Why go or­ganic?

The case for keep­ing it real

Element - - Contents -

When doc­tors from Stan­ford Univer­sity re­leased their find­ings on the health ben­e­fits of or­ganic food Vs non-or­ganic food last month, it was re­ported around the world.

Vari­a­tions rarely de­vi­ated from the head­line of the orig­i­nal Stan­ford press re­lease: ‘Lit­tle ev­i­dence of health ben­e­fits from or­ganic foods’.

Given the study also found that hu­mans eat­ing nonor­ganic foods have an 81% higher chance of en­coun­ter­ing pes­ti­cides, and run the risk of that food be­ing 33% more re­sis­tant to mul­ti­ple an­tibi­otics, the head­lines could just as eas­ily have pro­claimed: ‘Non-or­ganic food more dan­ger­ous’, just as this one does.

Jim Rid­dle, or­ganic outreach co­or­di­na­tor for the Univer­sity of Min­nesota, and co-au­thor of the In­ter­na­tional Or­ganic In­spec­tion Man­ual, penned an elo­quent re­sponse to the study, in­clud­ing a cri­tique of the ‘sim­plis­tic’ math­e­mat­ics.

“The Stan­ford team found that non-or­ganic foods are likely to con­tain pes­ti­cide residues 37% of the time and or­ganic foods 7% of the time. Given those per­cent­ages, then the risk of ex­po­sure to pes­ti­cides in­creases by 81%, when some­one chooses to con­sume nonor­ganic vs or­ganic foods. The risk of ex­po­sure to pes­ti­cide residues in­creases by 81%, not 30% [the fig­ure cited in the Stan­ford study],” he said.

“Fur­ther, the Stan­ford team did not ac­count for syn­er­gis­tic ef­fects of mul­ti­ple pes­ti­cide residues com­monly found in non-or­ganic foods, even though United States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture pes­ti­cide de­tec­tion data con­firms that non-or­ganic foods con­sis­tently are con­tam­i­nated with mul­ti­ple pes­ti­cides, whereas or­ganic food are of­ten free of pes­ti­cide residues. When residues oc­cur in or­ganic foods, they are typ­i­cally for one com­pound, rather than mul­ti­ple com­pounds,” said Rid­dle.

The Soil and Health As­so­ci­a­tion of NZ (SHANZ) took the pes­ti­cides ar­gu­ment fur­ther, say­ing that the study failed to con­sider that or­gan­ics have no ad­di­tives which have proven health risks. “These in­clude GMOs, as­par­tame, fillers, high fruc­tose corn syrup, trans­fats and BPAs. Seventy-five per cent of all GE crops are en­gi­neered to tol­er­ate her­bi­cide… linked to DNA dam­age, in­fer­til­ity, can­cer and over 29 other dis­eases and de­spite the stud­ies sug­ges­tion that pes­ti­cide residue in con­ven­tional crops is within safety lim­its there is no such thing,” said Deb­bie Swan­wick, spokesper­son for Soil & Health.

“Preg­nant women and foe­tuses have been harmed by low-level ex­po­sure to organophos­phate pes­ti­cides,” she con­tin­ued.

Charles Ben­brook, a re­search pro­fes­sor at Wash­ing­ton State Univer­sity, also said the met­rics used in the study were un­usual, un­fa­mil­iar and in­con­sis­tent with his own find­ings. “The study also sug­gested that it was only 33% more likely that an­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant bac­te­ria would be present in con­ven­tion­ally raised pork and chicken ver­sus or­ganic al­ter­na­tives. Eighty per­cent of all the world’s an­tibi­otics are given to an­i­mals,” said Ben­brook. An­tibi­otic use is pro­hib­ited in or­ganic pro­duc­tion. The other ar­gu­ment for or­gan­ics is not nec­es­sar­ily for hu­man health, but the health of the en­vi­ron­ment. SHANZ says that or­ganic food pro­duc­tion re­duces pol­lu­tants, en­cour­ages the preser­va­tion of her­itage seed crops and in­creases the pro­tec­tion of bio­di­ver­sity. Bee pop­u­la­tions in the US and UK have de­clined by as much as 50% in the past 25 years due to pes­ti­cide use which has im­pacted their nav­i­ga­tion abil­i­ties – re­cently cor­rob­o­rated by two stud­ies by re­searchers from the French Na­tional in­sti­tute for Agri­cul­tural Re­search and the Uni­ver­si­ties of Lan­caster and Stir­ling. Two thirds of New Zealand food pro­duc­tion re­lies on bees to pol­li­nate plants, yet the neon­i­coti­noid pes­ti­cides caus­ing the prob­lem are still legally able to be used here.

Rid­dle went on to point out that the Stan­ford study made no men­tion of the ef­fects of non-or­ganic pro­duc­tion on ground wa­ter; ge­netic engi­neer­ing; livestock growth hor­mones; ar­ti­fi­cial flavours and colours; soil health; bi­o­logic and ge­netic diver­sity; car­bon se­ques­tra­tion and cli­mate change; en­ergy use; eco­nomic vi­tal­ity; and food se­cu­rity.

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