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A Question to a Professor of Organic Agriculture

by Brian Dunning, Aug 06 2009

I am in receipt of an interesting email exchange between a Skeptoid listener who prefers to remain anonymous (let’s call him Gump in retaliation for his anonymity) and a professor, Jim Corven in the Organic Agriculture program at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts.

Gump read on the school’s web site the following:

Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. Its earth-friendly, resource-gentle approach to providing food and fiber attracts a generation who worries that the overuse of synthetics and agribusiness techniques deplete the earth’s health and resources out of the world. The sustainable farming movement uses fewer nonrenewable resources and in that way nurtures not only our bodies, but our earth.

All perfectly reasonable statements. The doomsday scenarios described are indeed worries that some people have. But the web page continues:

Learn the techniques and science behind the movement with the new Organic Agriculture Technician certificate at Bristol Community College. The certificate is designed to prepare people to use ecological production techniques that minimize pollution and create a healthier, tastier product.

Whoa, horsey. Healthier? Tastier? Obviously this is a tired old claim that organic proponents have been making for decades, but it’s neither been evidenced nor is it plausible. And where do they get “minimize pollution”?

Gump began by emailing Professor Corven with a reasonable question, one that all too few people seem willing to ask:

I was reading the front page about organic farming.  I read the sentence about how organic farm produces tastier and healthier foods.  I am wondering how that comes to be. Does organic farming alter the foods DNA in someway making the foods tastier or healthier in someway?  Is there some test that can prove the foods are healthier?  I find it disingenuous that organic farming is being promoted as something that is better than modern farming techniques which use less land to produce more food.

Professor Corven had a most un-professor-like reply:

I’d like to suggest that you might like to study some scientific literature and read up on the issues of soils, agricultural productivity, and nutrition before making the kinds of erroneous comments contained in your email.

What are these “erroneous comments” he charges Gump with? I see nothing other than quite intelligent questions, except for the final sentence, in which he observes that modern agriculture produces more crops on less land. This is, of course, the most obvious characteristic that distinguishes agricultural progress through the centuries.

If reading isn’t in your interest you might want to see the new movie Food, Inc.

We should have seen that coming. May I rephrase? “You challenged my dogma with questions, therefore you’re too stupid to read, therefore you should watch my alarmist anti-science propaganda movie.”

Of course, if you were only interested in venting your opinion and criticizing something that you obviously don’t like or understand then you may not actually be interested in more objective information.

May I rephrase again? “I invite you to take my class, it would be great to explore these questions together, and I think you’d be fascinated at some of the progress that organics have made.” Oh wait, no, that’s the wrong translation. My mistake, sorry.

Professor Corven made no effort whatsoever to answer the student’s questions. But of course, he was under no obligation to reply to Gump at all. (Gump is not in any of his classes.) He made snide underhanded attacks against the student’s integrity, intellectual honesty, knowledge level, and willingness to learn. Maybe Jim Corven is a fine fellow, and this student’s email came to him on a bad day. I don’t know. But I don’t think his email represents the best of Bristol Community College’s efforts to enlighten and educate students in a positive atmosphere.

Jim, he asked you to explain what he doesn’t understand. I get it if you don’t want to answer him; no doubt there was an argumentative undercurrent. Fine, delete it. But why go on the defensive and fire back so much personal vitriol? Do you have the answers, or are the questions really so hard that personal attacks are easier to mount?

Maybe Gump (and agricultural science as a whole) is completely wrong, and the past century of modern agriculture has indeed been a health and ecological catastrophe that simply hasn’t shown its symptoms yet. If this is Corven’s contention, he is invited to enlighten us. Until then, Gump’s simple questions to the organic lobby remain thoroughly evaded.

87 Responses to “A Question to a Professor of Organic Agriculture”

  1. MadScientist says:

    Ah, so – Prof. Woowoo offers a BS degree (and I don’t mean bachelor of science) as “Organic Technician” and snarls at anyone who asks sensible questions?

    I’ve grown tomato shrubs in water laced with chemicals just because I could – and guess what, they taste every bit as good as tomatoes grown in the soil (with or without other evil chemicals). The reason tomatoes in the supermarket have no taste is that they’re picked while too unripe in order to get an extended shelf life. The same is true of many fruits and vegetables. Even the tomatoes grown next to grandma’s septic tank would be tasteless if I picked them while light green and left them on a shelf to turn yellow then red.

    As for the hippy claims that “organic” is somehow more nutritious – they ought to shuck out the money to pay for tests. I can’t believe a tomato is healthier for me because I heaped bullshit onto it rather than birdshit from Nauru.

    Current intensive farming practices do have real problems associated though, more so in some places than others. In Australia for example the practices essentially render land useless after a few years, so large farms abandon huge sections of wasteland each year and clear more native vegetation to make room for more commercial crops. Farming practices may need a rethink to obtain a sustainable system. Unfortunately, the free market does come into play and there are market pressures which force farmers to continue with destructive practices. There is no question that with what we know today, a less intensive but possibly sustainable agriculture will have significantly lower yields than the more intensive but unquestionably destructive practices. One economist buddy tells me “simple – those farms should be shut down and the food should be imported.” Maybe she’s right – there may be cases where that is the best thing to do – but for purposes of the security of food supply, I tend to be conservative and say that we should at least be able to locally produce the bulk of our essential foodstuffs. So: “organic” is synonymous with bullshit, and although there are real problems with intensive farming practices, like the CO2 problem they are not easily addressed.

  2. Luis says:

    This is an actual train of thought from a former housemate of mine in Santa Cruz, CA (which still houses a significant amount of adherents to the philosophy of “let’s save the world by holding hands and thinking happy thoughts”).

    “I don’t know which avocados to buy at the supermarket! There’s the organic ones that have to be brought all the way from Mexico, and there’s the locally grown ones that are not organic.”

    I felt like explaining that the non-organic ones taste every bit as good as the organic ones, that they are not harmful, and that you don’t have to burn gallons upon gallons of gas to get them to your local selling point. Then I remembered that ironing my socks would possibly be more productive.

    • Thomas says:

      Yes, shipping in products from halfway around the world is not exactly the most eco-friendly choice. But neither is dumping chemicals on the crops that our closer to your neighborhood.

      I’m sure a lot of people like to complain about these dilemmas just to make themselves seem more concerned about the earth than they really are. But, it doesn’t make the problems any less real.

      • JonA says:

        “Dumping chemicals”? Nice fear mongering. The use of pesticides is carefully regulated. Pesticides are tested scientifically for safety and efficacy. Pesticides produce higher crop yields, which then feeds more people, leading to less starvation.

        Also, organic farming also uses pesticides (organic pesiticides!), often they use more pesticides because they can’t use the latest pesticides offered by science which are safer and are required in smaller amounts.

      • DavidCOG says:

        > Pesticides are tested scientifically for safety and efficacy.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDT. That’s just one example.

