If Wikipedia is to be believed, less than 10% of organic farmers use pesticides and when they do it is often in concert with other strategies. I feel like the rise of organic as a narrative/lifestyle/ideology has been hastened by the rise of genetically modified crops in the conventional realm. It’s also highly ironic that Bt pesticides are in the toolkit for organic farming but decried when used as part of genetic modification.
There are some potential positives to organic farming but I agree it’s been far inflated beyond just farming production methods. Companies are advertising “organic” vitamins now and it’s gotten to the point where the average consumer sometimes forgets that it does really just refer to a set of farming practices. Looking at the marketing through the lens of semiotics, it’s clear the organic brand is supposed to embody a “safe”, “natural” and “pure” harbour in the face of tainted conventional practices.
Organic farming does offer some methods with solid environmental benefits, but the history of organic farming is deeply intertwined with pseudoscience and woo, and too often the term “organic” is an umbrella term used to mask even less evidence based systems such as “Biodynamic Farming” (the agricultural soul mate to alt med).
Ultimately though I think the authors of the report hit the nail on the head. In marketing organic foods it’s proponents quickly realized that there would be limited success if they simply stuck with the environmental claims. Fear sells. “Your food is covered in harmful pesticides” is a far better motivator than “fertilizer run off is contributing to a dead zone in the gulf of mexico”. This problem only grows larger when you factor in the premium pricing of organic products. I personally suspect that the misinformation is not one of pure evil and greed, so much as it is a more complex mix of confirmation bias, dogma, and desperation of “the ends justify the means” (and yes maybe some greed as well. Organic has become a very profitable business model).
I just finished Pam Ronald’s book “Tomorrow’s Table”. She wrote the book with her husband who runs the organic farm at UC Davis, and so a small number of chapters in the book discuss organic farming specifically. After finishing it I’ve come to the conclusion that while organic farming has brought some good things to the table in the form of promoting more sustainable agriculture (and it is hard to deny that the Organic Movement has played a major role in raising awareness of environmental and agricultural issues), it’s restrictions are just far too arbitrarily chosen to be an effective environmental tool. As Dr. Novella correctly points out these same arbitrary-all-natural restrictions are now being used to place roadblocks in front of potentially effective tools that could help solve these issues. Rather than label and demonize GMOs we would be far better off nurturing the tech to help solve environmental issues. Particularly since the simple reality is Biotech is a field that can motivate far more profit for both farmers and corporations, while providing consumers with cheaper food. This is simply not the hard sell that “Certified Organic” is.
In this way the Organic farming industry starts to hurt the very causes it set out to solve. The rigid dogma protects itself at all costs, forgetting the causes for which it was first developed.
Ekko – I decided to briefly look into that 10% figure. First, in the wikipedia article they are referring to insecticides specifically, excluding herbicides and fungicides, and in following the citation trail… the wikipedia entry cites a 2002 article titled “Organic Agriculture.” This article is an overview by Donald Lotter of the Rodale Institute, which is basically an organic agriculture advocacy group. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it does not read like a balanced paper, and that isn’t even the source of the figure.
The 10% statement in that paper cites a 1999 survey of organic farmers called “The third biennial National Organic Farmers’ Survey.” Keep in mind that this data is at least 2 years before the USDA even standardized the organic label, and 3 years before it went into effect. So we have data from 15 years ago from a survey about an industry that has changed considerably since that time. For me, what the industry reports that they do is less important than the bottom line – are those products made safer by having the arbitrary preference for nonsynthetic pesticides? I think my use of the term arbitrary gives a clue to what I think about that.
Hi Steve, I like linking to your posts elsewhere. I realized I didn’t know what the “A” in “AGW” stood for–I assumed it was something-Global-Warming). For readers that don’t frequent your blog, would you mind spelling out acronyms/initialisms the first time they’re used?
Thanks ccbowers – definitely sounds like that factoid could use an update then.
There is a 2008 survey on the USDA website of organic farm practices but it only uses “Practiced
biological pest management” as an endpoint that could cover pesticides (I’m not sure if there are other practices besides pesticide use that would go in there) and the survey only lists positive responders so I don’t know what % of the total they would be. http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Organics/organics_1_32.pdf
I’m not aware of any GMO advocates who believe that they are the be-all end-all panacea. The advocates I’ve ever known have always maintained that it’s one tool in the agricultural kit, among many. Also, the sustainable farming that organic touts isn’t lost on most conventional farmers as they want to strive for the future as well, meaning that it would be in their best interest to use methods that are the most productive and at the same time the least destructive (at least in terms of how it would affect them economically). I don’t think any GMO advocate disagrees with sustainable methods that are the most environmentally friendly.
What I do think the actual false dichotomy is is GMO vs. Organic. Their goals aren’t always diametrically opposed, the only true difference is that USDA Organic is supposed to be mostly GMO-free. There really is little difference between conventional farming and the use of GMOs, except in specific details such as the kind of pesticide used, or whatever trait is being leveraged with the particular GM seed.
The loudest voices we here from pro-GMO is that of defending the science and against misinformation. Most GMO advocates spend more time debunking myths and correcting factual inaccuracies than actually promoting GMOs themselves. In my estimation, that’s skepticism at work. What does get to GMO advocates is the suggestion that GMOs should not be used, period, for no good reason that’s ever given, and this would limit a highly useful resource. Why do that? Plus, we don’t like it when the science is mangled and bastardized.
