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FOOD 201 - Is Organic Really Better?


Despite the economic downturn that began in 2008, the organic food sector continued to grow. Perhaps an ancient instinct to protect our children is causing more parents to spend a little extra on organic groceries to avoid chemicals and hopefully procure more nutrient-dense food. Farmers markets are growing in popularity because people feel that veggies, meat, chicken, and eggs from nearby small family farms are safer and healthier. Half of the country’s adults say they buy organic food often or sometimes, according to a 2008 survey by the Harvard School of Public Health.

It depends upon whom you ask.

The FDA has no policy on organics. The United States Department of Agriculture was tasked with both promoting and regulating agriculture. That makes for political compromises and awkward statements at times, such as: “The USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food.” You can point to different studies that argue about the extra nutritional value of organic food. But the safety question has been clearly decided and the USDA chooses to skirt this issue.

There is a boatload of concrete evidence linking the chemicals (including carcinogens, pesticides, hormone disruptors, and neurotoxins) used on and in our food to human health problems, even in small doses. For example, a 2010 Harvard study found that children exposed to the organophosphate pesticide found on commercially grown fruit and vegetables are more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than children with less exposure.[1]

Also in 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel stated we are experiencing “grievous harm” from chemicals and recommended Americans take the precautionary approach of eating food grown without chemical pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics.

Former Wall Street food industry analyst Robyn O’Brien brings insight, compassion and detailed analysis into the impact that the global food system is having on our health. Named by Forbes as one of “20 Inspiring Women to Follow on Twitter.” Watch Video on YouTube

The U.S. government takes the position that genetically modified (GM) food is no different than non-GM food. Again, not a truthful statement. With GM, instead of eating pesticide residue on the outside of a food, you eat a pesticide that has been spliced into the food’s DNA. There is evidence that the DNA of human gut flora is subsequently altered. Researchers were able to examine the intestinal contents of seven people who had an ileostomy, a procedure that diverts intestinal contents from the small intestine to an opening on the abdominal wall, before the digested products ever get to the large intestine. They found genetically altered flora from GM soy in the intestines of three of those people.[2] Clearly the genetically modified food they had consumed when they were out and about in the world, eating their usual diet, had altered their gut flora, unbeknownst to them.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine has called for a moratorium on GM foods, saying “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects.” Consumers in other nations strongly resist importing GM food from the United States. Even Haiti, in dire straits after the 2010 earthquake, rejected 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds donated by Monsanto.[3]

Genetically modified organisms and additives like aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG) are not legally permitted in organic foods.

Organic foods have fewer harmful chemicals and are better for the earth, but are they in fact more nutritious?

Competing Studies

The Organic Center, an institution founded to demonstrate the benefits of organic foods, published a detailed review in 2008 confirming the superiority of plant-based organic foods. Nutrient levels were studied in 236 matched pairs of foods.[4]

Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at the Organic Center and former executive director of the Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed all the studies published since 1980 comparing the nutrient levels of organic and conventional foods. He found that, on average, conventionally grown fruits and vegetables have 30 percent fewer antioxidants than their organically grown counterparts. This makes enough of a difference, says Benbrook, that “consumption of organic produce will increase average daily antioxidant intake by about as much as an additional serving of most fruits and vegetables.”

This review was rebutted the following year, however, in a report commissioned by the U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA).[5] The London-based team that carried out the FSA review concluded that:

‘A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance. Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority.’

The Organic Center posted a rebuttal.[6] The outraged organic community criticized the FSA study for not addressing pesticide residues, a major reason people choose organic. The FSA study also did not address the impact of farming practices on the environment and personal health.

Earlier studies have given a thumbs up to organic food:

  • A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (Jan, 2003) found 52 percent more vitamin C in frozen organic corn than in conventional corn, and 67 percent more in corn raised by sustainable methods - a combination of organic and conventional farming. Polyphenols were significantly higher in organic and sustainable marionberries compared to conventionally farmed ones.
  • A three-year study in Italy, reported in the same journal (Aug 2002), found higher levels of polyphenols in organic peaches and pears, and about 8 percent more ascorbic acid in organic peaches.
  • And a study in the European Journal of Nutrition (Feb 2002) found more salicylic acid in organic vegetable soup than in nonorganic soup. Salicylic acid is responsible for the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin, and bolsters the immune system.