        > …organic farming also uses pesticides…

        Unless where you live has an entirely different definition of ‘organic’, that is utter nonsense.

      • Dax says:

        > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDT. That’s just one example.

        DDT, great: revert back to a chemical overused half a century ago when we couldn’t care less about the planet. Times have changed and pesticides are heavily regulated, at least in the western world. The restrictions are really tight (especially here in the UK) and not just monitored by the governments, but also by universities.

        > Unless where you live has an entirely different definition of ‘organic’, that is utter nonsense.

        UK regulations (most likely based upon EU regulations) state that you are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides! Organic farmers use a whole range of herbicides and pesticides derived from non-synthetic processes (usually just lysed fungal, bacterial or plant matter containing the herbicide and pesticide), or things such as pelargonic acid and boric acid. So, great, they’re adding unspecified amounts of unmodified chemicals and also acidify the damn soil. (More info on UK regulations)

        I currently work/study at a department of Ecology and Biodiversity at a UK university. I recall recent seminars concerning in one instance an EU banned pesticide (I can’t recall the name, nor do I have the time now to go paperfishing). The pesticide was banned because of oestromimetic concerns pushed for by consumer groups, forcing farmers to use heavier doses of another, less modified, pesticide that started killing off butterfly populations. At the same time, some farmers switched to organic methods and started using plant oils in large quantities, which actually killed off a lot of the insect indiscriminately and collected on top of bodies of water. How good is that for your biodiversity?

      • DavidCOG says:

        > DDT, great: revert back to a chemical overused half a century ago…

        I said it was just one example. Did you not read that? There are many others – like you, I don’t have time to go “paperfishing” for more.

        > How good is that for your biodiversity?

        Did I say every method and practice used by organic farmers is perfect in every way? No. The comparison is between GMO / industrial farming and organic. Guess which wins?

      • Ralph says:

        > I said it was just one example. Did you not read that? There are many others

        David, that was a pathetic attempt at not losing face and you know it. Saying there are “many” examples and then providing “just one” which is completely invalid is no argument for anything. Or do you mean there are many invalid examples? In which case I could agree with you. If you ever actually provided them.

      • Max says:

        “Pesticide Exposure Found To Increase Risk Of Parkinson’s Disease”
        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090421091705.htm

      • Max says:

        Pesticides are tested scientifically for safety and efficacy.

        I know they test on animals for safety, but how do they guarantee that it’s safe for children?

      • Sheldon says:

        Max: You’re not really that devoid of scientific education that you think comparative research isn’t useful, are you? I mean, just about every medication you’ve taken (or ever will take) was tested on lab animals first for safety and effectiveness. So if you think that testing on animals isn’t applicable to humans (although humans ARE animals, you know?), then I suggest you study up a bit on science.

      • Ron says:

        @Sheldon, Thalidomide was shown to be safe using animal tests, but when used by pregnant mothers caused birth defects. Other examples exist as well.

      • Wrong says:

        I guess that’s why the FDA didn’t ban it’s usage before it was proscribed… Oh Wait, they did. Thalidomide is a poor example, as it only strengthened the testing protocols used.

    • Max says:

      Check that the organic ones didn’t rot on their way from Mexico.

  3. Ranson says:

    I watched the recent Penn&Teller episode on organics. As always, I take them with a grain of skepticism, but what they found stacks up generally well with my own research into things. Organics may taste somewhat different (terroir isn’t woo, as far as I can tell, and affects more than wine grapes), but not necessarily better. Organic practices can’t sustain at a point to support current populations. Now, modern technological agriculture may or may not be sustainable from an ecological standpoint, and, in my opinion, that needs to be addressed more than “organic versus evil agribusiness”.

    It’s like people worrying about peak oil from an energy or fuel point of view. Sure, that’s a concern. I’m more worried about petroleum derivitaves like fertilizers and plastics. We can get other energy; the other petroleum products are just as crucial to modern life, and harder to replace.

    • MadScientist says:

      As far as other petrochemical products go, the precursors will be created by cracking coal. Coal cracking was done by the Germans during the second world war to produce fuel for engines; the process cannot (currently) compare economically with oil cracking and I haven’t been looking at the literature to see if people are actively studying the process to improve on it. At any rate as oil becomes more expensive then coal cracking plants will become economical to operate and people will concentrate on improving efficiency. However, if we rely primarily on coal for fuel when oil and gas dwindle we may reduce the expected production period to about 200 years. So we can expect about 250 years more of fossil fuel given current estimates of resource abundance (which are by no means terribly accurate).

      • Max says:

        200 years assumes zero growth in demand.
        With constant annual growth of 3%, coal would last 70 years.

  4. smijer says:

    Most supermarket varieties these days are hybrids optimized for pest resistance, transportation, shelf life, and visual appeal. Taste and nutrition are somewhat secondary concerns. These hybrids aren’t necessarily less tasty or nutritious, but some of them may be. And the relationship between this and organic is kind of tangential. The best that could be said is that organic farmers have a different set of priorities when selecting what to grow.

    • Almost all organic farms are organic due to market pressure (and are usually the same farms producing conventional food) not because the owners have some personal warm fuzziness.

      Yes, there are many exceptions on small family farms, but they contribute very little to the organic produce widely available.

  5. Tekken says:

    Hi
    Here is a recent British report on Organics and nutrition

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8174482.stm

    and a discussion re it on Badscience.com

    http://www.badscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=10724

  6. Rob says:

    I think the bottom line here is that as rational, logical individuals, we need to look at the evidence and think outside the box to find the right answer to these questions. All the evidence shows that organic food is no more nutritious. Evidence also suggests very strongly that the pesticides and fertilizers used in conventional farming are of no harm to us. Science has, however, been wrong before, and it is possible that we are missing out on some long term effects. On the flip side, we have to take into consideration that without pesticides, mold, fungus, and bacteria can proliferate on our produce in ways that would not be possible were we using “artificial” chemicals. This shows that there is no clear winner as far as health benefits go in the organic vs. conventional farming debate.

    The environmental issue is a bit tougher. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that our nitrogen based fertilizers can have very detrimental effects on local ecosystems, and that farmers getting away from traditional crop rotations has deleterious effects on the soil and local flora. We can also plainly see, however, that the use of fertilizer, pesticides, and GM crops allows us to get a higher yield for less acreage. I think the best solution here is just to break farming down into each individual aspect and simply determine the best course of action from the evidence. The “organic” guys may have it right about some things, the conventional guys certainly have it right about plenty of others. One thing is for certain, though; this all or nothing, black and white, us versus them mentality is not helping anything. If history and science have shown us anything it is that the truth is rarely that simple.

    • Very well said, I couldn’t agree more.

    • Dax says:

      One minor thing: nitrogen rich fertilizers are already heavily regulated in most countries. Remember the acid rain scare of the 80s? Well, that had to do with the nitrogen cycle (ammonium) and has pretty much been averted because of governments cracking down on the use of enriched fertilizers and (this is a kicker for the organic militia) on the heavy use of cow and pig excrement.