So, the issue of organic vs. GMO is something the organic industry has made up in concert with environmentalist and food purists. In reality, the efficacy of organic production and the truth claims of its proponents are different arguments to that of GMOs. The thing is, the organic industry and other proponents try to make organic out to be the “healthy” alternative to GMOs, when it’s really comparing apples and oranges (no pun intended).
I absolutely agree with this blog post, though, in that the organic label is almost entirely based on fallacious reasoning, factual errors, weak science, and pseudoscience. I have yet to see any real benefits to organic. In some ways, its heart is in the right place with the desire to practice maximum sustainability and environmental friendliness, but it gets those things wrong in nearly every regard. Plus, it forms the erroneous conclusion that anyone who questions claims made by organic producers as well as is for the utilization of ALL modern farming tools, technologies, and techniques, is necessarily against, or just doesn’t care about, sustainability and environmental impact. Like many pseudoscientific proponents, they are setting up an emotionally charged “us versus them” argument that is based on falsehoods and fallacious reasoning.
I was once associated with the organic movement. I worked at an organic farm for four years, fancied myself an organic gardener…without really looking too deeply into what it really meant.
I spent a weekend at The Common Ground Fair in Maine helping a vendor back in 2002. Perusing the other booths, I found it to be a real alt/med, woo-woo dumping ground. Reiki, reflexology, homeopathy, herbal “remedies,” you name it, it was all there. That was clue number one.
Clue number two was reading Bob Carroll’s entry on organic food/farming in his Skeptics Dictionary. I was shocked, I tell you! I never bought the more healthy/safer line, but I was convinced organic was the “sustainable” way to go in a post-oil world… …but what exactly does sustainable mean?
In April of 2010, I found myself as an employee of an organic farm attending a workshop on how to properly apply organic pesticides… …I needed to be trained just like those awful “conventional” farmers.
Anyone smell cognitive dissonance?
Reading and researching the organic movement, I’m now more apt to view “organic” as an identity rather than as a set of farming techniques, and I’ve written extensively of my disillusionment with the whole thing:
A question – did the fear about toxins grow out of organic food or did organic food grow out of the fear about toxins? I was still pretty young in 2001, so I don’t remember much useful about the narratives that were flying back and forth back then.
MikeB – I wonder if you could help me out with some cognitive dissonance of my own. I’m a skeptic. I understand false dichotomy, the logical fallacies, and even some of the non-environmentally friendly aspects of organic farming. But … and this could be for any number of reasons…. certain organic vegetables do taste, look, and smell better than their conventional counterparts (includes fresh/frozen). I’ve reasoned this could be for a number of reasons: Of labels I’ve purchased: 1. the conventional products have been on the shelf longer, so the organic, on average are fresher because of shipping/stocking/buying/selling practices of the vendor from whom I purchase; 2. total confirmation bias, I’m paying more, it has the label, I’m shelling out cash to change how I perceive the item in my forebrain, which changes how I perceive the item in my olfactory center & visual comparisons; 3. Organic foods have less water, so the nutrients and flavonoids are more concentrated, therefore more colorful/flavorful; 4. Organic foods require more water, more nutrients, longer growing periods, so they accumulate nutrients, minerals, etc. over longer period of time; 5. Conventional foods are chemically fertilized so don’t have any of the characteristics of the “natural” soil/air/water that would surround them (like how a single malt scotch gets the salt / oak / earth / mushroom flavor based on where/how/when it was aged). …… I dunno … are all vegetables the same? Am I completely fooling myself? Seriously … grandpa’s tomatoes are WAY better than store-bought; and organic ketchup is (seems) better than conventional.
Aside from a few minor differences within specific cultivars, in all likelihood taste differences will result from consuming different cultivars of the same plant. Tomatoes, for instance, vary quite differently between Early Girl and Beef, in both taste and texture, and these are a mere two examples out of thousands of different cultivars.
Also, it’s possible for tomatoes of the same cultivar to vary in taste and freshness depending on growing conditions, but typically not by much.
Penn and Teller do a decent BS episode on organic where they offer organic versus conventionally grown produce for blind taste testing at a farmer’s market, with entertaining results. Not scientific, but informs nonetheless.
etatro, honestly, I don’t know how it could possibly be true. Was the “organic” produce simply fresher? Put an “organic” label on anything and people will think they can tell the difference.
As for “chemical fertilizer”: that’s a pejorative phrase. I understand that plants reduce the inputs–whether “natural” or “chemical”–to their elements anyway, so a plant can’t possibly tell the difference between whether the element is coming from manure or a bag of 10-10-10.
And what is “conventional produce”? What is “conventional farming”? It’s a straw man, that’s what. Like the terms “gentile,” or “infidel,” or “pagan,” “conventional” is yet another pejorative term that simply means “those who are not one of Us [organic].”
By the way–Barbara Kucinich, in conjunction with the Holy Sanctuary of Chipotle Restaurant, is pushing a “link” between pesticides use and Parkinson’s disease. I wonder if anyone can comment on that. Sometimes I hate being a lay person:
Kudos for asking your question – you are indeed a good skeptic.
Grandpa’s tomatoes versus store bought is not at all about organic versus conventional farming. It’s about freshness, shipping, and tomato variety. Imagine Grandpa divided his tomato patch in half. On one side he used standard 10-10-10 fertilizer, Round-up on weeds, and an application of Terminix for hornworms. On the other half he uses cow manure, hand weeding and hand picks the worms. All other things being equal, do you think the tomatoes would taste differently? Would you be more concerned about pesticide residue on your tomatoes, or about bacteria from cow manure?
