Organic Foods – Good or Bad?

Organic Foods – Good or Bad?

© David Burton 2015

Organic Food Prices

     Organic foods are all the rage among nature lovers, foodie faddists, and those who belong to the trend of the month club. Favoring organic foods is considered chic, healthy, and “earth-friendly.” Some people prefer to buy and eat organic foods because they believe that organic farming is better for the environment and more sustainable. Still others are of the belief that if it didn’t exist in the Garden of Eden, man has no right to introduce it or to change it.

     Did you know that organically grown foods are nothing new? “Before World War II, all crops were organic. It was only afterward that farms used new, synthetic pesticides and chemicals to minimize weed, insects, and rodent damage. What's not new? Many worry about the long-term effects of ingesting chemical residues from ‘conventional’ produce (i.e., sprayed crops), as well as the impact these treatments have had on our planet and our resources.” (Ref. 1)

     Many organic food proponents are opposed to genetically modified foodstuffs, or “Genetically Modified Organisms” - GMOs. GMO’s have sometimes derisively been called Frankenfoods”. These GMO opponents argue that genetically engineered crops may be less nutritious than “unmodified” crops. “The statement that genetically engineered crops have been shown to be less nutritious is NONSENSE. {There are} no studies that have shown that genetically engineered varieties are different or less nutritious than conventional or organic varieties. In fact, the opposite is true. Genetic engineering puts KNOWN GENES/PROTEINS into plants. This is much more powerful than conventional breeding which brings BLOCKS of unknown genes together into varieties that are then EMPIRICALLY tested for their superiority. The potential is there is make crops MORE NUTRITIOUS AND BETTER FOR HUMAN HEALTH than conventional varieties. PLANTS WERE NOT PUT ON THIS EARTH FOR PEOPLE....RATHER THEY WERE PUT HERE TO ENSURE THEIR OWN SURVIVAL. As such, they are optimized for the plant's life cycle and not for the human life cycle. MAN has engineered plants to be MORE optimally suited for our health and nutrition. But the perfect plant does not yet exist! However, genetic engineering CAN/WILL one day do that!! Case in point, the golden rice recently developed . . . in Switzerland. Many plants do not synthesize vitamin A which is needed for eye development. Many 10's of thousands of children in the developing world have serious and even fatal diseases because of Vitamin A deficiency. {The developer} took genes from a plant that synthesizes Vitamin A and engineered rice (which does not) to be able synthesize Vitamin A. This rice can now be eaten by children in order to obtain an adequate amount of Vitamin A to prevent blindness and other diseases. THIS ENGINEERED RICE IS MORE NUTRITIOUS -- meaning has a molecule (Vitamin A) that helps human health and development.   . . .
      - - -
     “. . . Genetic engineering represents an extension of what man has been doing for tens of thousands of years...CORN was genetically engineered by man from teosinte...a wild grass...WHEAT was genetically engineered by man....etc., etc. These crops DO NOT EXIST IN "NATURE." That is a FACT. The goal of agriculture has always been to DOMESTICATE plants and animals for the good of man. Genetic engineering IS THE FUTURE. It has the potential to increase yields and allow crops to be grown under conditions which are not possible today. It has the potential to make "foods for the future" -- which are MORE NUTRITIOUS AND BETTER FOR HUMAN HEALTH AND WELFARE than crops grown today. And it is our BEST HOPE for feeding the 10 billion people that will be on this earth fifty years from now.” (Ref. 2)

     As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to the organic foods movement. Most of what appears in the public media about organic foods and most of that which is espoused in favor of it comes from its proponents and its zealous advocates. Undoubtedly, there is merit in many of their claims. Not always heard above this din are the counterclaims by opponents and by the more objective observers. Some of these counterclaims and the evidence to back up the arguments of organic food opponents follow. You are invited to do your own research and to come to your own conclusions. But, I urge you to do so after considering both sides of the issue and by basing your decision on the facts and not the hearsay and unsubstantiated claims.

     One of the benefits claimed for eating only organic foods is that organic produce is healthier than non-organic produce. “However, fifty years of research has so far not produced convincing evidence that there is any health benefit to consuming organic food. Likewise, systematic reviews of nutritional quality of organic produce also reveals no difference from conventional produce. (Ref. 3) But, while organic produce is not more nutritious or healthful, it is more expensive.

