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February 2018
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What’s Wrong With Organic?

Every once in a while I have a sort of ephiphany (or at least what feels like one) regarding the degradation of our society.  Most of these revelations are uncomfortable to me and usually they end up making my friends hate me for a little while and I become even more unpopular.  At times I ask why I even care or fight it.  Why don’t I just march along and play along and not worry about the truth.  But no…alas…that is not me.

Recently I posted this story on Facebook:  http://news.yahoo.com/organic-food-no-healthier-non-organic-study-210536314.html.  The headline is: Organic food no healthier than non-organic: study.  Now while the title is misleading I found the first paragraphs to accurately sum up a hunch I’ve had for a while. 

 Organic produce and meat typically isn’t any better for you than conventional varieties when it comes to vitamin and nutrient content, according to a new review of the evidence.

But organic options may live up to their billing of lowering exposure to pesticide residue and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, researchers from Stanford University and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System found.

The reaction to my posting the link kind of shocked me.  Sure there were people who had the same hunch – though the data from the study kind of put everything together.  But there were a good deal of people that acted as if I called their favorite ball team a no talent bunch of pansies. 

A friend (who shall remain nameless) and I discussed this reaction at some length.  My friend believed that I sent out the wrong message.  That what people heard me say was, “don’t bother with organics because conventional food is just as good”.  What I heard myself say was, “organic is an ok choice when compared to conventional food but hey let’s grow as much as we can too, ok?”

So I could not reconcile what I thought I said with what everyone heard but when juxtaposed against the pyschology of it all it becomes quite easy.  To put it in perspective I stumbled upon this page at The Onion.  I found it accurate and hilarious.  Because The Onion’s humor is so subtle allow me to explain. 

The first guy doesn’t want to quit buying organic because its part of his identity. 

The second guy can’t believe its a marketing trick.

The lady is a food elitist. 

Wow I made quite a leap on a few of those.  Let me elaborate…

The first guy doesn’t want to quit buying organic because its part of his identity. 

This is the type of guy who rolls into his office everyday at exactly 7:10 (but his actual start time is 8). He drives a Prius and passed up buying a Hybrid Honda Civic.  Though the Civic was better for the environment it doesn’t have the name power of the Prius (known as the Prius effect:  http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/04/21/conspicuous-conservation-and-the-prius-effect/).  His friends call him “the organic guy” because he lectures them when they go out to eat at lunch. 

For a person like this, hearing that organic may not be the panacea he’s been promised is heartbreaking.  It’s as if someone reached into his chest and pulled out a piece of him.  He’s going to continue to shop organic for all the wrong reasons because failing to do so would be admitting he was living a lie (though he’s living a lie at current). 

The second guy can’t believe its a marketing trick.

This one is pretty explanatory.  As former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman pointed out, “The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety.”

In fact I have another hunch.  I’d guess that over 75% of the people that are familiar with and buy food under the organic label have no idea what the standard says.

Here’s a quote from the website of one farm that is “Organic Certified”.  This is in regards to what the USDA requires for the Organic Free Range Label.  

“X” Poultry Farm believes that free range chickens are raised in spacious poultry houses. “X”’s birds get approximately one square foot per bird, about 25% more space per bird than those raised in conventional poultry operations.   Depending upon the farm, the pens outside are 50% to 100% of the size of the inside houses.

In case you didn’t want to do the math,

that’s 1.5 to 2 square foot per bird.  The birds in my coop/run get 12.  Boy they are really spoiled!

In fact the organic standards say very little.  Most of the organic rules are very vague.  But the general outline can be easily summed up:

*No synthetic chemicals, no sewage sludge, no GMO’s.

*Producers must keep an audit trail.

*Producers must be open to periodic inspection.

That’s it!

But the real beauty of organic is that the marketing is already done for the megacorps.  They don’t even have to advertise the health benefits.  Many people just assume they are there! 

For one, there is the belief that eating organic will prevent one from developing cancer.  From the America Cancer Society:

Organic foods

Concern about the possible effects of food additives on health, including cancer, is one reason that many people are now interested in organic foods. Organic foods are often promoted as an alternative to foods grown with conventional methods that use chemical pesticides and herbicides, hormones, or antibiotics. These compounds cannot be used for foods labeled as “organic.” Organic foods, as defined by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), also exclude genetically modified foods or foods that have been irradiated.

Whether organic foods carry a lower risk of cancer because they are less likely to be contaminated by compounds that might cause cancer is largely unknown.

Several studies have looked at the nutrient content of organic versus conventionally grown fruits or vegetables, and while some studies suggest a higher nutrient content, others suggest no difference. It is not known if the nutritional differences that have been reported would result in health benefits such as a reduced cancer risk.