Alex Avery, director of research and education at the Center for Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, frequently disputes claims for the positive health benefits of organic farming. Organic foods, Avery said, “are clearly no safer, no more nutritious, no more healthful - there are zero advantages for consumers.” Avery’s organization has received financing from Monsanto, DowElanco and the Ag-Chem Equipment Company - all major players in conventional agriculture and biotechnology.[7]

Dr. Marion Nestle, chairwoman of the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, said that because there is so much variation in the soil, the amount of sun and rainfall, “It is difficult to compare findings of different studies ... I don’t think there is any question that as more research is done, it is going to become increasingly apparent that organic food is healthier.”[8]

Organics Avoid Gut-Damaging Pesticides, Antibiotics

Factory farmed animals - the beef, chicken and farmed fish found in your average grocery store - are fed antibiotics. Farmed fish like salmon have antibiotics routinely added to their tanks. More than 70 percent of the antibiotics in this country are used on healthy animals. U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter, D-NY, garnered more than 100 co-sponsors on a bill in 2010 to ban seven types of antibiotics from being used indiscriminately in animal feed. “If we don’t remedy this problem, who knows what kind of havoc these residues will have on our bodies,” she said.

Fruits and vegetables are sprayed with antibiotics to prevent disease. They develop antibiotic resistant bacteria and pass them on to your own gut organisms. Thus our own benign bacteria, viruses, fungi evolve into something pathogenic - able to cause disease. Antibiotics also damage the immune system, making us more vulnerable to infection. Antibiotics also have devastating effect on the flora in our intestines;[9] so many people have developed gut-related problems that it finally became profitable to buy TV ads for yogurt promising to deliver probiotics.

Every one of us carries a unique mixture of microbes in the gut. What we eat changes that mixture in various ways. The mother passes those compromised microbes on to the child. As the damage is translated through the generations, it gets deeper and more severe. According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, in almost every family with an autistic child, there is a history of autoimmune disease and digestive problems:

“The gut flora with its unique composition is passed mainly from the mother to the child. Let’s look at a very common scenario: If a material grandmother of an autistic child had an abnormal gut flora which resulted in arthritis in her case she passed the flora to her daughter. Quite commonly for her generation, she opted not to breast feed her daughter because it was not fashionable at the time. This deepened the damage to the gut flora of the daughter who developed asthma, eczema, and/or a digestive disorder as a result. In her generation most girls were put on a contraceptive pill from late teens for quite a few years before they had children. The Pill would alter her gut flora even further. Then she has a child to whom she passes her deeply abnormal gut flora. This child develops autism.”[10]

A few more organic benefits:

Most California wines have high fluoride levels. Conventional vineyards are liberally sprayed with pesticides. Wines contain sulfites which break down in the body into an extremely powerful excitotoxin that is ten times more potent than glutamate. Sulfites make the wine more flavorful, just as MSG makes food more flavorful.

Source: Russell Blaylock, MD, interview with Suzanne Somers in "Knockout."

  • Organically raised animals are not given arsenic, pesticides, or herbicides. Commercial cattle are can be fed euthanized dogs and cats, dead skunks, rats, and raccoons found on U.S. highways.[11,12]
  • Organic milk comes from drug-free cows. Non-organic cows may be given both synthetic growth hormones to boost production and reproductive hormones to control how long lactation continues and when it ends. And milk from cows given the growth hormone rBGH contains higher levels of a hormone linked to breast, prostate and colon cancers. Organic milk may have more of the “good fats” linked to decreased heart disease and diabetes. Cows which graze on pasture have higher levels of CLAs (conjugated linoleic acid) in their milk, and CLAs have been linked to better heart health and a lowered risk of diabetes. New rules require organic cows must graze on pasture for at least 120 days. There are no such rules for non-organic cows.
  • Organic vegetables come without pesticides. According to a 2010 study done by Environmental Working Group,[13] conventional celery ranks worst when it comes to pesticide contamination. 95% of celery tested contained pesticides, and 85% contained multiple pesticides. A single celery had 13 different chemicals on it, while 67 different pesticides were used on the entire group of celery. Second worst: peaches; 86% had residue of two or more pesticides. Strawberries were third, followed by apples, domestic blueberries, nectarines, sweet bell peppers, and spinach. And here’s the real kicker: most of the tests were conducted on produce that had been rinsed and peeled.

