tiny. Family farms that are certified organic farms have a double economic benefit: they are profitable and they farm in harmony with their surrounding environment. Whether the farm is a 4-acre orchard or a 4,000-acre wheat farm, organic is a beneficial practice that is genuinely family-friendly.
Brian’s cherry picking header statement “Organic foods are healthier to eat.”
Fact-In 2001, for instance, the Soil Association concluded unambiguously that organic food contains less of the bad stuff, such as pesticides, and more of the good stuff, such as vitamins and minerals2.
For individuals, organic food also has benefits. Eating organic means avoiding the pesticide residue left on foods, and it may even mean more nutritious varietals. While there are few if any proven health impacts from consuming trace quantities of pesticides on foods, a growing number of people take the precaution of avoiding exposure just in case, particularly in the cases of pregnant women (growing babies are exposed to most of the chemicals that mom consume) and the parents of young children.

sanDman, Bangalore
May 25, 2012 12:41am

I'm sorry sandman, organic hasnt existed from ints inception.

Chemically, organic has more technological carbon than the the "technological" insecticides they eschew.

There is no benefit from organic as far a nutritional value is understood.

After 20 years of reviewing data from organophiles the only position is philosophical.

In Science, the only philosophical that counts is evidence. In that, evidence is only useful if it confirms or (better still) is so rock solid, a posit that is predictive can be built.

Science is everything! If you have a competetive philosophy that says science isnt everything, publish it in nature.

Sure we like great noises and I assure you, I like noises just as much as anyone.

But its noise.

mud, Sin Centre, sin city, Oz
May 25, 2012 1:57am

Jon makes a valid criticism that commenters have not provided detailed proof. The webpage limits comments to 1500 characters which restricts details. Regarding residual pesticide effects I have a copy of a scientific report, and have references to several others, that find negative effects, but have not had the time to track them down and analyze. If commenters mention their interest in this, perhaps I would be more motivated to take the time.

One of the deleted sentences from my first draft, was “Like most movements gone cultural (popular) the original intent of Organic has gotten diluted and distorted.” I was writing about the original “Organic” and about the “spirit” of “Organic” rather than about certified-Organic. This was the “new entity” that mud refers to, and is clearly not a new entity rather an old different entity (and a BETTER entity), and one that is relevant unless one excludes everything but the (cultural) certification qualifications (which are many, but I took USDA as a reference). To clarify these two entities, I used the terms “Organic“ and “USDA Organic” (but “certified-Organic” a better term). So, mud, MY garden produce is “Organic” but is not “certified-Organic” since it was not inspected by certifiers. But, as I wrote using different words, don’t trust me or “gossip”; firstly you search for the best and secondly you grow your own the best way.

Bruce, Union City, PA
May 25, 2012 2:20pm

I like Trader Joe's over most so called Super Markets but not because I can purchase supposedly organic produce. I am a farmer's daughter and realized a long time ago there is no such thing as a real organic product. With pesticide and fertilizer runoff,etc, it isn't possible. But Trader Joe's for me, offers better prices than the other stores, my budget goes farther for what I buy as a single person. So I get what I can there and then for the other items I shop at a regular grocery.

ann, columbus
May 27, 2012 4:26pm

"Organic food is a conventional food crop (genetically exactly the same plant variety as the regular version) but grown according to a different set of standards."

False. Foods grown organically CANNOT be genetically modified. Up to 80% of crops (especially cereal grains and soybeans) have been genetically modified. The long term health effects of such modification will not be known for some time and could be difficult to tie back to the cause.

Clint, St. Louis
June 14, 2012 8:56pm

To get iced to tea you still have to boil the water.

dani, spring, texas
June 23, 2012 11:34pm

Sadly Clint, even "organic/bioethical" only refuses genetically ENGINEERED organisms.

This is totally different by definition to genetically modified. Ive pointed this out to a number of adherents over the years and they now carefully delineate between the the terms.

But Dani, the iced tea reference is breath taking. I will use that one when talking to young people about popular science and real science.

Please skeptoiders, download your local standards and isolate the real, percieved and magic terms. Only in organic standards in the western world do you get any references to magic.

Why? people like copying before reading!

Publication of warts and all copying exposes the warts far quicker than the good practice.

Organic standards have good practice??? Its hard for mud to admit but all of the organic standards and codes have very good quality statements and are essential reading for those who are sticklers for ISO standards.

Sadly thats boring people like me and engineers like Brian.

Three cheer for ISO even if (in this case) its in a misdirected application.