      It’s still used, yes, but within limits.

  7. Jeff says:

    While this professor did nothing to promote rational thinking, it’s not “implausible” that produce grown without heavy pesticides and chemical growth accelerators COULD be tastier and healthier. It’s just not guaranteed.

    One of the factors contributing to taste are complex chemicals called flavonoids. As their name implies they contribute flavor to the produce. They also function as a mild pesticide and appear in slightly higher amounts in plants that have had some exposure to pests. If I remember correctly they are also higher when a plant is closer to being ripe. So it’s plausible to say “healthier” but not a fully explored hypothesis.

    Standards of nutrition change over time. Nutrition is a very challenging science. It’s very hard to collect accurate and relevant data. Any statement of nutritional equivalence between industrially and organically grown food should promote non-polarizing scientific thought by describing the specific nutritional tests used (macro-nutrients, vitamin counts, phytonutrients measured) and introduce other qualities of produce (degree of ripeness, distance traveled, seasonality). Basically point out the complexities, emphasis accurate importances, and provide context and a big picture. Science does not support industrial agriculture. Industrial agriculture is an economic activity, not a scientific one. It’s currently geared for profits, not health, population support or environmental well-being.

    As to the idea that organic farming can’t support the current global population. I say bunk. Theoretically maybe it can’t. Practically, we have people in our country eating something like 20% more food than they need. We have food crops being turned into animal feed loosing a great deal of energy in the process and creating artificially low cost meat. With the same amount of certainty that some people say we can’t support global population on organic farming, I say that with information intensive agricultural practices and 10% of the agro-chemicals currently used we could feed the world a healthy amount of food.

    “Organic is Better” is not true. “Industrial Agriculture is Unsustainable” is true. I’m interested in Information Age Agriculture.

  8. DavidCOG says:

    > The doomsday scenarios described are indeed worries that some people have.

    That’s probably three fallacious arguments in one: straw man, appeal to emotion and appeal to ridicule. No one is clasping their hands and saying, “Oh! GMO crops! We’re all doomed!”

    > Whoa, horsey. Healthier? Tastier?

    Yes – whoa, horsey. Healthier can mean more than the narrow band that you ascribe to it. It’s not just about nutrients in the food, it’s about the impact on the entire ecosystem. Organic is clearly healthier, e.g. http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0322-04.htm. ‘Tastier’ is a subjective issue, and many people are certain that orgnaic produce is tastier than the factory-produced, chemical-laden alternatives. Feel free to dispute that with some science.

    > I find it disingenuous that organic farming is being promoted as something that is better than modern farming techniques which use less land to produce more food.

    Ah, yes – the productivity argument for GMO and industrial farming. Let’s just ignore all the pesticide and inedible / poisonous planets that turns the industrial farm in to a barren wasteland of only crops and cows. http://www.ota.com/organic/benefits/species.html

    Despite your feigned amazement at Professor Corven’s response, I can see exactly what he means by “I’d like to suggest that you might like to study some scientific literature and read up on the issues of soils, agricultural productivity, and nutrition…”. Why should he provide an education on the basics of all these topics via email correspondence with some stranger who so clearly has an agenda?

    > …the most obvious characteristic that distinguishes agricultural progress through the centuries.

    And that progress did not involve spraying Roundup pesticide on every inch of the countryside.

    And as for your little, rhetorical tool of “May I rephrase”, allow me to reciprocate: may I rephrase the entire article? “I have an agenad against organic produce and I will use any weak, fallacious tool at my disposal to push home that agenda.” How did I do?

    Basically, this article reads like a Monsanto-approved press release.

    • Rob says:

      “Healthier can mean more than the narrow band that you ascribe to it. It’s not just about nutrients in the food, it’s about the impact on the entire ecosystem.”

      Umm.. sorry, but healthier IS just the narrow band ascribed to it — it is only in reference to the effects that eating it will have on your body. The environmental impact is a totally different conversation, and is to be studied by a totally different group of scientists. I’m sorry, but you don’t get to redefine terms at will like that. That being said — your next point:

      “Organic is clearly healthier, e.g. http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0322-04.htm.”

      … is entirely disingenuous. You state as fact something that is still being debated and is not clear one way or the other, and then back up your bold statement by quoting an extremely biased source.

      “‘Tastier’ is a subjective issue, and many people are certain that orgnaic produce is tastier than the factory-produced, chemical-laden alternatives. Feel free to dispute that with some science.”

      No. We are not going to dispute that with science, that is not how science works. If you are going to make a positive claim, then the burden of proof is on YOU. There is currently no evidence to suggest that non-organic crops are any different in chemical composition than organic crops. You argument that lack of pesticides make food taste better sounds very similar to the arguments in favor of homeopathy. If you can prove that this is the case, great, go for it. But the burden of proof is NOT on us to disprove your baseless claims, it is on you to come up with evidence to back up your claim.

      “Ah, yes – the productivity argument for GMO and industrial farming. Let’s just ignore all the pesticide and inedible / poisonous planets that turns the industrial farm in to a barren wasteland of only crops and cows. http://www.ota.com/organic/benefits/species.html

      Again, you can’t go around citing biased sources like that and expect us to take it seriously, in this example you are citing a trade group that directly profits from organic farming! Can you not see how that is a conflict of interest, and how that article tells us literally nothing? It is the same as any of the reports by the tobacco companies attempting to downplay the dangers of smoking, or the RIAA reports on how piracy is going to bring about the Apocalypse. Truthfully, there are certainly some practices in conventional industrial farming that are harmful to the environment, but that does not mean that purely organic farming is the answer! Furthermore, the land use argument is totally valid, but is simply one facet to a much larger issue. There are benefits to both sides, we have increased crop yields greatly with the use of pesticides, fertilizer, and GM crops. If these things are harming the environment, we need to simply look at the specific areas in which they are doing harm and carefully figure out how to scale things to a safe level, or how to tweak the formula just a little bit to achieve the right balance. What you are proposing would take agriculture back 100 years, and could very easily lead to mass famine and billions of deaths. The sort of black and white thinking that you are demonstrating here does not help the argument at all, it simply holds things back.

    • BillDarryl says:

      No one is clasping their hands and saying, “Oh! GMO crops! We’re all doomed!”

      Er… no… the anti-GMO crowd is acting exactly that way.

      In fact, on a kick, I just googled “GMO Danger.” The FIRST article listed is entitled – no kidding – “GMOs: The Greatest Threat Ever to Humans and Animals.”

      So… you’re wrong.

      • DavidCOG says:

        > In fact, on a kick, I just googled “GMO Danger.”

        Congratulations. You found one hyperbolic article on the internet. Who’d have guessed that would happen?

        I’ll qualify my comment for the pedants in the audience:

        No rational, informed people are clasping their hands and saying literally, “Oh! GMO crops! We’re all doomed!”

