NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Beware The Myths Of Organic Foods

January 24, 2001

Ecological purists extol the benefits of organic foods and their superiority over foods grown under conventional methods. But there is substantial evidence organic foods offer no special culinary, health or safety benefits.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published the first national organic-food standards. By the summer of 2002, USDA-certified food grown without biotechnology, synthetic pesticides or man-made fertilizers will be in produce bins nationwide.

According to a recent poll, some 67 percent of consumers think foods the USDA certifies as organic will be superior to conventional foods. Perhaps they should think again.

  • Blind taste tests published in scientific journals consistently show that people cannot distinguish between organic and conventional foods -- and when labels are switched, consumers display a marked preference for the phony "organic" products.
  • Research confirms organic and conventional foods almost always have the same nutritional value -- despite usually heftier prices for organic varieties.
  • As for those concerned about pesticide residues on conventional foods, the daily dose received by average consumers is at least several thousand times below the level government experts consider safe.
  • Faced with mounting government concern, manufacturers of the organic pesticide rotenone have decided to stop selling it for use on cranberries, cereal grains and harvested tomatoes -- and it may eventually be pulled off the market altogether, since it can produce a Parkinson's-like illness in rats.

Conventional growers, on the other hand, have a synthetic alternative to rotenone called spinosad, which seems far safer.

Also, organic farmers employ copper sulfate as a fungicide. But it threatens farm workers' safety, renders soil infertile and can contaminate groundwater. Synthetic substitutes appear readily biodegradable and almost completely non-toxic to plants and animals.

Source: David Lineback (University of Maryland) and David Longtin, "Keep Eyes Open if You Go Organic," USA Today, January 24, 2001.


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