At least in the unimaginable situation where I couldnt get perfectly healthy food (like say Auckland)... I could go to the organic menu for my...homeopathic beef..

mud, Forbidden state, Oz
June 25, 2012 6:52am

ALL crops have been genetically modified. Organic corn is an oxymoron--corn was selectively bred from teocinte, a grass, by the Mayans (I think) and their contemporaries into what we now eat. Frankenfood and GMOs are just pointless terms used by uninformed rich white kids and luddites who know nothing about these facts. Whether done in a lab, for instance, to confirm resistance to pests that cause crop failure and famine, or done over generations of selective breeding, it is the same. The fact is that the organic and all-natural craze is dangerous; and if taken to the logical, the major strides in food safety and security and disease prevention and treatment would be lost in the name of a meaningless ideal. "Natural" and "Unnatural" are meaningless terms grounded in Aristotelean philosophy. E. Coli, TB, leprosy, the Plague--these are natural. So is dying in childbirth, infant mortality--these predate humanity in other species. But modern medicine, Antibiotics, the pesticides and other methods that prevent mass famine are entirely the result of man's desire and ability to master his environment. But if what is unnatural is wrong, well then, we must take the organic craze to the extreme and return to the state of nature. Or accept the fact that just because it is "natural" does not mean it has some innate value and holiness that human hands somehow only detract from.

Sean, NYC
June 29, 2012 5:32pm

GMO is a misnomer, should be GEO (E is Engineered), therefore denouncing GMO as selective breeding is a disingenuous straw-man argument. Breeding by selection from among variations of non-poisonous food plants is not the same as adding genes that produce poisonous insecticide or tolerate MORE herbicides that would afflict the unengineered plant. “Genetically engineered/modified organisms (geo/gmo’s) and products produced by or through the use of genetic engineering are prohibited.” – National Organic Standards Board Policy and Procedures Manual VII 1.11 October 17, 2001

Natural is not always healthy (my favorite example is that potatoes turned green by light are slightly poisonous), but it is still a first crude simple step away from humanly introduced poisons for those who are learning. “Organic”, etc. is a better standard than “Natural”, but no standard will ever achieve the primary target of best health. To achieve that requires more detail (including avoiding leaving potatoes out in the light) which culture and standards loathe, and therefore each individual seeking best health must carefully learn and apply to the extent they have the time and priorities for. Carefully includes being skeptical and avoiding right-wrong dichotomy. Perfection is impossible to achieve (due to for example pesticide runoff from farmland), but that does not preclude the valuable effort to do one’s best. “Organic”, etc. are tools to help do this.

W, Northwest PA
July 2, 2012 4:10pm

W. convenient that adding genetic material, genetic change and natural alteration and selection is not always a consequence of ..sex.

You are about as out of date as you reference..@1960's

Nice to see another skeptoid poster arguing with her/his self

Mud, Out to pasture, Oz
July 5, 2012 11:59pm

Sean, claiming that organic food is dangerous is grossly misleading.

Furthermore, no one has a problem with naturally selecting the best seeds to cultivate a specific trait in a crop. This is what the Central American indigenous peoples did with teocinte. The problem lies in adding foreign genetic material to an organism.
People have a problem with the genes of say a fish being engineered into the DNA of a strawberry.

Dani and Sean, I suppose engineering would be a better term than modification for the work that many of the biotech giants perform.

Clint, St. Louis
July 8, 2012 2:36pm

Organic is only dangerous to your wallet and your sensibilities.

Given that current climactic conditions dictate that organic cannot exist and a better term should be found for economically ruinous cropping (maybe bio-ethical?).

Should we adopt the lifestyle of the central american indigenes? Clint, move there, live the life and post back in 10 years. That argument is about as useless as acupuncture is ancient thus its good.

Life is good being out to pasture. From my pyramid i can see at least 40 contrails every sunny day and read about the guys at CERN doing things the ignorants wont allow them to do.

Sometimes I wonder why we bothered with science.

Mud, Out to pasture, Oz
July 8, 2012 11:42pm

I must realize that this is a skeptics forum where most are unwilling to post their true names and locations.

This is also become a forum for a wide variety of logical fallacies--namely sweeping generalizations and non sequitur arguments.

You will believe what you will and nothing will change that. I am ,however, very shocked to see that skeptics hold fast to an argument despite evidence to the contrary, and will defend that position with insults instead of intelligent debate.

I wish you well.

Clint, St. Louis
July 10, 2012 8:39am

You are mistaken about TJ's "premium prices." When I lived in Seattle, the prices were far below the grocery store prices, and on most items, the same as the commissary prices on base. Their produce wasn't as great-it went bad very quickly, but they had a kick ass return policy and would take back moldy stuff. Everyone I knew who shopped at Trader Joe's did so because of the fun atmosphere, great prices, and unique products you couldn't find anywhere else.