      • BillDarryl says:

        One? There’s pages and pages. I just named the first.

        I totally agree with your qualified statement. But that’s the opposite of what you first argued.

        Brian simply wrote “some people” have those worries. You then flat-out attacked him as being logically fallacious, because in reality, “no one” was reacting that way. I showed that’s not the case.

        That’s not being pedantic – that’s me pointing out the whole basis of your attack on Brian was wrong.

        (In fact, by qualifying your statement, you are now 100% agreeing with Brian, that “some people” do indeed react that way.)

      • DavidCOG says:

        Again. Congratulations. You found *many* hyperbolic websites. Who’d have guessed? Search long enough and you can find just about anything on the web.

        You can twist this however you like – my arguments (not “attack”) stand. It was careless of me to forget that a pedant would come along to pick over my words instead of the obvious intent.

      • Ralph says:

        David, calm down, buddy. I live in China and I think I can already hear the noise you’re making while digging that hole.

  9. Becca Stareyes says:

    I was always struck by the whole ‘tastier/healthier’ thing. I mean, why should I expect this to be true*? I always thought that the primary reasons for going organic was to avoid inadvertent pesticide/herbicide/fertilizer consumption.

    * Outside of other issues such as locally grown crops being allowed to ripen on the vine, and so on. Which happens regardless of whether the crops were sprayed to keep the bugs off.

    (Granted, the organic cookies the local supermarket used to sell did seem to taste better. On the other hand, that could be due to ingredients closer to what I use in my own baking, rather than the quality of the ingredients. A lot of folks think soda made with cane sugar tastes better than the stuff made with corn syrup as well.)

    • MadScientist says:

      Different “organic” groups have varied claims, but many claims can in fact be addressed (and some claims which people have bothered to look into have been shown to be bunk). For example:

      1. organic is more nutritious: bunk
      2. organic methods produce less CO2: unsubstantiated claim
      3. organic tastes better: bunk
      4. organic is more “environmentally friendly”: unsubstantiated claim
      5. organic does not use chemicals: bunk (unless they redefine ‘chemical’)

      Basically “organic” is a marketing ploy more than anything else; the claimed benefits which have not been shown to be bunk are still awaiting substantiating evidence.

  10. SicPreFix says:

    Leaving aside for the moment the invisible misdirected dragon of “more nutritious/not more nutritious”, let’s look at quality, which includes factors such as the already mentioned taste, but also texture, colour, ratio of pith to water, seed, and nothingstuff, odour, and all the other qualitative factors that go into appreciating food and determining and defining its quality.

    We all have different senstivity and differentiation abilities in our sense of taste. Some people cannot tell the difference in taste between a freshly caught filet of salmon basted in white wine and dill, and a McDonalds Fliet of Fish; others cannot tell the difference in taste or texture between a banana and an avocado; still others cannot tell the difference in taste, texture, or smell between different cheeses old and young.

    Anyone who can do a blind A-B comparison between randomly selected properly grown organic foodstuffs and randomly selected average low-grade supermarket quality foodstuffs, and not notice qualitative difference in taste, texture, pith to water, seed, and nothingstuff, odour, and all the other qualitative factors and general eating satisfaction is almost certainly one or more of the following:

    – an ideologue with an axe to grind
    – a person missing a valid sense of taste
    – a person who has lost or never had the capacity to make qualitative differentiations

    Food is a qualitative experience, and to make the blanket statement that there is no qualitative difference in the myriad factors involved between quality-based properly grown organic food and quantity-based factory farm food is simply the height of didactic, fanatically skeptical, non-critical thinking-based ideology and some kind of self-confirmation bias.

    • Rob says:

      “Food is a qualitative experience, and to make the blanket statement that there is no qualitative difference in the myriad factors involved between quality-based properly grown organic food and quantity-based factory farm food is simply the height of didactic, fanatically skeptical, non-critical thinking-based ideology and some kind of self-confirmation bias.”

      You have just stated the one and only one reason why organic farming may produce better tasting food — simply because they turn out lower yields. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fertilizer or the pesticide, or whether or not the crops are GM. This same thing makes it unfeasible on a global scale and for anyone in the lower income bracket, we produce less food and it is more expensive. When you have billions of mouths to feed, yes, you are going to have to pick some stuff before it is ready to get it to market. The same quality could be turned out from a large conventional farm, if, say, they left one corner of the field alone for a little while to sell at premium prices. The argument you bring up in the biggest nail in organic farming’s coffin as far as it being a viable solution to feeding the world. It might be great for your kitchen and for restaurants, but you forget that there are billions you simply need to eat.

      • SicPreFix says:

        We don’t disagree really, but you are pointing to different issues than that which I was responding to. I was responding to such ludicrous chestnuts as:

        “Whoa, horsey. Healthier? Tastier? Obviously this is a tired old claim that organic proponents have been making for decades, but it’s neither been evidenced nor is it plausible.”

        I was not responding or referring to the many issues involved in feeding large amounts of people with cardboard food, or the feasability or otherwise of such an enterprise.

      • Dax says:

        So, Professor Cardboard Food, how would you feed the entire world in a sustainable way?

      • SicPreFix says:

        I have no idea.

        That’s not what Dunning’s post is about, nor is it what this long thread is about. If it were, I probably wouldn’t have posted here because I have no answer to that question. Shouldn’t we keep on topic?

    • Tyler says:

      How exactly do you define a “valid sense of taste”?

      • SicPreFix says:

        Yes, good question. A bad choice of word on my behalf. I should have said something along the lines of “sensitive sense of taste”, though that’s a bit too alliterative. Perhaps “comprehensive sense of taste”, though that has problems too … perhaps “discriminating sense of taste” would have got the message across more effectively, although it does sound rather elitist.

        I could have defined, in detail, what I meant, as in “an individual whose nose and mouthy parts included a selective and discriminating enough sense of taste and odour to effectively distinguish between a wide range of food flavours, as well as having the touch-sensitivity to enable the individual to differentiate beween differing textures, densities, and so forth”; something that not everyone is able to do.

        In the end, although I do agree that the word choice was poor, I suspect that the concept comes through.

  11. kraut says:

    I studied agrology I germany for five years, and even then it was clear that the way industrial type farming has severe drawbacks as to the sustained fertility of the soil, demanding mor input of fertilizers, machine hours etc.
    Definitely not environmentally friendly by any account.
    The term “crop rotation” and its practice seems to be totally unknown in the North American farming community, a practice that can actually increase soil fertility, defend against pests and weeds, but demands more planning and better training of the agricultural practitioner.
    It also needs the approach of an integrated agriculture, where as in parts of Europe still today animal production and crop production are integrated into one production unit.
    This approach has fallen by the wayside to some extend in quite a few North American large farms, where it is either or, leading to substantial input of fuel, fertilizer and pesticides/fungicides/herbicides.
    Whoever claims that any of this “cides” has been proven harmless is quite deluded,as some of them belong to classes of chemicals certainly toxic to humans.