The Loss of Mineral Rich Soil

Growing food in rich soil an uphill battle. As long ago as 1938, a warning bell sounded about the eroding mineral content in soil. A group of doctors introduced Document No. 264 to the floor of the United States Senate:

“The alarming fact is that foods (fruits, vegetables and grains) now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough of certain minerals are starving us. No man of today can eat enough fruits and vegetables to supply his system with the minerals he requires for perfect health because his stomach isn’t big enough to hold them. Our physical well-being is more directly dependent upon the minerals we take into our systems than upon calories or vitamins or upon the precise proportions of starch, protein or carbohydrates we consume.”

Vegetables were losing their power and people were at risk. A second warning bell was sounded at the 1992 Earth Summit Report:

Percentage of Mineral Depletion From Soil
During The Past 100 Years, By Continent:
North America85% **
South America76%

** Some US farms are 100% depleted and some are 60% depleted,
the average is 85% depletion as compared to 100 years ago. This is
worse than in any other country in the world because of the extended
use of fertilizers and “maximum yield” mass farming methods.

“You can trace every sickness, every disease, and
every ailment to a mineral deficiency.”

– Dr. Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize winner

Minerals have two purposes in the human body – they build skeletal and soft tissues, and they regulate processes such as heartbeat, blood clotting, internal fluid pressure, nerve response, and oxygen transport.

Magnesium, for example, regulates more than 300 body functions. “Restless leg syndrome” may be a magnesium deficiency because it helps regulate sleep cycles[14] and maintains normal muscle and nerve function. Magnesium also keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. Magnesium helps regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and is involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. There is an increased interest in the role of magnesium in preventing and managing disorders such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.[15]

Without minerals, nothing else works. Amino acids and enzymes don’t work and so vitamins and other nutrients don’t get broken down and absorbed properly.

In the normal order of things, a plant’s roots take up minerals into the plant itself. Then those minerals transfer to us when we eat the plant. But modern farming methods have virtually sterilized the soil.

Look in your garden shed an you will likely find you are using “NPK” fertilizers. That’s nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium. Synthetic NPK commercial fertilizers were introduced in 1908. You can get lush growth on NPK, but not highly nutritious food. NPK is cheap, but incomplete, like saying that the only colors in the rainbow are red, green, and yellow. Many inorganic fertilizers do not replace trace mineral elements in the soil which become gradually depleted by crops. This depletion has been linked to studies which have shown a marked fall (up to 75%) in the quantities of such minerals present in fruit and vegetables.[16]

Soil also contains bacteria, fungi, plant and animal life in a state of constant interaction and balance. Every one of these organisms needs dozens of different minerals to survive and play its part in the ecosystem. Some bacteria have a vital role in converting soil minerals into chemical forms that plants can use. NPK fertilizers gradually change the soil pH toward acidic conditions in which these bacteria can not survive.[17]

Weak crops are more subject to insect damage, so they need more pesticides. Pesticides and herbicides also reduce the uptake of trace minerals by plants.[18,19]

A raging debate is underway on why and to what extent excessive nitrogen fertilizer use has degraded soil quality around the world. The problem is unmistakable in many countries as average crop yield levels plateau or even start to decline.[20] Many in the organic camp believe that chemical agriculture was an intermediary step, created when there was a big gap between demand and supply and when many countries didn’t know the science of agriculture.

Dr. Charles Benbrook of the Organic Center has documented that today’s commercial genetically modified crops are not making a positive contribution to the needs of a growing world.[21] And for those who sniff at the less than perfect look of an organic food, Benbrook says:

“In terms of nutrient content per ounce or gram of apple, lettuce, carrot, or grapes, smaller is better. There is also convincing evidence supporting the conclusion that in some years for some organic crops, a higher level of pest pressure, coupled with the lack of conventional pesticide applications, forces plants to divert energy from growth to defense mechanisms, which typically entail increased biosynthesis of plant secondary metabolites. Many of these are potent antioxidants and account for a significant slice of the unique health-promoting benefits - and flavors - of fruits and vegetables.”[22]

Commercial food is typically harvested unripe. On the one hand, you get longer shelf life. But on the other hand, Mother Nature has not completed her creative process. These foods cannot yield the full nutritional potential of the phytochemicals which would have been present at full maturity.[23]

Combine all this with the fact farmers get paid to produce maximum yield per acre, not maximum nutrition, and we begin to understand why what we buy in the grocery store doesn’t have much nutritional oomph.

Most organic food found at local farmers markets has been picked ripe, within 48 hours of coming to market. And organic farming is about more than the NPK.