Kara, Jacksonville, FL
July 12, 2012 6:35am

I travel to go to Trader Joe's because they consistently have the best prices. I don't begrudge them or any other "big business" making money on organic food, so your condescending comment that lumps all organic food consumers is way off base. As an educated food consumer who has been feeding her family organic and local food for over 25 years, I've watched small organic product companies get bought by the food conglomerates. I only object when they compromise the integrity of the product. Contrary to what you believe I am happy that these companies have allowed for wider distribution, increased product lines and lower prices to reflect the economies of scale. I am also happy that they are increasing market share of organic food. Your research is dated. Seriously, 1997? It is the same as your podcast on GMOs old research, one-sided. Yes, I read articles in favor of organics and then I read many like yours that mock and stereotype. But I can also spot research that is sponsored by people with interest in promoting GMO and GEO foods. The truth is that the people who support organics -- you know, those "dreadlocked white kid beating a bongo drum" not, like me, middle class working mother of seven children who cares about what I feed my family have no mainstream forum. So here's CURRENT research from an USDA scientist "Phd agriculturist" telling the truth about GMO foods download and understand why you don't know about it: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/USDA_scientist_reveals_all.ph

Joan, Boston
July 12, 2012 12:43pm

personally, i eat nothing but organic since my brother (being treated for cancer) was told by his dr's at md anderson (one of the highest rated cancer hospitals in the usa) to eat organic foods to increase his chances of survival. since i started, i have moved on to homeopathic medications and slowly got rid of stuff i buy prepackaged (bread, pasta, tomato sauce, etc). i do yoga and get acupuncture (which has completely rid me of allergies). i don't use any conventional shampoos or soaps (not even organic, look up no'poo!). however, i don't care what others do personally. your health, your business. but personally, i have never felt better.

kristi, austin, tx.
July 14, 2012 10:08am

I think the Organic movement has evolved enough to revisit the review. This would include GMO's and new farming techniques that keep pace with conventional farming. Permaculture is also promising. Unfortunately the, labels are vague and not enforced well.

Michael Blott, Poway, USA
July 17, 2012 10:54am

I also agree with the revisit suggested above. This report was 5 years ago. Also, Brian is sorely misinformed about Trader Joe's pricing. Their prices are lower than most large chain grocery stores around here because they have their own label and deal in such volume. LOVE Trader Joe's!

Karolyn, Ruby, SC
July 18, 2012 4:58am

Mr. Dunning -- I am fairly new to reading your articles. I'm surprised that the argument you present regarding organic foods has more holes than baby swiss cheese, (probably not organic).

While it is clear to rational people that there are organizations that known for supporting only certified organic practices that are cartel-like in their approach, here's one point: organic foods taste better.

And, Sir, while neighbors are throwing every pesticide on the market on their gardens and lawns, my vegetables do very well without them, using adjacent plantings that make the bugs that would otherwise eat them, very happy.

But there is no sense responding, nor continuing to read your thoughts; you stooped to the "starving millions in Africa cliche." And reading your article is as bad as reading the certified organic cartel garbage.

I am truly sorry you are not a scientist. We need good ones.

JR, Somestate
July 18, 2012 6:54am

I saw "condescending"posted above in reference to your article and have to agree. This was less an article seeking an open minded review of the available information leading to a logical conclusion than a conclusion presenting selected information to "prove" it is the "truth". Sad, and not what is usually found in Skeptoid. So you don't agree with "hippy" organic produce people. That is not a reason to denigrate and insult them. You say there is no difference between foods farmed using conventional methods (meaning what people have conventionally used all over the world for more than ten thousand years) and the synthetic, petrochemical based "modern"methods because the plants are the same, the components of the fertilizers are the same, etc. but synthetics produce more food and are, thus, better. If synthetic sustenance is better for plants then it must be better for humans. How about we all set aside our White dreadlocked bongos and eat cornstalks soaked in a mineral and vitamin corn syrup solution and see how this nutrition and fiber produces scientifically perfect health. Couldn't have written a more obviously emotionally biased article if Monsanto covered your expenses.

Samuel, Chico/CA
July 18, 2012 6:29pm

Dear Brian,

I find your article quite clear and convincing. I've been buying quite some organic food lately and my personal experience was that the taste was way better than the non-organic feed.
But it is of course possible that there are other factors in play here.

Still there are is a researche showing higher nutritional value in organically grown food. I found a news article about it here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7067100.stm

Could you perhaps comment on this?

thank you,

kind regards, Joeri

Joeri, Amsterdam
July 30, 2012 7:55am

Dear Brian,

You are either some kind of shill whose views are strongly influence by where you get paid, or you are woefully ignorant and proud of it.

Organic food is demonstrably healthier that conventional food.