I dunno … are all vegetables the same? Am I completely fooling myself? Seriously … grandpa’s tomatoes are WAY better than store-bought; and organic ketchup is (seems) better than conventional.
We don’t know the reasons for our likes and dislikes, and even when there is, scientifically speaking, no difference between organic and non-organic food, there is nothing wrong with preferring one thing over another. It’s OK to prefer raspberries over strawberries, or vice-versa.
The problems start with the rationalizations our brains engage in when confronted (at the conscious level) with our actions. Somehow, “I like it better” is not acceptable as a reason, and we proceed to invent “real” reasons. The more zealous (and the less scrupulous) segue into wanting to impose their rationalizations on others, with force if necessary. This is compounded by our social nature, which causes us to adopt the beliefs (and manners, habits etc) of the people we live with. This process modifies our memories, and we end up re-creating our lives to be in line with our current belief system (so we really remember feeling less healthy and vigorous before that change in diet). Human memory is not a rigorous reference, but a survival tool — if we need fixed-up memories to integrate in a new group, they will be fixed up.
No need to feel bad though. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Etatro – My understanding is that it is mostly about cultivar. Mass produced produce has been optimized for shipping, shelf life, and shelf appeal, at the expense of taste.
When you buy local you are likely to be getting heirloom varieties that are better tasting, but are not suitable for shipping or long storage.
When you control for variety, taste tests show no difference in organic vs conventional.
The good news is that plant breeders (including GM) are creating new heirloom varieties and are working on improving the taste and nutritional value of varieties used for shipping. This derives mainly from research into which genes have what affects on the produce’s characteristics.
Sustainable agriculture is the key. Without it we’re doomed as a species. We (as in people other than myself) should create a sustainability accreditation process, kind of like they’ve done for forestry products. Imo, it should be completely separated out from organic accreditation.
“When you buy local you are likely to be getting heirloom varieties that are better tasting, but are not suitable for shipping or long storage.”
Using the example of tomatoes, it’s true that heirloom varieties tend to be softer and irregularly shaped, which is problematic for shipping, but there are other considerations with climacteric fruits. Climacteric fruits (i.e those that undergo a specific ripening process utilizing ethylene) such as tomatoes, apricots, bananas, apples, pears, etc, are usually picked prior to full ripening, which aids in shipping since the fruit has not softened. Once reaching its destination, ethylene is used to finish the ripening, but this process is compromised somewhat since the fruit has already been picked. This can impact the flavor, so that you end up with a good looking fruits that tastes only OK.
I came across an NPR article in which they described how appearance preferences of uniformity decades ago lead to a compromise in flavor. On a positive note, this appears to be reversible without too much difficulty:
I’m thinking much of your experience is confirmation bias, but it is very possible that in your area you have an organic supplier that has good produce. I have noticed differences in other organic products like ketchup or other prepared products, In these cases the manufacturers are attempting to distinguish their products in order to further justify the higher cost for consumers. Sometimes I’ve found this to be better, but not always nor even usually. I tend to go back to products I like the taste better regardless of organic label.
You are mostly right, climacteric fruits ripen after harvest, but they don’t always require an external source of ethylene.
For instance, peach, like apricot, is a climacteric fruit; as long as it is picked fully mature, it will produce it’s own ethylene and soften to eating ripe all by itself. Best to ripen peaches and apricots at room temperature. Once fully ripe and ready to eat, eat it or put it in the Fridge for the next day, but not later than that. Put them in an open-top brown bag if you want to hasten the process by keeping more naturally evolved ethylene around the fruit.
Grapes, on the other hand, are non-climacteric; they are harvested fully ripe and don’t get any better than the day they were picked. Ditto for citrus, but with a twist. The flesh of an orange may be ready to eat even though the skin has a bit of green in it. Soon after harvest, oranges may be gassed with ethylene in degreening rooms to make them more attractive, but they are still a non-climacteric fruit.
Sustainable agriculture is the key. Without it we’re doomed as a species.
Sustainable implies for a certain population. Unless we can no longer grow any food, the result of a decrease in food production will be a commensurate decrease in population. The survival of the species is not the problem, it’s the untimely demise of a (potentially very large) number of humans, and how this will be “managed”.
I’m glad to get a little more perspective on cultivars and the selective pressures the market put on the crops. I’m also glad that it’s been pointed out that subjective preferences are a big factor on the issue of taste, since I’ve rolled my eyes on occasion when some organic fan speaks of better taste as if it were objective. It’s got something of a hipster tone, as if people only liked mainstream stuff because they don’t know about their objectively superior obscure niche.
“You are mostly right, climacteric fruits ripen after harvest, but they don’t always require an external source of ethylene.”
I didn’t mean to imply otherwise- I realize that etheylene (ethene) is a hormone that is within the cells of the plant and are not always externally added, but external sources are used with certain fruits like tomatoes. Actually I meant to discuss tomatoes specifically then added other fruits as examples. The point of bringing it up was to mention how flavor can be compromised by having to pick those fruits early, which is a somewhat separate issue from what was being discussed above- the specific cultivars used today versus heirloom varieties.
I realize that each fruit is handled somewhat differently depending on their individual characteristics. Apples seem odd to me, because they are a climacteric fruit that don’t seem to change much, or improve in flavor or texture once picked. I assume that it is probably due to their very slow ripening/aging after being picked, or that the ripening/aging that does occur is not viewed as necessarily desirable.