Based on the responses I got, there are a great number of people who choose organic because its pesticide free and pesticide residues cause cancer.  While I’m no great believer in what the government says we have to remember that ORGANIC is a government certification.  If they had proof that organic reduced cancer risk it would be in their best interest to disclose it.  And its not to say that it doesn’t reduce one’s risk.  Currently there is just no evidence.  Besides, from the study:

More than one-third of conventional produce had detectable pesticide residues, compared to seven percent of organic produce samples. And organic chicken and pork was 33 percent less likely to carry bacteria resistant to three or more antibiotics than conventionally-produced meat.

What happened to the benefits?  So I’m 33 percent less likely to suffer from antibiotic resistance bacteria from organic food?  I want 100% less likely!  And only seven percent of my organic food has pesticide residues?  I’d like that number to be 0!

The truth of the matter is the organic board is trying to phase out some chemicals and drugs.  But some are not set to phase out until 2017!  Here are just a few that are allowed in some form or manner in organic production currently:  Streptomycin, Sulfurous Acid, Sodium Fluoaluminate, Atropine, Ivermectin, Carrageenan (ground up beetles! Note: It was pointed out to me that Carrageenan is actually extracted from seaweed.  It’s Cochineal that is derived from SCALE insects.  Not that it matters much since Cochineal is totally natural and allowed in organics – but for the sake of fact I revise it here.), and many other substances and drugs I can’t adequately spell!

I’ve also heard arguments that organic is at least good for the environment.  Really?  Considering that organic farmers use 25% of all pesticides used in the US for food production (not including BT which isn’t so easy to measure) I find it hard to justify that organic is an environmentally acceptable alternative.  Remember it doesn’t matter how the pests are killed the fact is that dead is dead.  Disturbing an ecosystem is not a good thing – even if its organically disturbed. 

Speaking of BT, we were all very worried about it when it was found in GMO crops and in the blood of unborn babies.  But if we label it organic and just apply it to a field its ok.  Because we all know, plants won’t take that up into their tissues (sarcasm).

In addition I’d like to point out just how well Organic certification helped Kashi and other companies sell GMO and Pesticide laden products to consumers (http://www.cornucopia.org/2011/10/natural-vs-organic-cereal/).  The important thing to remember is that a good deal of organic companies are owned by larger mega corps.  And the ones that aren’t would love nothing more than to grow their business to mega corp status. 

Why are so many Organic brands spending money to prevent GMO labelling in California?


The lady is a food elitist. 

Unfortunately there is a theory in our society that if we have enough money or means that we can protect ourselves.  The first guy was the idealist who shopped organic because it was hip.  The second guy bought it because he was a sheep going along with the crowd.  The lady, however, considers herself to be superior to the conventional food eating plebes.

This is what I see most prevalent and damaging to the whole movement to eat better.  There’s a few problems with this.

1.  It sets the wrong impression.  I also somewhat recently pointed out on Facebook that it really was a fallacy to on one hand promote grass fed beef as the “right way to do things” and then on the other hand mention “grass fed” beef every five seconds.  You’ve seen these people on Facebook taking pictures of their dinner – “Grass Fed Angus Free Range Sirloin with a side of Organic grown local sourced CSA basket carrots glazed with a top bar beehive comb-in clover and orange blossom honey”.  Sometimes I get the impression that the cow rolled over in the field and died for this person.  While the bees delivered the honey to their front door in a little basket made of leaves and love.  A person eating this meal is truly exceptional.  My favorite response to my post was this:  “NO, I refuse to stop adding the disclaimer that my beef is grass fed.  People need to know they are eating wrongly.”

2.  It sets unreal expectations.  Yes if you want to be an up and comer you need to eat organic only.  When my wife goes to the grocery store there are certain things that we try to buy organic.  But lets face it – there’s a reason its called “Whole Paycheck”.  I can eat most meals about 10-40% organic (supplemented with garden produce and livestock) or I can eat about twice per week 100% organic.  I don’t know about you folks but I like eating and my food production is still in its infancy.

So for the “plebes” that don’t know any better we’ve given two false choices.  Shop conventional and die and be a plebe or shop organic 100% and…what you don’t have that much money to spend on food?  Well guess you’ll die of cancer alone and unloved.  I’d rather teach people to garden. 

In conclusion if any of you took away from the article I posted that I dislike organic and believe that conventional food is superior you obviously do not know me.  I think buying organic is wise when its possible and there are certain foods where it makes more sense than others.  However, I realize that Organic is in many ways a false paradigm and a marketing technique.  I’m going to continue to do what I always do.  That is to try and grow as much of my food as possible, buy organic when I can and conventional grown food only when necessary.  But hey, I promise to try and not act superior to anyone else!


18 comments to What’s Wrong With Organic?

  • Anne Ollamha

    I agree with your assessment.  When considering whether to buy something that is labelled “organic”, just follow the money trail.  I buy local, and I know the people I buy from.  The money goes from me to my neighbor.