Organic growing practices are healthier for the land. It can take 10-20 years to return land farmed conventionally to a healthy state. Conventional farming strips the soil of organic matter, kills beneficial microorganisms, and generally places the farmer in a position of being dependent on large corporations for every aspect of the planting and cultivation process. Oligarchies and monopolies are generally unhealthy economically.

Much like yourself, the truth is that everything I've said is just opinion. It is opinion informed by my individual study and research but I have presented no data or facts here.

I'm the farthest thing from a hippie you could find. I'm an entrepreneur and investor. I voted Republican for decades until GWB's second term.

The problem is there is a group of people in this country that are overly focused on ideology and uninterested in the facts.

Don't be one of those people.

Do yourself a favor and research these issues yourself with an open mind. Actually employ the scientific method with a sense of individual discovery.

What you have no right to do is what you have done. You have skewed the facts presented to suit your predetermined agenda.

Basically, sir, you are a liar.

Sadly, you are lying to yourself.

Aaron, Atlanta, GA
August 6, 2012 1:24pm

Apart from the fact that "organic" is irrelevant within their own codes, what are you trying to tell us Aaron?

Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
September 5, 2012 3:30am

thumbs down...

anyone, usa
September 6, 2012 2:59pm

Monsanto is owned by the zionist jews

AmericanPower, VanHorn, TX
September 9, 2012 12:14am

Look around the grocery store and see how many things they have stamped organic on even laundry soaps its a huge scam for more money and most people still cant get it through their heads if its too good to be true it probably is. I am so sick of everyone being followers and trusting everything an add tells them. WAKE UP if you think organic food is as wonderful and great as they say I have some five pound gold bars I will give you for a dollar SUCKER

Jeff, North Bay Ontario
September 12, 2012 8:11am

...huh

What about the Phytochemical differences between plants grown in biotically rich soil (bacteria, nematodes, mycorrhizal symbiosis, et cetera) vrs. those grown in tilled and "chemically" altered soil that is functionally just dirt?

i don't much care what i eat myself, but i do anchorage you to experiment (n=you) side by side with two "genetically identically" foods. one grown industrially and one grown with organic methods by your neighbor.

foodisnurturedbygoodsoil,
eli.

eli, sebastopol
October 13, 2012 10:20am

I think that one of the most important problems that Brian correctly identifies is that organic food isn't necessarily what people believe it to be - safe, local and sustainably produced. I would like to see USDA's funding of their arcane organic certification to be redirected to a quality assurance and food labelling system to encourage safe, local and more sustainably produced food. As Brian points out, organic certification doesn't necessarily mean any of this and the truth may be quite the opposite. This will obviously unpopular with those who are are financially and emotionally invested in the mythology of organic food production.

Stavros Birkolopoulos, Seattle
November 9, 2012 2:22pm

Dear Brian,

Your arguments are as bad as any I have read from Monsanto and their likes.

1) The mere fact that big companies invest in organic has nothing to do with REAL small farmers that actually invest in bio foods.
Big companies always "surf" on what's trendy: car makers make "green" cars, big food chains are now "fair trade"... So what? Does that mean that the very concept of more energy efficiency of fairer trade is to be discarded? That's plain stupidity.

2) Research has shown that organic foods have LESS pesticides in them. That's settled.

3) Organic methods are surely better for the environment but it all depends on what you define as "organic" my dear Sir.

If you take a greenwashed definition of what an organic food production criteria are, then surely enough, you will find that some farmers use as you say 7 times more pesticies blablabla. BUT, there are also organic farmers who use NO pesticides or hardly any. Besides, I don't know how long you've been around, but there is a billion year wisdom in saying that if your SHIT doesn't go back into the soil then plants won't grow! I wonder what would have happened to the earth's vegetation if the dinosaurs and all living species after them were defecating into a toilet and have their poo sealed shut in a concrete container...

Your science is about as wise as that of an untrained monkey.

In closing, since you are American, I encourage you to go back to basics: COMMON SENSE (it seems you have none).

Peace out

Martin, Brussels, Belgium
November 15, 2012 8:03am

Martin, strange that you should know about a single organic farmer on this planet if you merely read their codes and standards.

No technological carbon means no technological carbon. Technological pyrethrins are banned and so are any plants or animals based on technological carbon.

In fact, all ocean life is strictly banned from organic.

Pesticdes and herbicides do not even enter into this.

ONE third of all the carbon in any biologically harvested or husbanded life form is technological.

Makes a good argument for nuclear power and about 150 years of sequestration.

Some Belgians understand the phrase "nest ce pas".

The most of us who understand standards and quality understand the bit above.."Some Belgians".