The Ground Beneath Organics

The promise of organic farming is that it increases biodiversity, ecological services, food security, and can mitigate climate change by reducing and sequestering green house gas emissions. Organic can restore marginal and unproductive lands and produce higher yields and more nutritious food by increasing the soil’s organic matter and nutrient content. Organic can reduce water usage, help crops withstand drought and reduce erosion by increasing the soil’s capacity to absorb and hold water.

The core values of organic farming are the use of organic fertilizers, crop rotation and planting of flowers like marigolds for pest control, restoration of soil nutrients, seeds collected from real living plants (not modified by gene splicing in the lab), animals born to a parent (not cloned in the laboratory), and animals raised humanely and on a natural diet. Food produced organically is a source of health, not a source of pathogenic bacteria from the industrial waste fertilizers and feedlot cattle just up the road.

There is a vast and dynamic array of conventional and organic farming systems. According to Professor Benbrook, is nearly impossible to define with precision what any organic or conventional system encompasses. Generally speaking:

Conventional farmersOrganic farmers
Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease.Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Use chemical herbicides to manage weeds.Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to spur growth and prevent disease in conditions of vast overcrowding.Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures - such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing - to help minimize disease.

Natural Farming Yields More Food

"To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available," says Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the 2011 report, "Agro-ecology and the right to food."

This United Nations report shows that developing nations can double food production within a decade by shifting to natural agriculture and away from use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Kenya has made use of insect-trapping plants and Bangladesh has used ducks to eat weeds in rice paddies, for example. According to the report, eco-farming projects in 57 nations have shown average crop yield gains of 80 percent by tapping natural methods for enhancing soil and protecting against pests. Recent projects in 20 African countries had resulted in a doubling of crop yields within three to 10 years. Those lessons could be widely mimicked elsewhere, the report said.[24]

“Agriculture is at a crossroads,” according to the study by De Schutter. "We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations." The U.N. is looking to depress record food prices and avoid the costly oil-dependent model of industrial farming. “The cost of food production has been very closely following the cost of oil,” he said. Developed nations would have a harder time making a quick shift to natural farming because of what he called an “addiction” to an industrial, oil-based model of farming. Still, a global long-term shift is needed.

The report also said natural methods could also make farms more resilient to the projected impact of climate change including floods, droughts and a rise in sea levels that the report said was already making fresh water near some coasts too salty for use in irrigation.

Organic Standards in a Nutshell

Source: National Organic Program – Organic Production and Handling Standards

Crop Standards:

Mother Earth News 2007 egg-testing results show that true free-range eggs are far more nutritious than commercially raised eggs:

• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 X more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

True free range hens eat a natural diet – all kinds of seeds, green plants, insects and worms, usually along with grain or laying mash. Factory farm birds never get outdoors and are fed a cheap mixture of corn, soy and/or cottonseed meals, with additives.

The practice of pumping up poultry with salt water is basically a hidden tax of up to 15 percent that extracts about $2 billion from American consumers each year.

You think you’re buying 7.5 pounds of chicken; if 15 percent is water weight, you’re really getting less than 6.5 pounds of chicken and more than one pound of added water.

Refined salt is a major promoter of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and other ailments.

Source: CSPI

Air chilled organic chicken is a better choice.

  • Land will have no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop.
  • The use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge is prohibited.
  • Soil fertility and crop nutrients will be managed through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations, and cover crops, supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials.
  • Preference will be given to the use of organic seeds and other planting stock, but a farmer may use non-organic seeds and planting stock under specified conditions.
  • Crop pests, weeds, and diseases will be controlled primarily through management practices including physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are not sufficient, a biological or botanical substance, or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used.

Livestock standards:

  • Animals for slaughter must be raised under organic management from the last third of gestation, or no later than the second day of life for poultry.
  • Producers are required to feed livestock agricultural feed products that are 100 percent organic, but may also provide allowed vitamin and mineral supplements.
  • Organically raised animals may not be given hormones to promote growth, or antibiotics for any reason.
  • Preventive management practices, including the use of vaccines, will be used to keep animals healthy. Producers are prohibited from withholding treatment from a sick or injured animal; however, animals treated with a prohibited medication may not be sold as organic.
  • All organically raised animals must have access to the outdoors, including access to pasture for ruminants.