I actually read through the referenced paper! My take away from their analysis is to ask “Why is there USDA Organic Labeling in the first place?” Why bother if its all a marketing scam? They spend
the whole paper debunking organic foods from many angles. The ultimate answer according to this
paper is its all smoke and mirrors in an effort to suck in the segment of Eco/Health centered
consumers. They infer collusion amongst the the organic health hucksters marketing claims. “This use of the USDA Organic Seal to convey superior food nutrition, safety or quality attributes of organic over conventional foods contradicts both the stated USDA intention for the National Organic
Standards Program and the extensive body of published academic research which show conventional foods to be as safe and nutritious as higher priced organic products.” Again why does the USDA offer organic labeling?
They cast the commercial foods industry as being overrun by the flood of organic food propaganda
confusing the marketplace. The last paragraph of their analysis states “These combined marketing
and advocacy expenditures disparaging conventional food health and safety by organic food marketers can be estimated to be in the billions of dollars annually. However it would be interesting to see what would happen if a corresponding product disparagement campaign by conventional food industry competitors was run. It is likely any similar types of disparagement marketing and use of false or misleading health claims to increase conventional sales would result in condemning media headlines and editorials, mass tort litigation and congressional hearings.”
This statement is directly refuted by examining the The California (Prop 37) and Washington (522)
state propositions to label GMO products. In both states a Yes vote was in favor of labeling. Both were defeated.
“The Yes on 522 campaign has raised almost $5.6 million from organic consumer groups, anti-GMO
groups, alternative health firms and organics companies such as Nutiva, Natures Path Foods and
Annie’s Inc. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps tops the list with $1.8 million in contributions to Yes on
California Organic Principles are aligned with this statement from Steven’s post:
“Rather, it would be better to evaluate each farming practice on the evidence and the outcomes it
produces, regardless of whether or not it fits a naturalistic narrative. Some practices considered
“organic” are really just good sustainable practices, such as avoiding monoculture, crop rotation, and using cover crops. The evidence suggests these are good practices, whether or not they are part of achieving an “organic” label or not.”
California Organic Principles state:
Organic standards promote and enhance biodiversity, biologicalcycles, and soil fertility while
restoring, maintaining, and enhancing ecological harmony. The legacy of organic will be in catalyzing healthy, sustainable, and humane production systems. CCOF believes that organic standards should continually evolve to address a broadening range of issues, including:
These principles subvert the strawman argument of creating a equivalency between organic and commercial foods. Obviously how organic farming is practiced varies greatly from CAFO and other commercial practices.
More simply commercial food operations do not care about these principles. They care about profits.
My last point is this!
Counter argument to the Appeal to Nature/Natural Fallacy argument:
A thousand millenia ago there was nothing but appeal to nature.
The appeal to nature/natural fallacy misstep referenced in this post (and others) did not and could not have existed.
In our primordial past all food was natural.
Our genetic code was built from interacting with the natural environment.
Human beings are optimized for the natural environment and foods from it.
A fossil fuel based existence was not a factor in our base line genetic blueprint.
By dismissing appeals to nature as a fallacy we are rejecting the very evolutionary process that
makes us who we are.
Granting equivalency to commercially manufactured foods and associated ingredients is the real fallacy.
Lets call it the Industrial Food Fallacy. (I am open to alternate name suggestions)
Therefore appeals to nature/Natural Fallacy is ARE a valid point when discussing the merits of commercial and organic foods. To deny the natural fallacy in regards to food/environmental health is to deny our evolutionary past.
Here are some studies and articles about other studies that offer evidence to the contrary about
organics and their nutrient density as well as other issues surrounding organic foods. Good ahead
and laugh at my references! I don’t mind!
@Teaser – “This statement is directly refuted by examining the The California (Prop 37) and Washington (522) state propositions to label GMO products.”
This in no way refutes, or even challenges, the statement you quoted. In the statement it was claimed that organic marketing is disparaging the health and safety of their competitors products. Evoking fear with claims that are not backed up by science or evidence. As a result of such non-evidence based fear-mongering state propositions were initiated to enact non-science based mandatory labeling requirements. The organic promoters then spent millions to support and promote a labeling requirement that would harm their competition. Shockingly the groups that would be affected by such a non-evidence based labeling requirement spent money to counteract the misinformation being spread by the organic promoters. And the reality is that takes far more time and money to counteract fear-based lies once they have spread.
Second, you seem to have no understanding of what the appeal to nature fallacy is. Steve, did not mention that fallacy, but the closely related naturalistic fallacy (which I don’t think you understand either based on your post).
Organic producers knew from the start that the reasons consumers bought organic was because of perceptions related to nutrition and safety. They had tried to establish a set of standards at the state level beginning in Oregon in 1973. There was too much variability among those standards and that was harming the organic “brand” by confusing consumers, so the organic industry petitioned Congress to draft federal legislation.
In turn, Congress agreed that inconsistent labeling in the marketplace was leading to consumer confusion, and they were also concerns that, since organic products were being sold at premium prices, there was an incentive for misrepresentation. The Organic Food Protection Act was passed in 1990.
From a business point of view, this also served the interests of organic producers. Businesses spend a great deal of resources in trying to distinguish themselves from among the competition and establish brand recognition. By establishing the USDA Organic label, Congress helped the organic industry as a whole do just that. However, OFPA standards only address production methods, not the quality of the end product. In making quality claims, the organic industry is essentially misrepresenting that label.
