|Packing melons near Stockton|
In the war over the safest, tastiest way to grow apples, oranges and rutabagas, the prize is dietary superiority. It’s religious strife with a tinge of class warfare. The dividing line in this struggle is money—the cost of production, the cost to the consumer. Stanford University Medical Center released a comprehensive study recently that intensified the food fight between the organic/orthodox right and the conventional/atheist left.
The underlying truth that emerged in the study is this: There’s little evidence organic foods are nutritionally superior to their conventionally grown counterparts. Both use dirt, water and chemicals to produce crops.
The federal code for the National Organics Program says: “When the practices provided for in paragraphs (a) through (d) of this section are insufficient to prevent or control crop pests, weeds, and diseases, a biological or botanical substance or a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be applied to prevent, suppress, or control pests, weeds, or diseases: Provided, That, the conditions for using the substance are documented in the organic system plan.”
Until recently, nobody bothered to look at the toxic effects of natural chemicals (such as organic pesticides), because it was assumed they posed little risk. But when the studies were done, the results were somewhat shocking: University of California researchers found about half the natural chemicals studied are carcinogenic.
This is a case where everyone (consumers, farmers, researchers) made the same mistake. Everyone assumed that “natural” chemicals were automatically better and safer than synthetic materials, and we were wrong. Researchers suggest it’s important to be more prudent in the acceptance of “natural” as being innocuous and harmless. But, the truth is this, when chemicals are detected on U.S.-grown produce, whether organic or conventionally grown, the levels are minuscule. America has the safest food supply in the world, regardless of growing procedures.
In 2009, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a report with conclusions similar to the Stanford study, Nutritional Quality of Organic Foods: a Systematic Review. Both these studies were meta-analyses, meaning that highly qualified teams gathered and studied numerous research papers on both sides of the argument before concluding that when it comes to nutrition, farming is farming. The approaches by organic farmers, where they differ from the approach of conventional growers, had little or no impact on nutrition or residue toxicity.
Followers of organic food religions believe that organically grown food offers such important factors as flavor benefits and sustainability back on the farm. But, the truth is farmers, regardless of approach, need to preserve their growing medium and contain production costs while providing food consumers want and need.
About Maurice J. Hladik. He grew up on a farm in western Canada and holds two degrees in agricultural economics from Canadian and U.S. universities. He has served as an agricultural diplomat in New Zealand, Germany, China, Thailand and South Korea. He also served as an executive of an agriculture-based company with an international reach. More information on his new book, Demystifying Food from Farm to Fork,can be found at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1462068049/ref=rdr_ext_tmb