Mud (Dr Syd), sin seetee, Oz
November 15, 2012 8:35am

Hi Brian,

Great article. I've always thought organic food was gimmicky and ridiculous but I had no idea there was so much evidence to support the idea.

I think you ought to disable the comment function on this here site though. There's a whole lot of stupid up there...I doubt anyone will get passed it all to even read my lovely comment.

Adam, Sydney, Australia
December 12, 2012 1:16am

Thanks for injecting a pointless shot of anti-Semitism into this discussion, "AmericanPower." As for the article, I choose to buy organic and will patronize local farmers as much as possible. This is a disappointing podcast. I'm familiar with all the arguments presented here, and it's unfortunate that someone who claims to be merely "skeptical," which I interpret as fair and inquisitive, would put forward something so one-sided and which distorts the opposing view so thoroughly. Those consumers who do their due diligence, and who put in the time to research and get informed will normally choose organic. But to each his own. No reason for people to get bitter and angry.

Kate, Washington D.C.
December 12, 2012 2:54pm

I'm sure there are excellent articles elsewhere on this website, but I'm afraid this is highly tenuous. That's a polite description. Another would be that you could fertilise organic food with its content...

Not only did you either ignore or completely misrepresent all of the arguments in favour of organic farming, you also completely failed to hold to account in any way the system of industrial food production. This isn't an empty, trendy concern. See Michael Pollan, Eric Schiller, Food Inc, The World According to Monsanto, etc.

I assume the only reasons this article was written was to give a graphic demonstration of the concept of a 'straw man argument', and to deliberately bait people that are passionately opposed to the dominant corporatised food production model. In this respect, the article is an overwhelming success.

Chris, UK
December 12, 2012 6:12pm

Your statement on Chinese Tea Drinking is completely false and a lie. Why do you need to make shit up when you actually have good points in the other sections of your article?

Aaron, Brooklyn, NY
December 14, 2012 7:52pm

wow...you really are an idiot...

" For every dreadlocked white kid beating a bongo drum in favor of organics, there is a Ph.D. agriculturist warning about its short sightedness and urging efficient modern agriculture to feed our growing population"

you forgot the part of that phd receiving a check for his statement...

bTx, maine
December 17, 2012 8:57am

Even though I embrace genetic engineering, I buy organic too. I like choice. The article did not mention GMOs.
And organics are not worse than conventional; I still suspect some are better. In addition to much reading, I have personal experience. Sit down, compare by eating.
The horror stories of Big Agra's livestock have us reconsider grass fed, free range livestock.

Art Toegemann, Providence, RI
January 1, 2013 2:28pm

Correct, there is no difference between organic food and conventional food at purchase or in the eating.

The whole point is organic is one of those notions so ridiculous by popularity it becomes superfluous.

If food as organic by its own definitions, it wouldnt exist.

I've explained it to people who grow organic. I dont mind if you grow organic and export it to fashionable uneducateds elsewhere, just dont send it to Oz. We are trying to make a buck selling it to food socialites and adherents elsewhere. At present we are on #1.04 US... this means we have to sell overpriced garbage in bulk to the world.

Look, I am thinking balance of trade. Not any health or environmental impact.

Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
January 3, 2013 2:16am

I agree on some, slightly disagree on other points. One important point left out is how "Organic" has been so diluted that most of the early organic farmers would be applaud. There are over 90 pesticides and chemicals allowed by the USDA in organic farming. Most of which were allowed due to lobbying from the big farming chains so they could mass produce organic produce.

Matt, Astoria, NY
January 3, 2013 12:04pm

Not only does Organic food have more nutrients, non organic produce is grown from unhealthy plants in unhealthy soil because the pesticides kill worms that aerate the soil and other beneficial insects that keep pests at bay. Because the soil is not aerated, there is more runoff that enters streams, other crops etc. Bad for our Earth.

Organic Food is more expensive because non organic soy and corn is subsidized by the government. Then used to finish(fatten) cattle that are supposed to eat grass and to create modified science food to include in our cereal, rice mixes, almost anything you find in a box.

Think about growing some spinach in your backyard. As long as you haven't used pesticides your dirt is organic. Then you use some free organic scraps from your kitchen to make fertilizer and your healthy plants don't need to be sprayed because they fight off disease on their own. You just saved money on round up and fertilizer from the store. You do have to do some research though and learn some gardening skills and organic practices.

However, organic isn't everything. Just because the label is there doesn't mean you should eat it. They can modify organic corn too. And organic produce grown near a cattle ranch can become infected with E. coli. Protecting ourselves and our families is one difficult task. I know there is always going to be things we can't control about our lives, but once you know the truth it's hard to ignore. Happy shopping! : )

lea, lafayette, CA
January 3, 2013 6:00pm

Lea, please refer to my previous post.