     Organic food proponents favor organic farming because of the elimination of pesticides. Indeed, a “recent review did find that organic produce had fewer pesticide residues than conventional farming. However, there is no evidence that these low levels of pesticides present any health risk. [Emphasis mine] . . . Further, studies looking at health outcomes did not find any significant difference between consuming organic vs conventional produce. [Emphasis mine] . . . Organic farming does use pesticides, but only ‘natural’ pesticides are allowed. There is little to no evidence that these organic pesticides are less harmful for consumers or the environment. [Emphasis mine] It is just assumed that they are based upon the naturalistic fallacy.
     “Even if we take the most pro-organic assumption – that there are more pesticides on conventional produce and that those pesticides have greater negative health effects than organic pesticides, it must still be recognized that simply washing fruits and vegetables effectively reduces pesticide residue. [Emphasis mine] If minimized exposure to pesticide residue is your goal, thoroughly washing your produce is probably the easiest and cheapest way to achieve that end.   . . . Despite the scientific evidence, the alleged health benefits of organic produce is the number one reason given by consumers for buying organic. This likely represents the triumph of marketing over scientific reality.” (Ref. 3)

     The bottom line in terms of health and safety seems to be that organic food is no healthier or safer than non-organic food. “The FDA states that organically produced food products are no safer or more nutritious than their non-organic counterparts. In an extensive meta-analysis from Stanford University, organic and conventionally grown food were found to have hardly any differences in terms of health.
     “Organic and conventional production methods provide equally healthy, safe food to consumers.” (Ref. 4)

     "People buy organic because they think it's better for the environment; it's not. It's safer; it's not. It tastes better; it doesn't. It's more nutritious; it isn't. And these are all misconceptions that have been deliberately promoted -- according to these authors -- by organic farmers and organic proponents despite the fact that scientific evidence doesn't support any of these claims." (Ref. 5)

     What about the cost of organic foods? In 2014, Consumer Reports looked at the cost of organic produced foods versus non-organic foods and found that, On average, organic foods were nearly twice as expensive as their non-organic equivalents.[6] No problem if you aren’t poor, but a major concern for most of the people on this planet who don’t enjoy the lifestyle of affluent Americans.

     Among the factors to be considered when looking at the potential impact of organic foods is that of overall global economic food production. In this regard, it can be noted that non-organic fertilizers, “particularly synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, has fed the swelling human population during the last century.” (Ref. 7) In the coming centuries, can organic agriculture do the same in a world with a rapidly growing human population?

     “{S}cientists at McGill University in Montreal and the University of Minnesota performed an analysis of 66 studies comparing conventional and organic methods across 34 different crop species. {They} found that, overall, organic yields are considerably lower than conventional yields.   . . . But, this yield difference varies across different conditions.   . . .
     “In particular, organic agriculture delivers just 5 percent less yield in rain-watered legume crops, such as alfalfa or beans, and in perennial crops, such as fruit trees. But when it comes to major cereal crops, such as corn or wheat, and vegetables, such as broccoli, conventional methods delivered more than 25 percent more yield.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 7)

     In a paper from the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at UCLA, it was pointed that, “organic farming takes up much more LAND than conventional farming.   . . . Organic farming requires MANURE, which requires animals, which requires FORAGE LAND. Today there are 6.5 billion people on the face of the earth. By 2050, we may have 10 billion people. Because organic farming uses nitrogen in manure, they will have to produce significantly MORE manure to keep up with the demand to feed 3-4 billion more people. IT CANNOT BE DONE. In fact, all of the world's cultivatable land has already been taken up. In order to increase food production the key is to INCREASE YIELD --- grow more plants on the same or smaller space. Organic farming can use higher yielding varieties (developed by conventional breeding). However the demand for MANURE is too great. It has been estimated, that, at most, organic farming practices can feed 4 billion people. We have passed that already.   . . . high-yielding farming cannot be done on a large scale using organic farming practices. There is no way that organic farmers can control pathogen infections (viruses, fungi, bacteria, insects) using natural biological controls. These require some utilization of chemicals. In addition, one of the reasons why agricultural productivity has increased 300% IN THE LAST CENTURY HAS BEEN FROM THE USE OF nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, greater-yielding varieties, agricultural practices and GENETIC ENGINEERING. This increase has been obtained on LESS LAND USAGE than a 100 years ago and with less people. For example, in 1875 ~50% of the labor in the US was devoted to farming. Today, less than 2% of labor is devoted to farming. Yet we produce 300% more crops on LESS land. That's more land for forests, parks, open space, etc. that would not be there if it weren't for modern {non-organic} agricultural practices.” (Ref. 2)

