Is Organic Food Just Like the Sprayed Kind?
|September 7, 2012||Posted by Jeffery J. Smith under News|
Is organic food worth the money? Is ethanol worth the subsidy? We trim, blend, and append three 2012 stories from: (1) the Daily Mail Spt 3, on organics by J. Hope; (2) Reuters, Spt 5, on cannabis; and (3) Guardian, Spt 5, on ethanol, by T. Wise.
by Jenny Hope, by Reuters, and by Timothy Wise
Organic Food Almost Like the Sprayed Kind?
Stanford researchers claim organic food is no more nutritious than food grown using pesticides and chemicals and won’t benefit your health.
They also found that there was no guarantee organic food would be pesticide-free — a key attraction for many consumers — though it did have lower levels.
Shoppers have been shunning organic food as recession forces belt-tightening.
The results come from the biggest review yet of existing studies comparing the two types of food. However, UK campaigners said the survey was not equipped to detect real differences.
The review included studies of people with organic and conventional diets, as well as research into nutrient levels, bacterial, fungal, or pesticide contamination.
Even if organic isn’t healthier, it is still tastier in some people’s eyes.
Researchers found no consistent differences in the vitamin content of various foods. They also found no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk.
They were also unable to identify specific fruits and vegetables for which organic appeared consistently to be the healthier choice.
The researchers did find organic produce was 30 per cent less likely to be contaminated with pesticides than conventional fruit and vegetables, but not guaranteed to be pesticide-free, while pesticide levels of all foods came within allowable safety limits.
Two studies of children found lower levels of pesticide residues in the urine of those on organic diets.
A spokesman for the Soil Association said: ‘This US study, of limited application in Europe, found organic food helps people avoid pesticides in their food.
‘However, the scientific methodology used for the review, while suitable for comparing trials of medicines, is not right for comparing different crops.’
Certain organic foods produce higher greenhouse gas emissions than their conventional farmed counterparts, the researchers said.
They found organic milk, cereals, and pork all generated higher greenhouse gas emissions than their conventionally farmed counterparts. Organic beef and olives produced lower emissions.
JJS: While it’s easy for Stanford guys to get funding and headlines, their study of other studies — ensuring that any old errors get perpetuated — leaves many points unaddressed:
- First, the outside of the food. Some organic food gets sprayed not by a dishonest farmer but by being next door to a factory farm and the wind carries the poison over.
- Second, safe limits. These are set in the political process where money talks and mechani-chemical agri-business has much more talking power than organic gardeners; plus, it can take decades for cancers to show up.
- Third, the inside of the food. Nutritional content depends on soil content. Most soils have been damaged by decades of spraying and trampling by heavy machinery and these are soils that organic gardeners must use.
- Fourth, diet. If you’re vegetarian or eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, then the so-called safe amounts of poison on food adds up. OTOH, if you eat a lot of packaged food, there’s lots of poison mixed in with the food in boxes that does not get counted when researchers look at only what’s on the skin of plant food.
- Fifth, environment. Sprayed food not only requires compacting the soil with heavy equipment, but those tractors require clearing the fields of hedges which allows erosion. Plus, there’s the chemical runoff, the algae blooms and fish kills way downstream, the greater demand for oil, etc.
- Sixth, politics. Buying pesticides, fertilizers, tractor fuel, etc, profits the big businesses that donate to places like Stanford and its researchers.
With so much downside to spraying, could factory farmers be as confused as this German gardener?
Farmer, 74, Grows Cannabis Crop by Mistake
An elderly Bavarian farmer wanted to grow sunflowers on a spare patch of land but ended up with a thriving crop of cannabis that earned him a visit from drug enforcement officials. He said he had planted the field with old bird food, not realizing that it contained hemp seeds. They blossomed into a field of 1,000 cannabis plants, three-meter-high (9.84 feet) on a field of 300 square meters.
“The friendly elderly gentleman was surprised at the strange plants that had grown next to the flowers but didn’t realize they were cannabis plants,” police said. He promptly ploughed up the field with the tractor under the watchful eyes of the police.
The type of cannabis was so weak that no one could have gotten high off it anyway, police said.
