Organic Food

One of may favourite podcasts is Skepticality, produced by the Skeptics Society.  They apply science and logic to a multitude of topics – from so called business success conferences, to health quacks, to religious claims to unusual occurrence odds.

The last episode I listened to have a great section on . Their summary was:

  • The most dangerous bacteria in America’s food supply is E. coli, which is found in abundance in cattle manure, a favorite “natural” fertilizer of organic farming.)
  • The evidence for the superiority of organic food is mostly anecdotal and based more on irrational assumptions and wishful thinking than on hard scientific evidence.
  • Organic food does not offer special protection against cancer or any other disease.
  • Organic food is not “healthier” than food produced by conventional farming, using synthetic pesticides and herbicides.

A key useful line was that “natural” in no way equates to “safe” and “artificial” in  no way equates to “unsafe”. In fact often it can be the other way around. You can not generalise. Many poisons are natural, after all.

With that in mind, I saw this blog by Green MP Steffan Browning:

They do note, however, that the area of land certified as organic still makes up just 0.9 percent of global agricultural land. I am reading that as a good opportunity for a lot more growth in organics – the other 99.1%.

There is definitely demand for change. This month also saw 25,000 people demonstrating in Berlinagainst industrial agriculture. I particularly like their chant “If you persecute farmers, animals and bees, you won’t become MPs!”

I absolutely agree with the Association of German Dairy Farmers that only if “farmers and citizens stand up together for reform of agricultural policy can we keep our farms operating and ensure that at long last we produce healthy food under conditions of fairness.”

So Steffan Browning repeats the myth that non-organic food is not healthy. He also seems to imply he wants all agriculture in the world to be organic.

As is well documented (with scores of references) at the Wikipedia article on organic food, the vast scientific consensus is that there is little or any difference in taste, no significant difference in nutrients or heavy metals. A review of 50 years of evidence concluded “there is no good evidence that consumption of organic food is beneficial to health in relation to nutrient content” and “There is no support in the scientific literature that the lower levels of nitrogen in certain organic vegetables translates to improved health risk”.

There is also no evidence that organic foods carry a lower risk of cancer according to the American Cancer Society.

Now when it comes to issues such as climate change, the insist that we must follow the scientific consensus and act to mitigate against global warming. And, they are right. We should accept the scientific consensus.

But when it comes to other issues such as organic food, they point blank refuse to endorse the scientific consensus, and preach fear and doubt and cherry pick the odd study to back their near-religious view that organic is better.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against organic food. If you want to pay 40% more for your food, and it gives you peace of mind – good on you. but I object to MPs and parties denigrating science by insisting that organic is safer and better.

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