As far as your backyard example goes...back yard produce is definitely not organic. It never will be organic until you have gone through the process to ensure its organic.

Refrain from fallaciation..You havent doen a shred of research, you have watched too much television. Please dont claim that you have researched something and then post your view.

Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
January 3, 2013 6:21pm

An "Organic" plant, has no nutritional advantage to conventional. The flash frozen corn has (almost) the same nutrients as the "organic" "farm fresh" version.

Organic food isn't more expensive solely because "unhealthy corn" is subsidized; it's more expensive because there is less supply and a growing demand. Basic economics at hand; one product with equal demand but half the supply will sell for substnatially more.

Ford, Conor, Poway California
January 7, 2013 2:23pm

Ford, living in the land of cheat organic (california) I appreciate your comment.

Yes it is a fashion that folk will pay dearly for.

Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
January 7, 2013 8:16pm

We've been certified Organic (spinach, cauliflower, some corn, one orchard and some potatoes) and not one argument, other than price, can convince me of the advantage.
Of course we use "certified" insecticides. Drink the Rotenone we spray on the "organic" fields and you'll be as dead as the "organic" we use elsewhere.
The organic fields yield much less, but we charge more,... but let me tell you a secret,... you do not know the difference. You claim to, but my strawberries (which I "say" are organic, but do not label) pass the "tastes better because they are organic" test.
It's a fad. I use far more deisel for far less product, but I charge more.
I've been doing this for all of my 49 years. Same farm, same machines, same animals, different label. The food is fine, the use of the food is the problem.
If you want to know why cancer is prevelant, look at the information technologies that inform you of it! Look at the advances in diagnostics then examine reality: We Live Longer. Food-born illness isn't even on the freakin chart!
I grow organic, but I eat food.
I leave you with reality: NPK. If you don't know what NPK is all about, you don't know anything about food and your pro-organic argument is an idiot's argument.
We've succeeded, not failed.
HFCS,.. another issue. That is abuse.

NB, Northern, NY
January 8, 2013 1:32pm

Thanks NB for your comments. Yes, the issue of nitrate etc loading on organic farms is an issue fraught with woo when interviewing organic or "bio ethical" planters. Neither seem to know their standards.

I have a problem with the standards themselves (inclusive of magic) and the impression they make of general industrial standards (folks, primary industry is industry).

Thankfully most never read a standard.

Thanks for the admission and awareness that a product generally sells on its marketing rather than its true value.

Mud, At virtually missing point, NSW, OZ,
January 8, 2013 10:36pm

This skeptoid is not really about organic food in general, but a rather US-centered story about organic CROPS (not meat) and some organic food consumers that apparently annoy certain skeptics.

The part about myth 1 (food corporations) probably describes the US situation properly, but the presence of big corporation doesn't necessarily imply small organic farmers are no longer active. If anything, the market for quality products has been "opened up" during the last ten years. I buy my quality products (organic or not) from small farmers as well as the larger corporations. Great!

The part about the second myth (health) adds mostely irrelevant discussion of people's opinions regarding "naturalness" and some only marginally relevant statistics about E. Coli outbreaks. It also states that all vegetables of any kind, whether they're grown organically or not, are basically genetically identical, denying that organic farmers often use subspecies that are much resistant against insects and fungi etc. These varieties are different and often taste better.

The third myth regards the environmental benefits. It's not universal: it does not apply to the situation in the Netherlands. We have less and less soil to cultivate yet our vegetable exports soar, even the Ph.D. agriculturist agree. The forests are not threathened and farmer's soil is getting more healthy.

Lastly: the conditions for organically-bred animals as stipulated by law are the best possible. #1 reason for organic meat!

Vincent, Amsterdam, Netherlands
March 21, 2013 6:04am

Organic is fast becoming the alternative to Genetically Modified Crops and that is the main reason why everyone should insist on affordable organic food. Unfortunately marketing hype does little for the organic cause but although organic may not be more nutritious, it certainly is healthier than chemical-laden harvests and the toxic GMO foods. If you truly know what you are eating and know how it is produced then you would definitely choose organic over conventional and GMO farming. I am astounded by the lack of knowledge in this article on the benefits of organic. Know your farmer, know your food.

sonia, South Africa
April 4, 2013 6:13am

There is obviously no misleading corporations, no corporate funded scientific studies, no suppression of nutritional facts or anything alike in the OP's world. Even local doctors get "gifts" from pharmaceutical companies, and half the board of EFSA is on the payroll of multinational food companies. Still the OP trust them. Is that skepticism?

Freke1, Denmark
May 11, 2013 3:26pm

as I have said before, I have no problem with a food delivery system that allows food for all 10billion people we expect by 2050.

If its synthetic food based on GME's that is a radical change from current practices, so be it.