Handling standards:

  • All non-agricultural ingredients, whether synthetic or non-synthetic, must be included on the National List of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited Non-Synthetic Substances.
  • Handlers must prevent the commingling of organic with non-organic products and protect organic products from contact with prohibited substances.
  • In a processed product labeled as “organic,” all agricultural ingredients must be organically produced, unless the ingredient(s) is not commercially available in organic form.

Is It Really Organic?

The organic standards are subject to an ongoing political fight to dilute them. In great part because of a lobbyist for Kraft Foods, foods eligible to use the USDA Organic seal need be just 95 percent organic now instead of 100 percent. But think of it this way: organic foods have 95 percent less carcinogens, pesticides, hormone disruptors, and neurotoxins. A lot of people think that is worth paying a little extra for.

The list of what the un-organic 5 percent may contain has grown from 77 to 245 substances (as of early 2010) since it was created in 2002. Companies must appeal to the Organic Standards Board every five years to keep a substance on the list, explaining why an organic alternative has not been found. The goal was to shrink the list over time, but only one item has been removed so far.

Food labeled “made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.[25]

There is organic, and then there is what some describe as “green washing” that happens when a conventional agribusiness company buys up a smaller organic one. Dean Foods, for example, owns Horizon which is sold at big box discounters as well as Whole Foods. In fact, two thirds of organic milk and cream and half of organic cheese and yogurt are sold now through conventional supermarkets. As The Cornucopia Institute documented, many of these large industrial “organic” farms and dairy operations reflect the same abuses and problems of the conventional food system: extremely energy intensive, systematic abuse of workers, reduced food quality, and damage to biodiversity.[26] The Organic Consumers Association boycotted Horizon, calling it an industrial-scale dairy feedlot that provided their cows little or no access to pasture.
Who polices organic food from oversees? In 2008, news broke that frozen vegetables imported from China, sold at Whole Foods under their in-house brand label “365 Organic,” were highly questionable. The USDA does not inspect imported foods, so how do we know that what comes from China is truly organic, and not just a label slapped on the package? Linda Greer, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, has been to farms in China: “I wouldn’t buy something organic from China with the idea it is really organic because we have had a difficult time tracking things.”[27] And the “carbon footprint” - the fuel required to ship food oversees - goes against organic principals.

There is also the issue of trying to piggyback on the organic movement by using the word “natural” and charging organic prices. “Natural” has absolutely no regulatory criteria; anything can be called natural. The beef at one market is completely grass-fed - that’s natural. The beef at another market that is “grain finished” is also called natural, but is, in fact, not. All cattle start out grass fed, but the last few months most end up in a commercial feedlot eating an unnatural diet of genetically modified soy and corn that dramatically changes their nutritional profile for the worse. These feedlot animals are given synthetic hormones and antibiotics - many of which have been linked to breast and prostate cancer in humans. There is nothing natural about that.

But “natural” sounds good, so food manufacturers want to use it. In April of 2008, the FDA told a trade magazine that it did not consider high fructose corn syrup to be natural, only to reverse itself three months later after HFCS maker Archer Daniels Midland protested.[28,29]

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has pressured Whole Foods Market and its supplier, wholesale giant United Natural Foods, Inc., to respect workers rights and put a priority on selling organic, as opposed to so-called “natural foods” saying:

“The organic community has built a $25 billion ‘certified organic’ food and farming sector. This consumer-driven movement, under steady attack by the biotech and big-food lobby, with little or no help from government, has managed to create a healthy and sustainable alternative to America’s disastrous, chemical- and energy-intensive system of industrial agriculture.

“However, the annual $50 billion natural food and products industry is threatening to undermine the organic movement by flooding the marketplace with conventional products greenwashed with ‘natural’ labeling ... routinely produced using pesticides, chemical fertilizer, hormones, genetic engineering, and sewage sludge. ‘Natural’, ‘all-natural,’ and ‘sustainable,’ products are rarely backed up by rules, regulations, or third party certification.”[30]

In August 2009, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey admitted “We sell a bunch of junk,”[31] and bowed to OCA pressure with a promise[32] to sell significantly more organics in 2010.

You Might Be Surprised Who Owns the Organic Companies

Did you know that Clorox bought Bert’s Bees in 2007? Horizon Organic is owned by Dean Foods. Kashi is owned by Kellogg’s. Back to Nature is owned by Kraft, which is owned by Philip Morris (tobacco). Cascadian Farms is ultimately owned by General Foods. Seeds of Change is owned by M&M Mars Candy. Toms of Maine is owned by Colgate. Coca-Cola owns 40% percent of Honest Tea. Unilever owns Ben & Jerry’s.

