NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Organic Illusions

October 10, 2012

Conventional wisdom holds that organic foods are healthier to consume than their non-organic counterparts. However, a recent study by a group of scientists at Stanford University debunks that myth and finds that organic foods have less nutritional benefit than people would like to think. The same results were found by a 2009 study done with the British version of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, says Blake Hurst in The American.

Advocates of organic food make many bold claims about its health and environmental benefits but people in the industry concede this is just a marketing scheme to get consumers to purchase their goods. Advocates of organic foods also overlook the contributions that conventional forms of farming have made.

  • Hybrid seeds have been used for 70 years, chemical fertilizers for 60 years and synthetic pesticides for 50 years.
  • Additionally, production has increased dramatically. This past summer's drought was the worst in nearly a century, and yet the corn yield would have broken records just 20 years ago.
  • Furthermore, studies show a 20 to 50 percent decline in yield per acre from organic methods.

Many people point to pesticides as reasons why organic foods are preferable to conventional methods of farming. However, the pesticides that foods are exposed to are thousands of times lower than levels needed to harm people. Organic foods, on the other hand, have higher rates of e. coli, a very dangerous bacterium that can kill humans. Furthermore, organic foods still use natural pesticides, and since they are less effective, they are used at much higher rates.

On the environmental question, organic foods tend to do more harm than conventionally grown foods, despite popular belief. The Department of Agriculture estimates that ending conventional production would require increasing the area of land tilled by more than the land in California.

Finally, shifting to organic methods of farming would require massive changes to the type and amount of labor. Conventional farming relies on new machinery to expedite the farming but organic farming requires a large proportion of the population to be involved. Because the pesticides that are used aren't strong enough, weeds grow that need to be handpicked. The human resources necessary to sustain this version of farming doesn't exist in the status quo.

Source: Blake Hurst, "Organic Illusions," The American, October 1, 2012.


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