When the final rule was written in 2000, the Secretary of Agriculture made a point to say that the label meant nothing in terms of food safety or nutrition, but the organic industry knew a good thing when they saw it. Congress had saved them a bunch of money by establishing brand recognition for them and the organic industry could make just about any claim they wanted knowing full well consumers would associate whatever they said with the USDA Organic label.
“The fallacy here is the same as in some other areas, like alternative medicine – things that are “natural” are presumed safe and superior, and therefore don’t have to be studied. This is nothing more than the naturalistic fallacy.”
The persistent drumbeat on this blog is Organic foods = pseudoscience and Commercial foods = science.
Arguing organic foods are closer to nature and therefore more healthful always invokes the natural fallacy. I get that it’s a value statement and not a fact.
My stance is that there IS a baseline for quality unadulterated natural food. We could call this our primordial food. Primordial food is the food consumed over the countless millennia our genetic makeup was codified. This is a axiomatic position. All primordial food sources could be classified as organic. Since Commercial foods did not exist at this primordial time one cannot claim equivalency to primordial food (or their modern analogs). We dismiss our genetic foundation when invoking the Natural Fallacy/Appeal to nature in regards to organic foods. There is an actual dietary baseline in this case and it is backed by our evolution as a species. Our very presence and structure is the proof.
Modern commercial foods have been present in our diets from roughly the early 1900’s. That is but a blip compared to the length of time human beings have consumed primordial foods. It could be argued that cultivated grains were the first commercial food. Their appearance was 10,000 years ago.
We could debate that most modern organic foods are not equivalent to the primordial foods. Organic foods are way closer than commercially processed foods in methodology and intent. As discussed there is nutritional and toxicity variance based on certain circumstances. I would certainly agree there are “organic” branded junk foods. All organic foods are not created equal – Caveat Emptor.
Money spent by Organic Food Marketers:
“These combined marketing and advocacy expenditures disparaging conventional food health and safety by organic food marketers can be estimated to be in the billions of dollars annually. However it would be interesting to see what would happen if a corresponding product disparagement campaign by conventional food industry competitors was run.”
The money spent in these two proposition battles answers the exact scenario they wonder about in the section I cited. The dollars spent in these elections shows that it is the Commercial Food industry spending the most to push maintain. If the authors of the paper projections were correct the Organic Food disinformation factions would’ve been the big spenders (billions). That didn’t happen. The sly Organic cabal had TWO chances to flaunt their pseudoscience and they were unequivocally outspent each time. If you dig deeper into the pre-election polling you can see when the Commercial Food industry really kicked in with their massive money fueled ad campaign the polls quickly turned from pro-labeling to anti-labeling. Of course the anti-labeling ads were not science based ads they were emotional appeals. Money and emotional appeals won the campaigns, not science.
There are plenty of scientists on both sides of the GMO debate. Arguing that Commercial Food producers represent science and Organic food producers are promoting pseudoscience is an appeal to authority and therefore a logical fallacy.
I partially concede your point regarding “ORGANIC FARMING IS NOT NATURAL” in the last paragraph in my first section:
“We could debate that most modern organic foods are not equivalent to the primordial foods. Organic foods are way closer than commercially processed foods in methodology and intent. As discussed there is nutritional and toxicity variance based on certain circumstances. I would certainly agree there are “organic” branded junk foods. All organic foods are not created equal – Caveat Emptor.”
Since you reject my premise on the grounds that my “argument is just stupid” I cannot answer your question “And what’s wrong with Cheetos and diet Coke, as long as that’s not all you’re eating?” without falling into the natural fallacy response.
The persistent drumbeat on this blog is Organic foods = pseudoscience and Commercial foods = science.
I disagree with that observation, at least as it applies to the blog’s author, not its commentators. My take is that Dr. Novella argues there is no clear scientific consensus that supports the conclusion that organic produce is better for your health and nutrition. It’s not that “organic foods = pseudoscience”, it’s that many of the arguments made in support of organic produce are based on pseudoscience. The naturalistic fallacy is invoked when one claims that something is better just because it occurs naturally in the environment absent any evidence to support the claim that there is a difference.
What often follows is an argument from ignorance: “It just makes sense that humans are better adapted to tolerate that which occurs naturally in the environment, so if we don’t have evidence, we must assume that natural stuff is less likely to cause insult.” What if good research reveals no evidence of a difference between natural and synthetic compounds? The argument from ignorance will contend that because the null hypothesis has not been proven false, one must assume that there is a difference.
Exactly where do you all get the Kool Aid for this site? Monsanto?
I happened on this site and noticed this article, but sites like this don’t offer any real balance to the content and they attract me-too supporters that are incapable of logical thinking.
Certainly I could debate so much here, but it would be fruitless (as in GMO fruitless).
Enjoy your monsanto food. Pollute the world. Kill off wildlife and support the pharmaceutical industry. Nothing can be right in your minds unless a corrupt government backs it and big business gets rich on it. Everything else is wrong isn’t it?
“More simply organic food operations do not care about these principles. They care about profits.”
I fixed that statement for you, it was misleading the way you put it.
“A thousand millenia ago there was nothing but appeal to nature.”
I love this argument from natural and healthy living proponents. Why might you ask Teaser? Ask yourself this…at the same time your referencing, what was the average lifespan for those people again?
“Human beings are optimized for the natural environment and foods from it.”
Not only are humans not optimized for much of anything except possibly tool use our bodies adapted to taking in certain nutrients and vitamins regardless of the source.