But to base the populations food needs on logical fallacies is rather bizarre.

If its environmentally beneficial (humans getting fed, environmental stress reduced back to current targets, the food is nutritious and everyone has a good lifespan {as present]") I would be quite happy if technology superseded current agricultural and industrial practices. So would everybody else reading skeptoid.

Organic is definitely not a candidate in this regard.

Magnanamous Dinoflagellate, sin city, Oz
June 21, 2013 8:50am

Bullshit about Chinese tea part. No coments about other parts

achi, helfi
July 4, 2013 8:17am

They are inscrutable in Helfi.

Chinese tea is great stuff.. drink it all the time.

Its just tea..tasty stuff in all its grades..

Never tried Bullshit, wrong side of the Tasman I am afraid..

Mouley Drier, sin city, Oz
July 18, 2013 7:37am

This article is nonsense! You provide NO evidence on the contrary, yet spout the same exact rhetoric that GMO producers spew alongside the boatloads of their chemicals that are infiltrating our soil, air, and water and poisoning the oceans. Where is YOUR scientific proof?? There are LOADS of scientific and ag based studies that PROVE organic food is healthier, better for the environment for MANY reasons, and cost competitive now that organic is a standard, foods are labelled, and people have more choices to buy organic. I am myself an organic farmer and can't find ONE shred of reality in this article.
No scientific proof = fraud. Wake up, Brian, before the crap you eat gives you cancer.

RootNRoost, Livingston Manor, NY
August 5, 2013 8:56am

I love guys like RootNroost.

There are a lot of papers on conventional ag that we now call Bioethical.. organic is even starting to drift from our ag export quals..

They say a lot of nice things as far as science goes.

None of it has anything to do with our personal quality systems.

The science to improve "organic" is well published.

That could be the sweetest I have ever been on the matter!

Mud, sin city, Oz
August 6, 2013 6:39am

This site is a joke. It's purposefully created by psychopaths to confuse people.

George, Vancouver
August 16, 2013 9:49am

I think one major reason people believe the organic myth is because of their ignorance on toxicity. That subject is covered only briefly elsewhere on this site.

Pete, Australia
August 16, 2013 12:11pm

Pete, you do realise that organic is complicated for those who believe in the possibility of chemtrails? Given that Organic standards persist with seafood being "not organic" there is very little "no fly zone" left to grow "she'll be right " crops for these overly fastidious.

George, which psychopaths are we referring to? Is it the ones who race to publish, race to claim or race to garner unwarranted money for lack of service?

There could be a paper in this!

Multerlingerar Dailama, sin city, Oz
August 19, 2013 11:21pm

In South Africa we dont have many big corporations doing large scale organic farming so here buying organic still supports the little guy but the problem is that the little guy is as greedy as the the big corporations are. Ive had many arguments with organic producers who claim that they grow organic to save the environment but charge tripple the price of the normal producers. I a country where 90 percent of the population is considered to be poor wouldnt it make sense to make the majority youre target market if you truly want to save the enviroment.

Gareth, South Africa
September 3, 2013 6:33am

There are LOADS of scientific and ag based studies that PROVE organic food is healthier!

Please provide one?

Haram, NY
September 15, 2013 10:23pm

Well questioned Haram.

Whilst even western governments and departments will acyively allow anyone to practice their major religion (be it organic, acupuncture or naturopathic) its required that the organisations regulating these have to state "what the science says". . This is usually left with a notion. Sometimes a small EB study showing little or no effect is also referred to.

Internationally, the WHO even does this with cultural medicines and practices. The science is questioned, the quality is questioned and the efficacy is debated in the WHO releases.

In the case of organic, there are loads of scientific and ag based studies required to show that organic food meets any claim.

The first fail usually comes to "chemicals" residual to the food stuffs.

Still, if its a money spinner for added value crop for Oz farmers, I would be all for it. Given that the constraints being loss of environment etc, I question the organic mind set.

Ive questioned the mind set of many "green" supporters in the past. This is just another probably environmentally damaging practice.

Come to think of it, its been one for 10,000 years. So IT MUST BE BAD (to throw the generic ancient fallacy back at the ignorati and gullibles).

Mezze Dining, Gerringong The IL. USO
September 16, 2013 9:37pm

I agree your article is nonsense. As the owner of a small organic market I am appalled that you would post your article on my business facebook page. I suggested your new profession should be returning to school for manners 101.

this message is posted below on your page, you may want to apply this to yourself.