Kudos to Philip Howard for keeping track of the shifting landscape of who owns who in the “organic” arena. Howard is an assistant professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource and, among other things, studies the hidden impacts of consolidation of the food industry.

As of June, 2009. Subject to change
[click image to enlarge]
Credit: Philip H. Howard at

Keeping the Organic in Organic

After hearing that Clorox acquired Burt’s Bees, people called the company and accused it of selling out. The new Burt’s Bees Chief Executive John Replogle told people: “Don’t judge Clorox as much by where they’ve been as much as where they intend to go,” he said.[33] Clorox promised to learn from Burt’s Bees and go green.

But consumers are skeptical that mainstream, large companies will hold true to organic principals and content. The boycott of Horizon dairy products is a case in point about principals. Boca Burgers is a case in point about content - their veggie burgers used to be made of organic ingredients and were gluten free. Now Kraft owns that company; organic ingredients are out, gluten is in.[34]

The USDA created the National Organic Program in 2002. By then, major food companies had bought up many of the small, independent organic companies. That corporate firepower appears to have pressured the government to expand the definition of what is organic; the manufacturing of processed foods often require ingredients, additives, or processing agents that either do not exist in organic form or are not available in large enough quantities for mass production.

People on the organic side of the fence are concerned about dilution of the organic label. In 2003, Arthur Harvey, who grows organic blueberries in Maine, successfully sued the USDA, arguing that the fledgling National Organic Program had violated federal law by allowing synthetic additives.

“The big boys like Kraft realized they could really cash in by filling the shelves with products with the organics seal,” Harvey said. “But they were sort of inhibited by the original law that said no synthetic ingredients.”

His victory was short-lived. The Organic Trade Association, which represents corporations such as Kraft, Dole, and Dean Foods, lobbied for and received language in a 2006 appropriations bill allowing certain synthetic food substances in the preparation, processing and packaging of foods which bear the USDA organic label, creating conditions for a flood of processed organic foods.

Watch this documentary that explains why the Organic Trade Association is not looking out for organic foods.

Joe Smillie was a founding member of the Organic Trade Association of North America. Today he is a member of the Organic Standards Board and a Senior Vice President of Quality Assurance International, which is involved in certifying 65 percent of organic products found on supermarket. As he sees it, advocates for the most restrictive standards are unrealistic and are inhibiting the growth of organics.

“People are really hung up on regulations,” Smillie said in 2009. “I say, ‘Let’s find a way to bend that one, because it’s not important.’ . . . What are we selling? Are we selling health food? No. Consumers, they expect organic food to be growing in a greenhouse on Pluto. Hello? We live in a polluted world. It isn’t pure. We are doing the best we can.”[35]

And therein lies the rub. People who buy organics spend the extra money because they do want organic food to be healthy food. They want companies held to a higher standard than Joe Smillie may think is okay. Yet we do live in a polluted world where money talks.

It’s Our Choice

So what can we do about it? Yes money talks - and we can use that to our advantage. We as consumers have a lot of buying power. Companies listen. When nobody buys their products, they stop offering those products. Wars are not won by fighting back, as a rule - that just leads to more war. Wars are won by choosing a different path.

We all have the opportunity, and the ability, to choose what we buy. If we cannot afford organic vegetables, then at the very least we can afford vegetables that are grown in the ground, not chopped up in a can together with chemicals and flavor-enhancers. If we cannot afford organic or grass-fed beef, then at the very least we can buy meat that looks like a piece of meat, not something processed into slices or inserted into frozen lasagna. Nobody forces us to buy potato chips or candy bars or sodas.

We have the choice of what foods we put into our mouths. Let us choose wisely, for ourselves, for our families, and for our future generations.