“The persistent drumbeat on this blog is Organic foods = pseudoscience and Commercial foods = science.”
That’s incorrect, the persistent drumbeat is useful science and evidence, period. If there were reasonable and legitimate arguments for Organic farming then it could, and would be taken more seriously. Your argument is exactly why most of us don’t take organic farming seriously.
“It is a fact that we did not evolve eating cheetos washed down with diet soda.”
We did not evolve eating bananas or strawberries either.
Regarding one of the comments above about being “optimized to nature”…
Optimization is not a concept scientists would use in regards to evolution, am I right on this?
My understanding was that evolution through natural selection provides kludgy, good-enough, slap-dash engineering solutions that in no way should be considered optimal, perfect, ideal, or any other such term.
There are many examples of sub-optimal solutions in evolved systems. The vertebrate eye with its blind spot is a good example, as is the laryngeal nerve in giraffes. There are many examples of vestigial organs (e.g. the appendix, coccyx and male nipples), which would not be retained in optimal solutions.
“There is an actual dietary baseline in this case and it is backed by our evolution as a species. Our very presence and structure is the proof.”
The appeal to nature becomes a fallacy when it is not backed up by data and plausibility. In fact, even when our evolutionary history is relevant, you still need the data to support its relevance, so you can remove the appeal to nature as completely unnecessary to support the argument.
The diet of humans as a species has been highly varied over time (both seasonally and over longer periods, and vary a great deal goegraphically) so appealing to this history gives us very little to no information. We have not evolved to maximize our health or extend our lives in every one of these senarios, because there is a balance of needing to be sufficiently flexible (especially as omnivores) to do well with a variety of diets over time… from having an overabundance of many foods, to having a sufficient supply of a few foods, to periods of very little/no food.
‘The Other John Mc’s’ point is correct about evolution not being an optimization process is a good one…not only are there evolutionary contraints, but organisms to not evolve in stagnant environments, so something like our diets have no one diet to optimize to. For those organisms that do specialize, there is a cost to such specialization…but we are getting off topic.
Really, the only way to evaluate specific claims are to test them, not to appeal to a romanticized past that never was.
“Enjoy your monsanto food. Pollute the world. Kill off wildlife and support the pharmaceutical industry. Nothing can be right in your minds unless a corrupt government backs it and big business gets rich on it. Everything else is wrong isn’t it?”
syakoban- Do you have any arguments, or is it about name calling, and creating false arguments? It is impossible to engage a reasonable argument with a person very ideologically committed, as your post indicates. Your accusation are a collection of barely tangentially related topics, and read like a rant of a person who hasn’t thought things through. Come back when you can actually engage in a productive discussion.
The biggest annoyance I have with trolls like syakoban is that they don’t even acknowledge our actual positions on the issue. They just regurgitate the usual black and white melodrama because two exactly opposite sides is easy on their poor, limited imaginations.
Recently engaged someone on another blog about glyphosate and GMO. Asked for best evidence and actually received a number of citations. Only problem was, without exception, they were improperly designed experiments with obvious biases and the conclusions made by the authors were not supported by the results. So I pointed that out, and of course, my critical review was seen as bias, and the anti-GMO commentator’s contention that I had taken the Monsanto Kool-Aid was only strengthened.
I bet that Syakoban would fail the what-would-it-take-to-change-your-mind test, so I doubt he would have anything to contribute of any substance.
“Which is the better light source – The sun or a lightbulb?”
Not to derail, but I’ve been a lighting designer for almost 20 years now, and I really hate it when people assume that sunlight is the “best” light source. Best for what? There are plenty of situations where the preference is to avoid sunlight. Simple rhetoric like this is generally a red flag that a poorly reasoned argument is about to follow.
More on topic: I’ve started to feel like we need a new informal fallacy, or at the very least a sub-category of the naturalistic fallacy.
“We evolved to do X therefore we should continue to do X”.
“We evolved in X environment therefore X environment is ideal for us.”
“We evolved X feature therefore X feature is optimized.”
I realize this is technically the naturalistic fallacy, but it’s a very common version of it, and I see it slipped into arguments by people who should frankly know better. Evolution is not a stand in for “Mother Nature”, and our evolutionary history while informative to certain kinds of arguments should not dictate our current and future decisions.
“Few researchers would disagree that a gene-environment mismatch is at the root of the modern obesity epidemic, and therefore that it is valuable to understand where our species came from in our effort to combat obesity. ”
“I’ll note here that the idea of a gene-environment mismatch is the foundation of the ancestral health concept. Although it has become fashionable in some academic circles to criticize the ancestral health/Paleo community for “idealizing the past”, being unscientific, etc., in reality this fundamental concept is widely accepted and cited in the biomedical literature (as shown above and below). Few researchers would disagree that a gene-environment mismatch is at the root of the modern obesity epidemic, and therefore that it is valuable to understand where our species came from in our effort to combat obesity. Although some of the critiques of the ancestral health community are legitimate, they often reek of academic snobbery and ingroup identity reinforcement. The fundamental concept is sound and already widely accepted, so why not cooperate and try to refine it instead of ostentatiously rejecting the community attempting to advance it? ” http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-neurobiology-of-obesity-epidemic.html
“Few researchers would disagree that a gene-environment mismatch is at the root of the modern obesity epidemic”
Teaser – It looks like you read what I wrote above, and from that you should see why I feel this perspective does not add much. It’s not that I disagree with the above gene-mismatch quote, it’s just that you cannot extrapolate from that quote to conclude much at all. It does inform our observations to some degree, but you still need the best evidence available to make conclusions about how specific diets impact health.