    As long as the “cides” are applied properly so that at harvest time they are at a level even cumulative below affecting harm, this might be acceptable, but unfortunately market pressures and time constraints often lead to application too close to the harvesting point.
    nfortunately, after completing my studies the last time I have worked in the AGbiz is almost 25 years ago, but from what I see around me, not much has changed except for the introduction of GMO’s.

    Here I find the thread not so much in the GMO’s themselves, but that their special attributes can cross over to non GMO modified crops.

    We grow most of our veggies ourselves, simply for the reason that less travel to procure your food ensures better taste, and that I know my crop is treated – yes, I use roundup – in a way that ensures the level remaining is either non existent or so low that harm can almost certainly be ruled out.

  12. DavidCOG says:

    > Umm.. sorry, but healthier IS just the narrow band ascribed to it…

    Umm… sorry, but *you* and the author decided that ‘healthier’ meant only nutritional value of the food. Quite clearly, for anyone who has spent just a few minutes researching organic food production, that is not the case. Our health and well-being is determined by more than what we ingest.

    > …back up your bold statement by quoting an extremely biased source.

    Ah, yes – any source that contradicts your claims is biased and must be dismissed. Your argumentation style reminds me of http://larvatusprodeo.net/2009/08/01/the-rules/

    > If you are going to make a positive claim, then the burden of proof is on YOU.

    I said “‘Tastier’ is a subjective issue”. If you have knowledge of a scientific method to determine ‘tastier’, I’m sure we’d all love to see it.

    > What you are proposing would take agriculture back 100 years, and could very easily lead to mass famine and billions of deaths.

    Drivel. I will remind you of what you just said: “If you are going to make a positive claim, then the burden of proof is on YOU.” I’m very interested to see you explain what you think I have claimed and to provide evidence that it will lead to mass famine and the death of billions. Please, justify what you have stated with the scientific method that you’ve been so quick to invoke.

    > The sort of black and white thinking that you are demonstrating here does not help the argument at all, it simply holds things back.

    There is no black and white thinking on my part, thanks. I’ve been reading widely on this subject and I see a lot of drum-banging for industrial / GMO farming (there’s billions of $$$s at stake!), allied with vituperative attacks on organic farming methods. This weak, evidence-free article, stuffed with fallacious arguments is a great example of that.

    Again, your response could have come directly from the Monsanto marketing department.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I know a lot of people with degrees and can vouch for the fact that having a degree doesn’t guarantee intelligence. Although in practice it depends a lot on the faculty where the person “earned” his degree. For example, the Humanities faculty is notorious for handing out degrees to borderline retards, while on the other hand the Math & Science faculty does sort of okay. YUMV.

  14. Rob says:

    “Umm… sorry, but *you* and the author decided that ‘healthier’ meant only nutritional value of the food. Quite clearly, for anyone who has spent just a few minutes researching organic food production, that is not the case. Our health and well-being is determined by more than what we ingest.”

    That *is* what healthier means. We are talking about the things that you would directly consult a doctor about — should I eat this or should I eat that. Anything else is in the realm of a totally different field of science. Even if it affects our health (which anything in the biosphere will), it is up to environmental scientists, and not MDs to discuss the environmental impacts of different farming techniques.

    “Ah, yes – any source that contradicts your claims is biased and must be dismissed. Your argumentation style reminds me of http://larvatusprodeo.net/2009/08/01/the-rules/

    I never said anything of the sort. I am merely stating that if you want to make a valid argument, please quote sources that don’t have a stated agenda. For instance, as we are talking about science here, please quote scientific sources. Both sources you quoted are activist sites with stated agendas, the second of which is actually a trade organization for organic foods! You can’t see how that flies in the face of objectivity? You can’t see the problem in getting your information from someone who stands to greatly profit by you agreeing with them? My objection to your sources have nothing to do with the content and everything to do with the SOURCE.

    “I said “‘Tastier’ is a subjective issue”. If you have knowledge of a scientific method to determine ‘tastier’, I’m sure we’d all love to see it.”

    There isn’t. That’s my point — it is entirely subjective and has no place in this debate. If you want to make a positive claim such as that in a debate, you need to provide proof. If it is impossible to provide such proof, it is irrelevant.

    “Drivel. I will remind you of what you just said: “If you are going to make a positive claim, then the burden of proof is on YOU.” I’m very interested to see you explain what you think I have claimed and to provide evidence that it will lead to mass famine and the death of billions. Please, justify what you have stated with the scientific method that you’ve been so quick to invoke.”

    Evidence? I actually need evidence to prove that if you produce less crops you are going to produce less crops? Are you going to ask me next to prove that 2+2=4? There are already billions of starving people in the world. Less food produced = less food to hungry people. Less food to people already starving = famine. Famine = death. The world is bigger than just America and Western Europe.

    “There is no black and white thinking on my part, thanks. I’ve been reading widely on this subject and I see a lot of drum-banging for industrial / GMO farming (there’s billions of $$$s at stake!), allied with vituperative attacks on organic farming methods.”

    That is exactly what I am talking about — you view everything piece of evidence in favor of modern farming techniques as drum banging, and all of the evidence against organic farming methods as attacks. I am not saying that everything about organic farming is wrong, far from it. There is a lot of harm being done by modern industrial farming, that is not in question. It does not follow, however, that we need to abandon all modern industrial farming techniques in favor of hundred year old “natural” (a meaningless word, BTW, even the space shuttle is made of 100% earth based materials, proving that it is 100% natural. If you want to say that human intervention changes that, then organic farming is every bit as unnatural. You need to arbitrarily draw the line somewhere, at which point you realize how silly and meaningless the term is) organic farming. That is simply technophobia and is a huge step backward for mankind. We need to look at ALL the available evidence, not just the evidence that agrees with our predetermined philosophical viewpoint.

    • DavidCOG says:

      > That *is* what healthier means.

      I will repeat myself – “Our health and well-being is determined by more than what we ingest.” You can deny and ignore that as many times as you like, it won’t change the fact.

      > We are talking about the things that you would directly consult a doctor about…

      *We* are not. *You* are focusing on only one use of the word ‘healthy’ and ignoring the holistic sense that I clearly used. It’s a cheap and transparent tactic.

      > …as we are talking about science here, please quote scientific sources.

      The hypocrisy! You have not quoted a single scientific source to back up any of your claims.

      > You can’t see the problem in getting your information from someone who stands to greatly profit by you agreeing with them?

      Who is going to greatly profit from organic farming other than individual farmers and the ecosystem? How do their profit margins compare to Monsanto, Dow Chemicals and the rest of the corporations?

      > My objection to your sources have nothing to do with the content and everything to do with the SOURCE.

      So, no argument about the content, you just don’t like who said it. Gotcha. Again, *very* similar to global warming deniers.