"Discuss the issues - personal attacks against other commenters, posts containing advertisements or links to commercial services, nonsense, and other useless posts will be deleted."

wendy grant, london ontario
October 29, 2013 2:35am

I think this article is garbage! You don't offer anythingon why GMO food does to you! You wouldn't need such large yielding v=crops if you'd eliminate all fast food restaurants(ie. McDonalds, Burger king etc). I have two children that have eaten nothing but organic food and clean purified water for the last 6 years and they are in better health then they were before we started organic! Before I started feeding my kids organic they had colds every year, their intelligence suffered, they had no energy and were young boys!! I took all processed food away and brought in only organic! I can tell you they haven't even had a runny nose in 6 years. My oldest is atteding college now and my youngest was diagnosed w ADHD. He takes natural supplements $16 a month not $400 and he is a different person normal again and not doped up on man made drugs! So there you have it the proof is in the pudding! GMO food is causing so many allergies in kids and adults that's it's staggering and it's killing people and animals! They are changing the evolution of animals by feeding them corn instead of grass!!

Michelle, Middletown, Ohio
March 4, 2014 10:08am

I'm glad to hear someone speaking up about the organic myth that is pervading our markets. "Natural" does NOT always equal "Better for You". If you believe that, please eat some 100% all natural arsenic or nightshade berries and let me know how that works out for you.

Dumping a gigantic load of feces on crops and covering them with e-coli residue is just as, if not more, dangerous than using a conventional fertilizer.

Flutterbyu, Portland, OR
March 6, 2014 10:33pm

Thank you for your article, Mr. Dunning. I also appreciate the references at the bottom of each of your posts. Is there more information about the Whole Foods chain? It's hugely popular in Los Angeles, but I always wondered about its ethics and prices; lots of New Agey books and products.

LA Skeptic, Los Angeles
April 6, 2014 7:14pm

"On the other hand, if you demand organic soybeans, then you should have the courage to stand up and say that you don't care whether black and brown people around the world have enough to eat or not."

Ohhhhhhh, SNAP! XD

Carly, WA
April 16, 2014 11:19pm

Brian,

Your article begins and ends with a bias, which usually does not fully support available facts.

Interestingly, you do not mention the fact that organic crops are also not GE crops.

You do not mention studies done in countries that do not permit the importing of GE foods.

You do not mention that GE crops require more pesticides.

Finally, we are left to believe that synthetic pesticides are just fine for human ecology? Do some research on the toxicity of Roundup.

John, New York
April 18, 2014 2:47pm

To the person who said to do some research on Roundup, The funny thing is that Roundup is far less toxic than most organic pesticides (Might wanna look up copper sulfate). I would tell YOU to do research on the toxicity of Roundup, and when doing the research, you might want to read the article on this website about knowing your sources.

Skeptic Liberal, Athens, Ga
April 28, 2014 3:52pm

This article is amazing. Not only does it reference potential dangers that the world could face, but it also doesn't try to oversell conventional farming. This article is laced with facts, from REPUTABLE sources, and foresight. I love the reference to natural not always meaning safe. Natural is also a term that this generation throws around like they do their virtue. By society's definition, the beaver's dam and the bee's honey are just as artificial as the house I live in; my house is pretty safe... would you like to know what isn't safe? Bears, bears are natural too, and very dangerous. When speaking physically, one must recognize that EVERYTHING in the universe is natural. Broken down, everything came from an exploding star; everything is protons, electrons, neutrons, and photons. This organic trend, is Darwinism in full throttle. With modern medicines and our amazing ability to escape evolution, your precious Nature is coming back full circle.

emcee:F, Kansas City
June 22, 2014 4:09pm

To the individual whose children switched to an organic diet, I applaud you. But please don't put all your eggs in one basket and offer your very biased opinion as the "proof" you spoke of. I'm guessing the individuals you spoke of may have not been getting sick because of the reduced other <insert choice word> that was being ingested and the increased... vitamin C...? 6 Years ago ADHD was widely over diagnosed. Having it myself, I view it's symptoms, in me, as my best qualities that make me who I am. My increased awareness helps me navigate the world as I need it to. Hell, for all anyone knows, those without "ADHD" are the ones who aren't normal. Seriously, having true ADHD, and trying everything possible to cope with the symptoms, I can positively say, that there are "natural" (there's that word again) vitamins that help, and there are other "natural" substances that hinder ADHD. There is no combination of any herbal supplement that will fix ADHD.

If I had to guess, I'd guess that the only thing that changed was the parenting style. Anyone who can persuade a child with ADHD to eat organically and not seek out stimulating substances, like caffeine, nicotine, taurine, and massive amounts of B-vitamins has got to be good at what they're doing.

Don't give organics and "natural" supplements credit for your achievement. Take the win and accept that you were obviously an amazing parent.

Go you, Michelle from OH, GO YOU!
...not the food...

emcee:F, Kansas City
June 22, 2014 4:24pm

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