JJS: The mix of cultivation and legislation can often harvest an unhealthy crop of results. That hemp could’ve been used to make rope or canvass (the word itself comes from cannabis). And all the subsidies and limits on liability and mandates on what to grow disastrously distort the market which could work pretty well if society had a geonomic revenue policy.
Ethanol — Burning Food to Go Where?
If we want food to remain cheap we need to stop putting it in our cars
It’s a myth that the main driver of food price increases is demand for meat in fast-growing developing countries. This effectively downplays the full impact of biofuels and ignores two problems underlying price volatility: financial speculation and the lack of publicly held food reserves.
Rising demand for meat-based protein, particularly in India and China, is not the main cause of recent price increases. An FAO study documented that cereals demand rose more slowly since 2000 than it had in previous decades. So demand in India and China may have grown, but it did not create a “demand shock” that precipitated more recent price surges.
What is the demand shock that has occurred since 2000? The dramatic expansion of biofuels production, under a range of government subsidies. US ethanol consumes 40% of the country’s corn, 15% of global corn production. The National Academy of Sciences concluded that 20-40% of the price increases in 2008 were due to biofuels expansion.
Triggered by the widespread drought in the US, corn output is down dramatically, but ethanol refiners keep gobbling up existing corn, driving global prices to new records.
Sure, Chinese demand for soybeans has jumped dramatically, mostly to feed its own growing meat production. This puts pressure on agricultural land and contributes to rising food prices. But not on the order of magnitude accounted for by biofuels.
We should also consider four other straightforward and proven policies:
1. Expand food reserves
2. Regulate financial speculation in commodity markets
3. Quit wasting one third of food all along the food chain; the impact would be even greater than reducing biofuels use. (So, too, would the related goal of more equitably distributing the food we produce.)
4. Expand sustainable smallholder food production
JJS: While the suggestions are well meaning, they miss the central flaw.
- Take storing food. If you’ve lived on a farm and eaten only food that was alive until you ate it, and done so for at least a year then moved to the city and started eating normal food, you are straight off blown away by the lack of flavor and you wonder how such stuff ever got past the urban dweller’s palate (people are creatures of habit). While some storage is needed, needed much more is a distribution system that’s more efficient and equitable.
- Regulating speculators. Ask yourself: where do speculators get the money? As long as you allow wealth to be concentrated into the hands of a few, no amount and no strictness of regulation will control the behavior of the rich and powerful.
- Wasting food is irresponsible behavior. For people to behave responsibly, they need to feel the consequences of their actions and they need the power to be able to behave differently. In general, that calls for a more egalitarian, less hierarchical society. From the consumer’s POV, perhaps our hectic pace of life is part of the problem, forcing us to hurry to shop, cook, and eat, often alone. If people had a slower pace of life, they could cook for themselves and others and not lose awareness of what’s in the fridge or pantry.
- If smallholders could sustainably produce more food, then it’d help to have more small landowners. The number of owner occupants goes up when landowners must pay “rent” — a land tax or land dues — while the number of absentee owners of huge estates goes up when landowners get to hoard the land’s rental value. Thus it’d make tons of sense for society to recover the streams of various rents flowing in the economy and forgo taxing income, sales, and buildings.
That’s what happens in the country. In the city, owners who must pay land dues quit speculating and put to good use formerly vacant lots and abandoned buildings. That in-fills cities and shortens trips, even lets people forgo driving for riding. Less transportation means less demand for motor fuels, hence less demand for ethanol.
Following this geonomic prescription — along with getting rid of agri-subsidies and corporate welfare in general — would go a long way toward precluding the pooling of money in a few powerful pockets and that would thin out of the ranks of speculators. Less speculation would also flatten the business cycle, smoothing out the booms and busts, so there’d no longer be the kind of events that people with too much money speculate on.
This issue, like so many others, gets back to the question of who do we let profit from land. Many wanna-be reformers are not aware of the answer, never mind the question, which is just how present rent recipients like it. To be the first kid on your block to save the earth, get the word out about common wealth, about profit from land, about how it should benefit all of us not just a few of us, while taxes and subsidies should fade away. Do that, and your food will taste better, be plentiful and cheaper, and be better for you.
Family farmers worse off despite high prices