Although there is often overlap, our current goals with respect to our health are not the same as selective pressures involved at various times in our evolution.
What do you think a gene-environment mismatch means?
Did you read the full blog post?
“The reasoning Dr. Rolls presents in his paper is why I frequently say that the obesity epidemic is due in large part to increased availability of calorie-dense, highly palatable and rewarding foods. This statement neatly summarizes some of the main factors that influence food intake: food accessibility, calorie density, food variety, palatability, and reward.”
Yes, the relative ease in which calorically dense foods are available in many countries is likely a huge contributor to the rise in obesity, but… what does this have to do with the labeling of organic food, and it’s criteria, or the naturalistic fallacy in general? I know the topic has shifted, and it may be confusing the discussion, but I’m not sure what point is being made. The change in environment (e.g. the availability of calorically rich foods) is certainly the big factor, but in this case our goal would be to reduce the caloric intake in order to counter the rise in obesity. That still doesn’t tell us the best way to do that, which requires the testing of different strategies.
Perusing your link I would sum it up as: We evolved to prefer high calorie foods in an environment where food was limited and now we still prefer high calorie foods in an environment where high calorie foods are abundant and easily attainable. What is changed is not humans but the environment.
What I fail to see is how this is 1) inconsistent with my comments, and 2) how it backs up the health claims regarding organic food?
If anything the organic food proponents make this problem far worse. We need to find ways to get people to eat more apples. Not demonize the cheap available conventionally grown apples and offer in their place the more expensive hard to find apples.
Reducing availability, variety and palatability of food is not an answer. All you do is make it harder for people of limited incomes while allowing the wealthy to continue to do what ever they want. This is why I find the people who shrug off the concerns about food prices when discussing GMO labeling to be extremely offensive. They are rarely people who understand the consequences of an increased food bill on someone who is barely getting by.
Likewise pushing diets such as paleo or atkins or what have you has proven to fail. Not because those diets don’t work if you stick to them. They do. But because the vast majority of people cannot stick to them, and the study you just referenced is actually touching on just that.
Now I’m finally going to link to the article that I dropped in to share here (but I got distracted by the conversation). I generally hate list articles but this one made me think of an idea I was kicking around in another thread here, where I compared some of the Food Babe’s antics to larger trends and wondered if we could describe it a a kind of “cultural eating disorder”.
This article takes a similar view point but instead references the various diet fads as “Food Cults”. Which I think is a very interesting take on the problem. It certainly touches on some of the issues where proponents proscribe a one-size-fits-all diet, and where the choice of diet is linked more to identity than any scientifically sound evidence.
I don’t think I’ve yet encountered a blog/forum with so many cerebral participants. I mean that sincerely.
To see them spend hours of their day picking-apart each others’ arguments in such excruciating detail, however, seems like a waste of brain power.
- I’ll see your argument and raise you an observation.
- Oh, yeah? Well, I’ll see your observation and raise you a fallacy!
In fact, in my opinion, some of the arguments seem quite silly.
- We didn’t evolve eating bananas or strawberries.
- Eat Cheetos and Diet Coke, as long as that’s not all you eat.
Yes, I’m taking some of the comments out-of-context and much too literally. I’m doing it try and illustrate a point. Step-away from the keyboard, walk outside, and take a few deep breaths.
It’s not that I don’t believe there shouldn’t be skepticism and critical thinking. Obviously, they are valuable, but to a point. But, where does it end? How far should we let ‘science’ inform our lives?
It reminds me of something written by Matt Stone in “12 Paleo Myths”:
“But it is reality. It is what happened to me. And what happened to me is a lot more meaningful to me personally than what any logic or study may have revealed. It doesn’t take a study to convince me that it hurts to get punched in the face. Likewise, a study that showed me that getting punched in the face doesn’t hurt … wouldn’t mean a damn thing to me.”
My point, if I even have one, is that science is limited. What’s true for one person may not be true for another. The FDA concluded that Aspartame is safe. As another commenter noted, in a different thread, Aspartame caused them blinding headaches. So, is it really safe? Safe for who?
Vioxx was safe, too. Except for the 55,000+ death toll. Whoops. (In 2005, researchers concluded that an estimated 88,000 to 140,000 excess cases of serious coronary heart disease probably occurred in the U.S., over the market life of Vioxx).
These things happen because science is limited in its abilities. I would state that scientists are limited, too–in addition to having biases.
So, if eating Cheetos and Diet Coke is working for you, then keep doing it. But, if it’s not working, maybe you should try another approach, regardless of what a study tells you. This is not limited to Cheetos and Diet Coke, of course. I’m sure you get the broader perspective.
“Yes, the relative ease in which calorically dense foods are available in many countries is likely a huge contributor to the rise in obesity, but… what does this have to do with the labeling of organic food, and it’s criteria, or the naturalistic fallacy in general?”
You overlooked Reward/palatability. In our modern diet reward/palatability are represented by items such as MSG, flavor enhancers, excessive sugar and salt. These are addictive substances that subvert satiety signals and create the desire for more. These flavor enhancers do not generally exist in a organically grown beet for example. See the graphic in his post. Combine excessive calories with food designed to be addictive and we are now back to looking at the merits of organic foods, despite some deceptive marketing claims. That is not exclusive though. We could easily say fruits and vegetables in general. (another discussion!)
I am not sure which comments you made so I can’t respond.
