A recent, little publicized report, commissioned by Academics Review, came out recently that had some erroneous and quirky conclusions. The researchers were commissioned to review over one hundred published academic and market research studies on organic. The conclusions were that the organic industry has engaged in years of fear-based marketing campaigns as a way to achieve greater sales. It claims that this multi-decade public disinformation campaign has been conducted with the use and approval of the USDA Organic Seal. Does organic seek to cast fear and loathing or do we instead work to spread the good food choice in order to change the way people eat and farm?
The organic industry is built on the transparency of the USDA organic regulations. There is no other food system that is talked about, voraciously debated and thoroughly scrutinized more than organic. The regulations were developed over a decade of deliberations on inputs and protocols that seek to take chemicals out of our food supply and out of our farmlands. While the human bio-network has been evolving with nature for thousands of millennium, slowly adapting to gradual change, most of the chemicals used in “conventional farming” have only existed in our environment for 60-70 years. The true effects of these chemicals on our children and their offspring have not yet been determined. Is this fear mongering or a simple recognition of the reality of evolution? Would the researchers have us throw Darwin out with the bathwater, too?
Organic production IS different than chemical based agriculture which blasts the soil into a scorched desert landscape. The soil is essentially sterilized so that almost nothing can grow but one single selected mono crop. Next an array of chemical fertilizer is injected into the dead matter, not soil any more but dirt, to replace the once living microorganisms and bacteria that comprise healthy top-soil. It’s a fact that the United States alone loses almost 3 tons of topsoil per acre per year. “Conventional” agriculture encourages the depletion of topsoil because the soil is plowed, sprayed and denuded each year. Sustainable organic techniques work to foster soil health through the use of cover crops that build organic matter. In the marketplace, food producers have a right to tell consumers the story about the health of the soil.
There are 18,000 hardworking American organic farmers, ranchers, and food-makers complying with the USDA federal organic regulation. Of course, they want to impart what it means to comply with the stringent requirements to grow food without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and GMOs. They must tell their story on how they raise animals without antibiotics and hormones, and how they process food without preservatives and artificial colors. This isn’t about focusing on the negative but about communicating truth and fostering understanding on the nature of organic production. Not to communicate this enormous difference in production would itself be misleading.
It is unfortunate that the authors’ attempt to delegitimize industry, non-profit, and public discourse about the impacts from the escalating use of herbicides as a result of genetically modified crops. It is unlikely that they took into consideration the studies that show how genetically-engineered crops have, instead of reducing pesticide use, brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied. Perhaps Chuck Benbrook’s work, “Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. – the first sixteen years,” should have been part of the reading material. Mr. Benbrook sites that “herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 239 million kilogram (527 million pound) increase in herbicide use in the US between 1996 and 2011. Overall, pesticide use increased by an estimated 183 million kgs (404 million pounds), or about 7%.” I must also note a recent test showing Monsanto’s Number 1 Herbicide, glyphosate, has been discovered in U.S. mothers’ breast milk and urine samples. The tests show glyphosate levels over 10 times higher than in Europe where “Round-up-Ready” crops are banned. Bringing forth these facts shouldn’t be misrepresented as a cry of fear but a call to reason.
Let’s remember that Organic does not allow the use of antibiotics in livestock production. It is only recently that the potential health impacts of excessive use of antibiotics in our food have come to light. Last year The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognized the public health risk associated with antibiotics in food-producing animals but didn’t go far enough. Overuse of these antibiotics in our food is creating strains of super bacteria that have developed to resist the effects of antibiotics. So when we dispense them in treating human illnesses and infections they are rendered ineffective. The rise of the super bacteria is an ongoing threat as a result of the antibiotics in our meat supply.
Lastly the report claims that the nefarious negative campaigns are carried out by organizations through more informal channels, such as company blogs. My motivation here is only to report what I read and hold true. If my name is added to the list of fear-mongers, please also add it to the growing number of consumers who believe what they eat is one of the most important choices a person can make. Knowing more isn’t about fear; it’s about empowerment.
Organic food and farming is the tip of the iceberg for creating a consumer-driven food and agricultural system. As we seek more information about health and longevity, we realize the innate connection our food has in nourishing our bodies and keeping us vigorous. Transparency becomes the key in this equation, and in the years to come, consumers will only demand more information about their food – not less. It is my prediction that someday all food and agriculture will look a little more like organic—and that is a good thing. We will have changed the world one consumer at a time.