Jan 22 2007

Organic Food Myths

Today we’re going to walk into a specialty food market and purchase one of the most trendy, popular, and correspondingly overpriced products on the market today: Organic food.

Organic food is a conventional food crop (genetically exactly the same plant variety as the regular version) but grown according to a different set of standards. In this sense, organic food is really the same thing as kosher food. The food itself is identical, but it’s prepared in such a way to conform to different philosophical standards. Just as kosher standards are defined by rabbinical authorities, the USDA’s National Organic Program sets the requirements for foods to bear a “certified organic” label. Basically it forbids the use of modern synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in favor of organic equivalents, and for animals it requires that they have not been kept healthy through the use of antibiotics. There are other rules too, and the basic goal is to require the use of only natural products throughout the growth, preparation, and preservation stages.

Organic food is more expensive than conventional food, due not only to its lower crop yields and more expensive organic fertilizers and pesticides in larger quantities, but mainly because it’s such a big fad right now and is in such high demand.

Why is that? Is organic food healthier? Does it make an important political statement? The usual arguments boil down to three: that it benefits small farmers rather than big evil companies; that it’s somehow healthier to eat; and that the cultivation method is better for the environment. Rather than accepting these emotionally satisfying benefits at face value, let’s instead take a skeptical look and see what the data actually show. Let’s take these three claimed benefits one at a time.

Read more: Organic Food Myths