The Emerging Anti-Organics Movement

Since recent worldwide food prices rises I've heard rumblings against organics as an irresponsible and unaffordable type of agricultural production

The Independent continues the assault with its organic myth exploding article

According to the author there are seven common myths about organic farming.

Myth one: Organic farming is good for the environment
...organically reared cows burp twice as much methane as conventionally reared cattle – and methane is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. Meat and poultry are the largest agricultural contributors to GHG emissions. Life Cycle assessment counts the energy used to manufacture pesticide for growing cattle feed, but still shows that a kilo of organic beef releases 12 per cent more GHGs, causes twice as much nutrient pollution and more acid rain.

So apparently if your gonna eat organics and claim to be environmentally benign you better not be eating beef or chicken. I can't help but think that this is some sort of vegetarian conspiracy....Are scientists now going to start getting large grants to experiment with the breeding of non-burping, non-farting cows and chickens? And what's more how on earth did they carry out this study to begin with?

Myth two: Organic farming is more sustainable

Organic potatoes use less energy in terms of fertiliser production, but need more fossil fuel for ploughing. A hectare of conventionally farmed land produces 2.5 times more potatoes than an organic one.

I can't help but think that the trend towards carbon counting each individual product back through its production and supply chain is a case of splitting hairs. Ok so when it comes to a potato grown organically in Ireland then there are costs and benefits, but surely there must be, at the end of the day some form of net calculation that can be made for organic agriculture as a whole. Yes, organic agriculture may require more soil care that requires more fossil fuels, but again what this comes down to is reliance on fossil fuels within the whole economy and perhaps once renewable energy sources are better developed then organics can truly be delinked from the carbon economy, the fact that it currently is not entirely delinked is not in my view a case against organics but further emphasises the need to improve green energy sources.

see the quandaries of carbon labelling

Myth three: Organic farming doesn't use pesticides

Actually, organic farmers also use pesticides. The difference is that "organic" pesticides are so dangerous that they have been "grandfathered" with current regulations and do not have to pass stringent modern safety tests. For example, organic farmers can treat fungal diseases with copper solutions. Unlike modern, biodegradable, pesticides copper stays toxic in the soil for ever. The organic insecticide rotenone (in derris) is highly neurotoxic to humans – exposure can cause Parkinson's disease. But none of these "natural" chemicals is a reason not to buy organic food; nor are the man-made chemicals used in conventional farming

This seems to me to be an issue solved with better regulation

Myth four: Pesticide levels in conventional food are dangerous

The proponents of organic food – particularly celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, who have jumped on the organic bandwagon – say there is a "cocktail effect" of pesticides. Some point to an "epidemic of cancer". In fact, there is no epidemic of cancer. When age-standardised, cancer rates are falling dramatically and have been doing so for 50 years.

If there is a "cocktail effect" it would first show up in farmers, but they have among the lowest cancer rates of any group. Carcinogenic effects of pesticides could show up as stomach cancer, but stomach cancer rates have fallen faster than any other. Sixty years ago, all Britain's food was organic; we lived only until our early sixties, malnutrition and food poisoning were rife. Now, modern agriculture (including the careful use of well-tested chemicals) makes food cheap and safe and we live into our eighties.

This seems more like a rant about celebrities and the type of people that she stands for rich, white blond organic eating types. I don't think I'm qualified to comment on the safety or danger of eating pesticides per say, but even if there is no health risk to either I don't see how this is an effective argument against organic farming when pertoleum based input costs have skyrocketed along with oil prices, whether or not it is safer to eat seems besides the large point of how to feed the world

Myth five: Organic food is healthier
This high level of infection among organic chickens could cross-contaminate non-organic chickens processed on the same production lines. Organic farmers boast that their animals are not routinely treated with antibiotics or (for example) worming medicines. But, as a result, organic animals suffer more diseases. In 2006 an Austrian and Dutch study found that a quarter of organic pigs had pneumonia against 4 per cent of conventionally raised pigs; their piglets died twice as often. Disease is the major reason why organic animals are only half the weight of conventionally reared animals – so organic farming is not necessarily a boon to animal welfare.

Disease is also a major fact of all life, perhaps with organic farming we have to get used to a higher (and more normal?) level of mortality for farm animals than was previously the case? This I do see as a potential argument against organic farming, but if we are all supposed to be organic vegetarians then maybe it doesn't matter so much. Oh my god we're doomed

Myth six: Organic food contains more nutrients
The study that found higher flavonoid levels in organic tomatoes revealed them to be the result of stress from lack of nitrogen – the plants stopped making flesh and made defensive chemicals (such as flavonoids) instead

i personally don't see why flavanoids in tomatos make a particularly strong case for or against organics or anything really

Myth seven: The demand for organic food is booming
Less than 1 per cent of the food sold in Britain is organic, but you would never guess it from the media.


My overall assessment, a fairly baseless and nitpicking article that doesn't answer much in the way of whether organics is a good route to head down en masse to ensure the continued survival of farms and people


    On 14 May 2008 at 03:57 Anonymous said...

    You just gave me another reason to love this website!


    Just on that flavonoid point - there doesn't seem to be any link found between eating more flavonoids and rising levels of antioxidants in the bloodstream - which is generally why people think that you should eat more of them. (

    I think that journalists throw in the word "flavonoid" because people think that it's linked to "flavor" when it isn't at all.


    I agree with anonymous! great work Maytel

    what a lame piece of journalism by the Independant,

    Claiming that raised life expectancy is ALL down to consumption of pesticide-treated food is ridiculous
    and ....
    I thought it was pretty much accepted that exposure to germs from the 'farm floor' at an early age made us more disease resistant whereas constant use of antibiotics has made us more disease-prone....



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