Organic Food

January 26th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

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 organic food. 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 Greens 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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Does organic food turn people into jerks?

May 23rd, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Today Health at MSNBC reports:

Renate Raymond has encountered her fair share of organic food snobs, but a recent trip to a Seattle market left her feeling like she’d stumbled onto the set of “Portlandia.

“I stopped at a market to get a fruit platter for a movie night with friends but I couldn’t find one so I asked the produce guy,” says the 40-year-old arts administrator from Seattle. “And he was like, ‘If you want fruit platters, go to Safeway. We’re organic.’ I finally bought a small cake and some strawberries and then at the check stand, the guy was like ‘You didn’t bring your own bag? I need to charge you if you didn’t bring your own bag.’ It was like a ‘Portlandia skit.’ They were so snotty and arrogant.”

Is there a reason for this?

As it turns out, new research has determined that a judgmental attitude may just go hand in hand with exposure to organic foods. In fact, a new study published this week in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, has found that organic food may just make people act a bit like jerks.

“There’s a line of research showing that when people can pat themselves on the back for their moral behavior, they can become self-righteous,” says author Kendall Eskine, assistant professor of  the department of psychological sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans. “I’ve noticed a lot of organic foods are marketed with moral terminology, like Honest Tea, and wondered if you exposed people to organic food, if it would make them pat themselves on the back for their moral and environmental choices. I wondered if  they would be more altruistic or not.”

Sounds a reasonable theory.

To find out, Eskine and his team divided 60 people into three groups. One group was shown pictures of clearly labeled organic food, like apples and spinach. Another group was shown comfort foods such as brownies and cookies. And a third group — the controls — were shown non-organic, non-comfort foods like rice, mustard and oatmeal. After viewing the pictures, each person was then asked to read a series of vignettes describing moral transgressions.

“One vignette was about second cousins having sex,” says Eskine. “Another was about a lawyer on the prowl in an ER trying to get people to sue for their injuries. Then the groups made moral judgments on a scale from one to seven.”

In another phase of the study, the three groups were asked to volunteer for a (fictitious) study, with each person writing down the amount of time — from zero to 30 minutes — that they would be willing to volunteer.

The results did not bode well for the organic folks.

“We found that the organic people judged much harder compared to the control or comfort food groups,” says Eskine. “On a scale of 1 to 7, the organic people were like 5.5 while the controls were about a 5 and the comfort food people were like a 4.89.”

When it came to helping out a needy stranger, the organic people also proved to be more selfish, volunteering only 13 minutes as compared to 19 minutes (for controls) and 24 minutes (for comfort food folks).

“There’s something about being exposed to organic food that made them feel better about themselves,” says Eskine. “And that made them kind of jerks a little bit, I guess.”

So scientifically proven – eating organic food makes you more of a jerk :-)

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