     Often ignored is the fact that organic food production has produced some serious unintended negative consequences. “According to recent data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who eat organic and ‘natural’ foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E. coli bacteria (0157: H7). This new E. coli is attacking tens of thousands of people per year, all over the world. It is causing permanent liver and kidney damage in many of its victims.   . . .
     “Consumers of organic food are also more likely to be attacked by a relatively new, more virulent strain of the infamous salmonella bacteria. Salmonella was America’s biggest food-borne death risk until the new E. coli O157 came along.
     “Organic food is more dangerous than conventionally grown produce because organic farmers use animal manure as the major source of fertilizer for their food crops. Animal manure is the biggest reservoir of these nasty bacteria that are afflicting and killing so many people.
     “Organic farmers compound the contamination problem through their reluctance to use antimicrobial preservatives, chemical washes, pasteurization, or even chlorinated water to rid their products of dangerous bacteria.   . . .
       - - -
     “The new reality is quite sobering. Organic and ‘natural’ food producers supply only about 1 percent of the nation’s food, but the Centers for Disease Control have traced approximately 8 percent of the confirmed E. coli 0157 cases to such foods. Consumer Reports recently found much higher levels of salmonella on free-range chickens than on conventionally raised ones. Many other organic foods also pose higher salmonella risks than ‘supermarket’ foods. To be sure, most strains of salmonella are mild and are easily killed by cooking one’s food adequately. But the new salmonella, S. typhimurium, is far stronger than other varieties. Infection often proves fatal.   . . .
     “As if that were not frightening enough, organic and ‘natural’ food consumers also face increased risk of illness from toxins produced by fungi — and some of these toxins are carcinogenic. Refusing to use artificial pesticides, organic farmers allow their crop fields to suffer more damage from insects and rodents, which creates openings through which fungi can enter the fruits and seeds. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regularly tests samples of various foods for such dangers, and it routinely finds high levels of these natural toxins in organically grown produce. It found, for instance, that organic crops have higher rates of infestation by aflatoxin, one of the most virulent carcinogens known to man.   . . .
      - - -
     “. . . advocates of organic farming like to ask, ‘What’s more dangerous, pesticides or horse manure?’ The answer may surprise them. Researchers are still looking for the first human death from pesticide residues, fifty years after DDT was introduced and thirty years after its use was banned in the United States, but manure is apparently claiming lives almost daily through bacterial contamination of organic food.” (Ref. 8)

    Unfortunately, for the less affluent of the world, organic farming results in costlier food, lower crop yields, and higher risks of illness, without any apparent commensurate health benefits. But for the more fortunate and well-off Green lobby nature lovers here in America, they can tout the imagined benefits of a return to the simpler good old days of yesteryear when everything was “natural”.

     In general, extremism anywhere is usually bad news and this is true when it comes to the subject of organic farming and GMOs. “Antiprogress extremists never let the truth stand in the way of their goal to turn back the clock to a time when malnutrition and outright famine were the norm. Their relentless assault on genetically modified crops of organisms . . . is an ongoing example of their destructive, fact-free approach. One shudders to think of the global misery that would have ensued had these forces been around in the 1960s, when Norman Borlaug spearheaded the breakthroughs dubbed the Green Revolution, which enormously increased crop yields, particularly in India. There and elsewhere more than a billion lives were saved, people who would otherwise have been lost to hunger. Borlaug won the Nobel Prize for his efforts. Today he’d be attacked as an antinature technomonster.
     “Another instance of this antitechnology mind-set is the hullabaloo over honeybees. Extremist environmentalists have been making stinging statements that honeybees, which pollinate our crops and flowers are in dire danger, that hive health is declining, as are the honeybee populations. This, shout the alarmists, requires government action, specifically banning a class of agrochemicals called neonicotinoids. As happens all too often in this Luddite age, these pesticides are actually a great advance because they help increase agricultural output, a necessity as world populations grow and people achieve higher standards of living. Nor are they harmful to humans or honeybees. [Emphasis mine]
    - - -
     “. . . The greatest threat to {honeybees} is big government. [Emphasis mine]
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     “. . . Over the past half-century honeybee populations have increased nicely around the world. ‘American and European commercial hives have decreased largely because honey production moved to other nations, where the number of hives has grown substantially.’  - - - ‘There is no pattern associated with neonicotinoid use and hive health issues.’  - - - ‘In many places where these chemicals are used widely, such as in Australia, hives are doing fine.’ “(Ref. 9)

     The argument against genetically modified organisms is specious. Man has been genetically modifying plants and animals for countless thousands of years. “Farmers and plant breeders have been selecting and hybridizing plants to enhance their desirable characteristics for millennia. Corn has been drastically modified by selective breeding. Tomatoes and wheat and innumerable other plant foods have similar histories.“(Ref. 9) Nearly all our domesticated animals have been genetically modified by selective breeding. This includes cats, dogs, cows, chickens, sheep, goats, pigs and others. Virtually all the food we consume comes from organisms that have been genetically modified in some way.

     “What a weird world we live in these days, where ignorant but influential voices thwart the very things that can make life better, especially for the poor and undernourished.(Ref. 9)



  1. 13+ Things You Didn’t Know About Organic Food, Perri O. Blumberg, Reader’s digest, Accessed 20 May 2015.
  2. The Hypocrisy of Organic Farmers, Bob Goldberg, AgBioWorld, 5 June 2000.
  3. No Health Benefits from Organic Food, Steven Novella, Science-Based Medicine, 5 September 2012.
  4. Facts about Organic & Conventional Farming, Perri O. Blumberg, Feedstuffs Food Link, 7 January 2015.
  5. The Biggest Myth About Organic Farming, Ross Pomeroy, Real Clear Science, 6 June 2014.
  6. The cost of organic food, Consumer Reports, 19 March 2014.
  7. Will Organic Food Fail to Feed the World?, David Biello, Scientific American, 25 April 2012.
  8. The Hidden Dangers In Organic Food, Dennis T. Avery, Center for Global Food Issues, Accessed 20 May 2015.
  9. Unfounded Frankenfood Fears, Steve Forbes, Forbes, Pages 13-14, 25 May 2015.

  31 May 2015 {Article 222; Whatever_41 }    
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