      > That’s my point — it is entirely subjective and has no place in this debate.

      You asked for scientific evidence. Now you say there can be none. Your ‘skepticism’ is looking more like irrational iedology at the moment.

      > I actually need evidence to prove that if you produce less crops you are going to produce less crops?

      You do like your straw men, don’t you? *I* never said we would produce less crops – *you* just inserted that to try and win the argument. You said there would be mass famine and billions dead because of something that I said. You’ve failed to clarify and failed to produce any of the science that you keep banging on about.

      > …you view everything [sic] piece of evidence in favor of modern farming techniques as drum banging, …

      Another straw man. I have no such view. I look for credible evidence and argument – totally absent in this article and your comments.

      > It does not follow, however, that we need to abandon all modern industrial farming techniques…

      Did I say that anywhere? No. That’s you and your straw man army again.

      > We need to look at ALL the available evidence, not just the evidence that agrees with our predetermined philosophical viewpoint.

      Oh, I have been looking at all the available evidence – as well as the fallacious, desperate argumentation of people such as yourself – and that’s why I’m pro-orgnaic and anit-GMO. I’m far from being alone – the more people learn about GMO, the less they like it – http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/apr/14/germany-gm-crops. Your tehcnomyopia and weak, evidence-free, fallacious argumentation is not persuasive in the least.

    • Shayne O'Connor says:

      “My objection to your sources have nothing to do with the content and everything to do with the SOURCE.”

      The ad hominem argument – an indispensable tool for any pseudo-skeptic, eh?

      I can see where DavidCOG is coming from – more and more this website is looking like a PR service for corporate, mainstream interests which for some reason are ipso facto removed from skeptical scrutiny.

      • SicPreFix says:

        Either that or a landing base for the many and various reality revisions, skews, and playtime la-de-das of the local Libertarian fauna.

        Or is that flora?

        ;)

  15. Greg Martinez says:

    I wish Gump had simply asked his questions and then scrutinized the reply he got. His last sentence, particularly the word “disingenous,” telegraphs that he is looking to provoke an argument. I am not trying to defend the professor, but the tone of that last sentence pretty much slams a door on a productive conversation

    • DavidCOG says:

      Exactly. I’d likely react in the same way if some stranger emailed me asking for information. It’s very easy to spot ideologues with an agenda when they communicate like Gump did.

      • BryanM says:

        Or like you

      • DavidCOG says:

        Here’s the difference – amazing that anyone should need this explained to them – I haven’t emailed a stranger and demanded information while clearly exposing a biased agenda.

        Keep up.

      • Courtney Franklin says:

        So what he had an agenda? Why didn’t the professor just show the research instead of dodging the question and attacking him?

  16. Cthandhs says:

    I get a weekly delivery of locally grown/organic veggies form the local college. I supplement that with veggies from the supermarket and farmers market. I can’t taste the difference between the supermarket veggies and the organic veggies, except for the tomatoes, which are a very different variety. I don’t have a significant stake in organic v.s. not-organic and I eat both on a regular basis. Though I wish supermarkets carried heirloom tomatoes, they look so weird and taste so good.

    I really can’t fathom how organic is supposed to be healthier, though, and the FDA can’t either. I guess I keep reading these threads hoping someone will pop up with something great to say about why organics are better. It certainly hasn’t happened here. One guy says if I can’t tell the difference I am an ideologue or I am taste impaired (in the physical and social sense no less). The other guy just keeps repeating “Is not!”.

    I like what Rob has to say, though, lets use the right tools for the right problems.

    • DavidCOG says:

      Why not do a little research on the main benefits and arguments for organic? It never was “it’s more nutritious” – even though that has been used too often. Here are some starters:

      * http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-end-for-gm-crops-final-british-trial-confirms-threat-to-wildlife-529492.html
      * http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18206234
      * http://www.i-sis.org.uk/BTTIGMC.php

      Then consider the following issues:

      1. corporate control and patenting of food
      2. reduced biodiversity
      3. cross contamination with other crops and wild plants
      4. other environmental impacts, including reduction in water available to natural species
      5. human allergy + other unknown potential health risks
      6. ‘self destruct’ seeds – will not germinate after a period determined by the GM corporation
      7. higher tolerance to pesticides and therefore encouraging higher use of (GM corporation’s own-brand) pesticides
      8. better flavour (subjective)
      9. let’s assume that all GMO crops are safe for humans and animals today. What about next week when Monsanto releases a new design? How about the one after that? It’s a constant game of Russian Roulette.
      10. there is no evidence that we need this stuff. We can grow our food without GMO crops and masses of chemicals. We don’t need industrial food that turns the countryside in to barren wasteland of nothing other than crops and cows – just so that you can buy an ‘Egg McMuffin Bacon Burger Breakfast Bap’ for 29 cents.
      11. organics benefit no massive corporations, GMO crops are a multi-billion industry with all the marketing, propaganda and lies that can produce to confuse the public and policy makers – including comments on blogs

      • SicPreFix says:

        Ah, don’t waste your time. Whether you are right, wrong, or as is most likely some mix of the two, most of the Libertarian bunch here will call you a liberal socialist with a conspiracy-based paranoia and a lack of correct thinking about history; and most of the rest will just say you haven’t done the science and all you are doing is appealing to authority. I mean heck, “corporate control and patenting of food” is just finding more efficient and productive ways to boost your trade profile and enhance your market share portfolio-embracement with the free trade luvvy-duvvies, etc., etc., ad infinitum etc.

      • DavidCOG says:

        > Whether you are right, wrong, or as is most likely some mix of the two,

        Entirely possible. Still waiting for some evidence-based argument to show the latter.

        > …most of the Libertarian bunch here will call you a liberal socialist with a conspiracy-based paranoia and a lack of correct thinking about history…

        That’s exactly what I was beginning to suspect. The article and comments reek of “I’m a skeptic about anything that might impact national GDP and my cheque book”. I see that in every GMO / organic conversation – a bunch of people who desperately defend industrial farming and ignore the clear and obvious evidence that shows it to be harmful.

      • DavidCOG says:

        Your comment prompted me to do a little digging:

        1. http://skepticblog.org/2009/05/28/the-fallacy-of-locally-grown-produce/ – It’s a poster for biased thinking. I get my organic vegetables from a nearby collection point from the organic farm that is located ~10km away. It’s idiocy to argue that the environment is better served by buying lettuces and broccoli grown hundreds of kms away.

        2. http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=93662#post93662 – nothing to add

        3. http://skepticblog.org/2009/05/05/how-i-became-a-libertarian/ – coincidence that he’s on this blog? Maybe. Maybe not.

        I’ve yet to encounter a libertarian who didn’t leave me with the impression that I was communicating with someone incapable of critical, rational, evidence-based thinking.

      • “DavidCOG”, for each of the far-left liberals who say hardcore libertarians cannot be skeptics, there are just as many hardcore libertarians who say far-left liberals cannot be skeptics. I submit that you may want to allow for the possibility that either position is equally ludicrous. You might as well argue that people with red hair cannot run fast.