    I always find it weird to go shopping and see the label “organic” plunked on products that are produced through a chemical process.  Like Stevia.  The plant is green and it’s, well, a plant!  The stuff in the packets is a white powder!  How do the special people think it goes from being green leaves and stalks to being a white powder?  Give your heads a shake, special people! Chemicals! After all that plant abuse, any benefits from being organically grown (assuming it really was organically grown) have been stripped away.

    Well, that’s my two cents worth!

  • Servelan

    Please consider getting an editor to do fact checking for you.

    Carrageenan is not ground up ‘beetles’, it is derived from seaweed.  Cochineal is the dye derived from ground bugs; also, the bugs in question are not beetles, but scale.

    The supposed ‘organic firms against Prop 37’ include Monsanto Co., E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. and other biotech firms that developed plants that have had their DNA manipulated to make them resistant to insects, crop diseases, herbicides or pesticides.; PepsiCo,  Coca-Cola Co., Nestle USA Inc., Kellogg Co., J.M. Smucker Co., and Cargill Inc., none of whom are widely known as ‘organic’ firms.

  • Jason

    That’s really what you base an argument on?

    I got Cochineal wrong – that’s what I get for going with memory.  Here let me change that before my whole argument is negated…. Done.

    And you make my point in your second statement.  The fact that the megacorps own the organic brands… What statement does it make when these companies buy organic brands and then fight measures that SHOULD help said brands. 

  • Guest

    Jason, totally off subject, but did you know your book was reviewed on Survival Blog this morning?  Holy crap man!  http://www.survivalblog.com/2012/09/a-critical-thinker-book-review-hunt-gather-grow-eat.html

  • Kris from CT

    Well done Jason! People are incredibly ignorant of the big picture. My sister will not allow a single un-organic blueberry past my nefews lips and yet they live on doritos, boxed mac’n’cheese, and neon colored “organic” yogurt in plastic tubes!

  • ShenandoahJoe

    It’s not just your readers, Jason.  The NY Times addressed the same question in a forum. Four out of five columnists completely misunderstand the purpose of organic agriculture.

    People are desperate for healthy things to eat.  They’ll latch onto anything that sounds like it might be better than what they’re getting.  Remember a few years back, everybody thought “kosher” meant it was better for you?

  • Anonymous

    If I’m at the grocery store and I’m shopping for Onions, for example, and I know nothing about the onions at all I’ll choose an organic option because onions are on the dirty dozen and I want to limit my pesticide exposure… except people need to get over “grocery store addiction” and realize there are more buying options

    Growing your own, farmer’s markets, CSA, etc. You can find other onions. 

    It’s the same with meat, people think they can only get meat at a grocery store and aren’t willing to look past the box for other options.

  • Anonymous

    Arghh.. if i hear one more argument based on the need to “feed the world” my head will explode. We already produce and order of magnitude in excess of what is required to feed the world. It’s a distribution problem and completely unrelated to farming. Sorry not your point at all but I didn’t feel like signing up for an New York Times account…lol

  • Anonymous

    That’s why in several of the biggest Green Revolution successes—India, Mexico, and the Philippines—grain production and in some cases, exports, have climbed, while hunger has persisted and the long-term productive capacity of the soil is degraded. Now we must fight the prospect of a ‘New Green Revolution’ based on biotechnology, which threatens to further accentuate inequality.”


  • Jason

    That feed the world argument is a strawman that is trotted out every once in a while.  Its funny how complete ancient civilizations fed themselves with no oil powered machinery, no steel tools and no fertilizer.  I wonder how we came to be?

    The truth is that the conventional model is a pay tomorrow instead of a pay today model.  Sure it makes a lot of food it is only a crutch used to bypass the carrying capacity of the land. 

  • […] like it to be but O well. The self sufficient gardener put together a nice story on the topic here: http://theselfsufficientgardener.com/whats-wrong-with-organic  And organic basically means this: the general outline is summed up as no synthetic chemicals, no […]

  • R_neckerson

    Buy local. Buy seasonal.

  • […] More commentary at the Self-Sufficient Gardener:  What’s Wrong With Organic? […]

  • guest

    it’s actually untrue. there is a difference in the nutritional content of produce grown in a holistic way vs. a corporate way- that’s the difference. the tomato you nourish with compost vs. a mono-crop in dead soil, which do you think is healthier. think of the kids who’s parent comes home from a day spraying chemicals- that kid is exposed to those chemicals. you can buy local & it can still be a GMO or sprayed to the hills in some pretty hideous stuff.

  • guest

    green revolution is NOT a success. it’s another dependency on corporate ag services & products.

  • Anonymous

    if you actually read my comment you would realize it is anti-green revolution

  • Katie

    This is awesome! Thanks 🙂