RESOURCES for good and healthy food: - find out the location and times of various farmers’ market in the greater Phoenix area. - Topline Foods, a food delivery service - an Arizona organic delivery service - Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) in Arizona provide regular deliveries of local, organic food - a research and action center for the organic and fair-trade food movement, maintains a comprehensive Web archive of articles about genetically engineered foods, cloning, food safety, organics and globalization. - a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium designed to raise consumer awareness about buying seafood from sustainable sources; they offer a downloadable, pocket-sized, region-by-region guide to eco-friendly seafood. - how to meet the challenge of eating locally - author Jo Robinson explains why grass-fed is best, plus lists of pasture-based farms - type in your ZIP Code, will point you to farmers in your area growing pastured chickens or organic produce or grass-finished beef - the sales and marketing arm for Slow Food USA; buy pork, beef, turkey - the best organic food grown close to you - through research, advocacy, and economic development, works to empower farmers and consumers in support of ecologically produced local, organic and authentic food. - journalist who exposes the darker sides of industrialized food

“Animal Factory - The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment,” by David Kirby

“This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader,” by Joan Dye Gussow

“Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America’s Farmers’ Markets,” by Deborah Madison

“Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods,” by Gary Paul Nabhan

“Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables,” by Farmer John Peterson and Angelic Organics.

“Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer’s Guide to Farm-Fresh Food,” by Joel Salatin

“Righteous Porkchop - Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms” by Nicolette Hahn Niman

[1] Maryse F. Bouchard, PhD; David C. Bellinger, PhD; et al. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides. Pediatrics, May 2010 [2] Netherwood T, Martín-Orúe SM, O’Donnell AG, Gockling S, Graham J, Mathers JC and Gilbert HJ (2004). Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract. Nature Biotechnology 22(2):204-209. [3] Michelle Greehalgh, Haitian Farmers Reject Monsanto Donation. Food Safety News, June 7, 2010 [4] New Evidence Confirms the Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods. Charles Benbrook, et al; The Organic Center, 2008 [5] Food Standards Agency, Organic Review Published. July, 2009 [6] [7] Marian Burros, Is Organic Food Provably Better? The New York Times, January 16, 2003 [8] Ibid [9] Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD. Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Medinform Publishing, September 209 reprint, Chapter 4. [10] Ibid, chapter 5 – Genetics [11] Dr. Sam Epstein, American Beef: Why is it Banned in Europe? Cancer Prevention Coalition. [12] David Kirby, Animal Factory – The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment. St. Martin’s Press, 2010 [13] Environmental Working Group. EWG’s 2010 Shoppers Guide to Pesticides [14] Medical News Today: Restless Leg Syndrome Linked To Magnesium Deficiency. December 7, 2009 [15] Magnesium. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health [16] Felicity Lawrence. Not on the Label. Penguin. 2004. page 213 [17] Soil Minderal Depletion-Can a Healthy Diet be Sufficient In Today’s World? [18] ibid [19] Xiao-Bing Yang, Guang-Guo Ying, et al. Influence of Biochars on Plant Uptake and Dissipation of Two Pesticides in an Agricultural Soil. J. Agric. Food Chem., June 14, 2010, 58 (13), pp 7915-7921 [20] R. L. Mulvaney, S. A. Khan, T. R. Ellsworth. The Browning of the Green Revolution. University of Illinois, March, 2010 [21] Charles Benbrook, PhD. “Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years.” The Organic Center, 2009 [22] The Organic Center. “Nourishing the Planet” Interview with Chuck Benbrook, July 2010 [23] Steve Nugent, PhD. The Missing Nutrients, page 4 [24] Press release. UN expert makes case for ecological farming practices to boost food production. United Nations News Centre. March 8, 2011 [25] [26] Food Manufacturers and Organic Industry Lobbyists Circle the Wagons, The Cornucopia Institute, November 19, 2009 [27] [28] Laura Crowley. HFCS is natural, says FDA in a letter. Food-Navigator/ July 08, 2008. [29] Press Release: Corn Refiners Welcome FDA Clarification that High Fructose Corn Syrup Can Be Labeled Natural. Corn Refiners Association. July 8, 2008 [30] Organic Consumers Association. Whole Foods and UNFI: Undermining Our Organic Future - the “Natural” threat to Organic. [31] Kati McLaughlin, Frank Talk From Whole Foods’ John Mackey. Wall Street Journal, August 4, 2009 [32] Brian Gaar, More organics in store for Whole Foods: Amid news of quarterly sales increase, CEO says company will renew its focus on healthy eating. American-Statesman, August 5, 2009 [33] Louise Story, Can Burt’s Bees Turn Clorox Green? New York Times, January 6, 2008 [34] Accessed August 1, 2010 [35] K Kindy, L Layton; Purity of Federal ‘Organic’ Label Is Questioned, Washington Post, July 3, 2009
FOOD 201 - Is Organic Really Better?