      • AndrewB says:

        You seem to want it, and be asking for it so I’ll go ahead and call you on your conspiracy-based paranoia and a lack of correct thinking about history; and you haven’t done the science. Your main worries are “corporate control and patenting of food” which is evidence by your list of 11 issues.

        I’ll be honest here I haven’t done the science either I could site the recent Penn and Teller episode and leave it to you to check on the accuracy of their sources, but they are libertarians a political position you have already said your biased against your exact words being “I’ve yet to encounter a libertarian who didn’t leave me with the impression that I was communicating with someone incapable of critical, rational, evidence-based thinking.”

        Instead I want to point out how point number 11 is just wrong and that as a matter of fact organics benefit massive corporations http://www.endgame.org/organics.html
        I don’t know the poltical leanings of the man (George Draffan) running the site but the accuracy of the list should be easy enough to check on. I did go on to general mills website and confirm that they did own both Cascadian Farm’s and
        Muir Glen.

        As for my own political leanings I would describe myself as a “Liberal” although I do agree with much of what the libertarians have to say and I suspect that I’m probably in a group that Professional Libertarians like Brink Lindsey or Wil Wilkerson would call “Liberal-tarians.” But; all this is just a long way to say I think you should check your facts, because I suspect you don’t have any.

  17. The only food I have a problem with in my personal shopping is tomatoes. I grow my own – wasting a lot of time and effort – just because I don’t have a local farmers market and the ones from the store are in no way “tomato-flavored.” Every other vegetable I buy is fine.

    So I’ve heard they gas the tomatoes and have bred them for portability over flavor.

    Now the new trend (to me anyway) is “Heirloom Varieties” – seeds that should grow up to taste like the tomatoes your grandma made sandwiches with. (In the south it was not unusual to see folks eating a tomato sandwich: Bread, mayo, tomato, black pepper — but not with the modern store-bought tomato. No way.)

    • MadScientist says:

      Don’t forget the bacon – I always had mine with bacon. :) Most of the time though I just ripped a berry of the shrub, rinsed it and dipped it in salt.

  18. Doubting Foo says:

    Just to nitpick Gump’s original question, you don’t have to alter the dna to change the taste of a plant. But the professor didn’t address that in his response…oh well.

  19. Mark UK says:

    “Maybe Gump (and agricultural science as a whole) is completely wrong, and the past century of modern agriculture has indeed been a health and ecological catastrophe that simply hasn’t shown its symptoms yet.”

    Well, the industralisation of the food industry has resulted in enough food for everybody. It has also resulted in a continuous drive for lower costs and higher production. One of the reasons we now have so much processed food on the shelves. Certainly part of the health problem I would think.

    Stating that the ecological catastrophe is yet to show the symptoms is the most baffling statement I have read in a long time and really not worthy of a good blog as this. The ecological damage of modern agriculture is enormous.

    I don’t understand where this statement comes from. Just too quick typing or ignmorance of some major global environmental issues?

  20. Drew says:

    I don’t disagree with anything you say here, but I would like to point out that I saw “Food, Inc” the other day and I wouldn’t call it anti-science at all. In fact, it really wasn’t promoting organics much at all and most of its arguments were ethical rather than empirical, for example it criticized the corn subsidies, the use of undocumented labor in slaughterhouses, and the application of patent laws to seeds that result in farmers not being allowed to save and regrow the seed off of their crops. It wasn’t 100% on the straight and narrow (I’m not sure I agree with their position on labeling of GM crops for example), but overall I thought it was a good film and I recommend it.

  21. Dr. T says:

    When I was a lad, our small vegetable and strawberry farm used organic farming techniques: we fertilized and prevented weed growth with a goat manure-straw mixture spread around our crops. We did this to save money (my labor was free, at least in my Dad’s opinion), not to produce tastier and more nutritious food. The vegetables and berries would have been just as good if chemical fertilizers had been used.

    Organic farming is a yuppie luxury. It requires more land and more labor. It is more likely to cause illness (due to fertilization with shit: look at recent reports of E. coli food poisonings) than conventional farming that uses chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and sometimes herbicides. Organic farming’s failure to use pesticides can greatly decrease yields, especially since buyers of organic foods will freak out if they find worms or bugs on or in the veggies. (Welcome to the real world of “organic” foods.)

    ————

    MadScientist said: “Current intensive farming practices do have real problems associated though, more so in some places than others. In Australia for example the practices essentially render land useless after a few years, so large farms abandon huge sections of wasteland each year…”

    Those and not current practices, those are ancient, make-the-soil-infertile practices. Failure to rotate crops and failure to leave land unplanted every 5-10 years are old mistakes that are “productive” only when vast amounts of land are available (and when you don’t care what happens to the lands you over-farm).

    Note: This farm kid became a chemist and then a clincial pathologist. I know much about nutrition, toxicology, and bacterial diseases. Food-related bacterial diseases are a real problem; food-related toxicity from trace amounts of pesticides and herbicides is an invented problem.

    • MadScientist says:

      The infertility of the soil is not the only problem in Australia; many places have a superficial salt table and the irrigation practices can result in salt migration to the surface which renders the soil useless for most plants (and certainly useless for all commercial crops). Even if the areas can be stabilized somehow, it would still likely take hundreds of years to recover. Another big problem is that the topsoil is very shallow in many places and erosion during fallow periods results in large inarable patches over the years (though this is more a problem on pastureland than cropland).

  22. Paul says:

    I think this is a poorly chosen battle. Of course, as a good skeptic, you have every right to break apart every sentence in the marketing paragraphs that are intended to generate interest in an academic program. And you will surely be able to make some good points if you insist that every sentence be verifiably true and unambiguous. In the end you will have achieved nothing except for setting the skeptical movement back a few steps. First of all, it is either an academic program or it isn’t. If it is, you can review the published research and use that as the basis for skeptical inquiry. That’s where the meat is. On the other hand, if it’s not an accreditable academic program then why bother?

    This reminds me of the atheists who protested the presence of Christian symbols on the side of the road to memorialize fallen highway patrol officers. Thanks guys for making the rest of us look bad. That is an extreme example of course. The point is: Choose your battles and always be conscious of public perception.

  23. Beelzebud says:

    “therefore you should watch my alarmist anti-science propaganda movie.”

    Please tell me you’ve actually watched the movie.

    If not, rejecting it as ‘alarmist anti-science propaganda”, isn’t what I’d call critical thinking.

  24. SicPreFix says:

    Having read through all these comments, it is clear we need an agreed upon definition of precisely what “organic farming” is, and specifically what it entails in its entire process chain.

    From my perspective the most damage to the concept of organic farming has beeen done by the major corporations who will now call something organic if it so much as had brief contact with some soil somewhere along its marketing chain.

    That’s certainly not what I understand organic farming to be.

    So in a sense we are all more or less tilting at windmills.

    It’s very clear that different posters have very different defintions of or understanding of what organic farming is, and what its practices and scope are. Without consensus, the discussion is meaningless and moot.

  25. gor says:

    I just now realised what a silly word organic farming is; what would unorganic farming be? rock farms? maybe fungi would do

  26. shoshidge says:

    Many people prematurely state that starvation would be the result of a return to some pre-industrial farming practices.
    I would like to point out that of all of the starving countries I know of in the past few years, the problem of food shortages has been the result of warfare and/or catrastrophic climatic events like drought, not low yields from primitive farming. Until the war broke out, they seemed to be feeding themselves just fine.

    I would argue that the ridiculous over-abundance in food in the developed world is a cause of many of our health and environmental complaints.
    I work in the food distribution business and I am regularly appalled at the massive heaps of edible food that are tossed in the garbage due to trivial imperfections or spoilage.

    The pendulum is swinging, we went from too lean to too fat and interest in organic and local agriculture is driven by a desire to find a balanced middle ground.
    It’s also driven by aesthetics.
    Industrial farms and big supermarkets are ugly and soulless, whereas farmer’s markets and diverse hobby farms are charming and fun.

    In the end, I go for the better tomato, I don’t care where it came from, but if all else is equal, I choose the local guy and his greenhouse,(northern climate), over the Floridian, Safeway variety,( at least I’ll be sure it wasn’t harvested by Guatemalan slave laborers).

  27. To all those who have brought it up, yes, I have seen Food Inc. Perhaps it is because my perspective comes from being constantly bombarded with emails from people making the same arguments, who are clearly interested only in the ideology of organic food and not the science, but I stand by my description of it as alarmist anti-science propaganda. My personal analysis is that its director is also interested more in the ideology than in the science, but very carefully and wisely chose arguments to make his position seem more rational than it deserves.

    Certainly I don’t expect everyone to agree with this, but we’re all entitled to our opinions.

    • SicPreFix says:

      I have what I think is a valid question: Do you use Food Inc., and its director, to define and represent the entire “organic food movement” (hate the phrase, but when in Rome…), going back in time, and up through to the present through all of its many various and varied forms?

      I suspect that neither the small time organic farmer, nor the massive multi-national faceless corporate factory farming machine do.

      I know I do not.

      Sincerely, I mean no ad-hoministic disrespect, but I think your entire argument is too shallow, too narrow, too limited in its scope, and clearly too antagonistically biased to be useful or valid.

      Note: I will freely admit that perhaps that stands for my argument as well. But I am not certain it does.

  28. Carl says:

    It amazes me how people insist on making what should be objective arguments adversarial and turning all disagreement into a conspiracy.

    The argument that “organic” farming doesn’t produce healthier and better-tasting food is not a defense of US-style corporate agriculture any more than it’s a defense of the use of plastic replacement heart valves over pig valves. Fallacy: non sequitur.

    It’s clear that as practiced, organic farming (US FDA definition) can’t sustain the current population of the Earth if it replaces current methods. Does this make current methods ideal in every way? Of course not!

    Pesticides are demonstrated to be harmless to humans. Does this make antibiotics in animal raising harmless? No! I’m in favor of banning routine antibiotic administration, even though it would reduce meat production.

    GMO crops are utterly harmless. Does this mean that corn monoculture is the perfect use for the Great Plains? No! We’ll run out of ground water rather quickly in the Plains States unless we change the system.

    It’s not a matter of heroic organics people vs. the evil corporations: its a matter of THINKING about each issue and not committing the logical fallacy of picking sides and calling one angels and one demons.

  29. SicPreFix says:

    Carl said:

    Pesticides are demonstrated to be harmless to humans.

    Pardon me?!? DDT? And similar others? Harmless!?!

    GMO crops are utterly harmless.

    Again, what?!? The foodstuffs may or may not be utterly harmless. The crops, and the corporate and political machinations of the major players in the industry are bankrupting farmers left, right, and center faster than you can spin a shill.

    • Courtney Franklin says:

      <quote he crops, and the corporate and political machinations of the major players in the industry are bankrupting farmers left, right, and center faster than you can spin a shill.

      So you are saying gmo foods are fine? That’s a load off. Also keep mentioning DDT it’s not like it’s the only case.

      • SicPreFix says:

        “So you are saying gmo foods are fine?”

        No. I am making no claim one way or the other in regard to GMO foods.

        “Also keep mentioning DDT it’s not like it’s the only case.”

        ??? Sorry, I do not know what you are trying to say.

  30. jake says:

    most land used for crops are used for grains and corn that never see a human’s digestive system. that’s quite a bit of land. so saying switching over to organic methods can’t sustain the current population only suggests that perhaps we should decide how better to use the foods we grow, and maybe stop propagating offspring. a lot of what i read here sounds as if most of you would try to argue that cancer is sustainable. if i understand correctly, the libertarian ethic says do whatever you want as long as you’re not hurting or infringing on anyone else’s rights, but it seems to me that’s all a true libertarian society would do. hurt and infringe and blame the victims. the goal should be egalitarian. unfortunately i think we’re all just full of it no matter what we’re arguing and should probably just shut the eff up.

  31. TomB says:

    Pardon me?!? DDT? And similar others? Harmless!?!

    Yes, DDT is completely harmless in anything but egregious amount to humans.

    However, the essential banning of the chemical has led directly to the deaths of tens of millions of people, mostly poor africans, over the decades due to malaria.

    so saying switching over to organic methods can’t sustain the current population only suggests that perhaps we should decide how better to use the foods we grow, and maybe stop propagating offspring.

    We have the means and ability to feed billions of people with current, modern methods, and not only do you want to do away with that on some nebulous grounds, but you also want to tell us how many children we can have.

    Diabolical.

    • sailor says:

      “Yes, DDT is completely harmless in anything but egregious amount to humans.”
      True, unless of course it matters to you that birds start going extinct so there are less species around.

  32. Kevin says:

    Gosh, a minimal seach shows that DDT was banned in 1972. That’s 37 years ago. You don’t get to use DDT for an example anymore, because nobody uses it.

    I wonder if the tastiness claim arises from organic farmers raising more heirloom varieties of fruits and vegatables. Larger growers tend to pick varieties for other factors than taste (disease resistance, etc) where smaller growers can afford to grow varieties that are, in many cases, tastier.

  33. GoneWithTheWind says:

    DDT may indeed be a dangerous chemical. But I do know that when it was banned it was banned for political reasons and not based on science. It was in a great part the result of pure propaganda by the famous author Rachel Carson who was wrong on so many things. It resulted in an ongoing 38 year assault on children in Africa and other third world countries that has resulted in more death and suffering then Hitler, Lenin and Mao were able to inflict in their lifetimes. Millions and millions of lives could be saved every year if DDT were allowed to be used in safe responsible manner.