Organic food claims. My position is there is a rational basis to for wanting to eat as naturally produced food as possible based on our genetic composition. The work of people like Stephan Guyenet provide a scientific basis for the validity of that position. In the current marketplace some organic foods are marketed with false claims. But don’t let that stop you from dismissing the desire by some people to eat food that is as unprocessed as possible. The article you linked to seems to imply that paleo or whatever dismissive term you want to use, is a fad. Please write Mr Guyenet and see what he has to say about ancestral health being a fad.
Ancestral health is not a fad diet. Its eating in tune with your human physiology. Obviously easier said than done, but there is trail to follow and it leads away from commercially produced food and systems.
You don’t fill your gas tank with lacquer thinner to power your car. Why not? Because the engine wasn’t designed to run on lacquer thinner.
You wouldn’t water your garden with vinegar. Why? Vinegar kills plants.
Why then is it justified to dump any old garbage labeled “FOOD” into your body and expect a good result? Why not give your body and its dependent systems the best chance to optimize and thrive? Give your body the same consideration you give your car or your garden.
Organic foods may not always be what they are claimed to be but they are the better target to aim for. Its farmers market season now and I plan to visit often.
I readily admit that not all organic foods are created equal.
“You overlooked Reward/palatability. In our modern diet reward/palatability are represented by items such as MSG, flavor enhancers, excessive sugar and salt. These are addictive substances that subvert satiety signals and create the desire for more. These flavor enhancers do not generally exist in a organically grown beet for example.”
Here is where you go a little overboard. Using the term addictive is inappropriate (I know it is common to do so), but it is true that it is easier to make food more flavorful. There is nothing inherently wrong with doing so, but it does shift our possible choices towards eating more for pleasure. I think that having more bland food choices would help, but I also think that that is unreasonable and unrealistic as a primary strategy. IMO, this flavor issue becomes intertwined with the relative ease of obtaining high calorie foods, but you want to imply that there is something else wrong here, which I think goes beyond the evidence.
All of those vaguely cateogrized “flavor enhancers” are available in high concentrations among “natural” ingredients, and although they make food more palatable, that is not necessarily bad. Free glutamates (as in your MSG example) are found in high concentrations in foods such as kombu, and many fermented foods such as soy sauce, aged cheeses, and fermented beans used in cuisines around the world. I agree that it is too common to see excessive salt and sugar in prepared foods, and I am glad to see this trend reversing to some extent. The reason why this is done in inexpensive foods, is that adding salt and/or sugar is a cheap easy way to make food more desirable. There are definitely better ways to make food taste good, but they usually take more time or costs more, which is an obstacle for some. I think this is improving in the US, anyways as the number of choices increase.
But, framing this as ‘ancestral health,’ does not seem to add much, and does seem to lead to misconceptions by causing people to extrapolate improperly from this perspective. Being “in tuned with human physiology” can best be done through understanding the best clinical research and perhaps a basic understanding of physiology, but not by assuming that what we think our ancestors might have eaten 10,000 years ago is ideal.
As has already been mentioned in many other areas, there is no one ideal diet that we evolved to eat, as human evolution has happened over a long period of time with varying types and amounts of food, all over the world. The variability of what humans consume from different cultures over the world for even recent history is astounding, and add thousands of year on top of that makes meaningful extrapolation from this information very very limited.
Your paint thinner/car analogy is not apt. What is the paint thinner and what is the gasoline? Again, what does that have to do with organic food? You are conflating many topics, inappropriately
At least you picked up on the vinegar analogy. Try running your car on lacquer thinner sometime.
I led you to the trough but I can’t make you drink.
Our positions are obviously irreconcilable. I reject your assertions and of the blog entry on the basis that although I agree there are deceptive marketing practices in the organic food business. That should not be a deterrent or a reason to reject such food. There is clear scientific evidence that commercially processed foods conflict with our genetic structure. Left unresolved this genetic-environment mismatch induces disease states in the human body. (pets bodies too!) Your position is eat whatever you want as long as you do not exceed prescribed calorie limits. Food cannot cause of disease.
I will finish with two thoughts.
1- Scurvy and rickets are caused by nutrient deficiencies. We readily accept that a lack of a certain nutrient induces a disease state. You and most everybody on this blog reject the inverse of this condition. I submit food induced disease is a two street and not one way.
2- Response to your last paragraph: Research what happens to indigenous populations when they are assimilated into modern society and consume the foods of modern society. One well documented group are the Pima of the sonoran desert. This observation speaks to your idea that it is too hard to find dietary commonality amongst the ancient peoples. The commonality is their food was primordial. Once assimilated into modern society the rates of Type II diabetes, CVD, strokes, obesity soar amongst the indigenous people. These disease states were statistically negligible on their aboriginal diets.This pattern of transformation from health to ill health is repeated time and again wherever indigenous groups have been assimilated to modern society and the attendant diet.
The food you eat can cause disease. Scientists are defining the mechanism and extent of the disease process. Guyenet is just one of many. Don’t be distracted by the headlines. There is real information out there and you are missing it.
The links are here only as footnotes to my claims.
Our findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and -addicted individuals. We speculate that the addictive potential of intense sweetness results from an inborn hypersensitivity to sweet tastants. In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tastants.
You speak of dueling narratives but there is also an issue of how a question is framed.
Namely, whenever I see the organic vs conventional debate framed, especially in the “skeptics community” it is from the standpoint of consumer safety. What is rarely addressed, and what is on the minds of many consumers is the issue of farm worker safety. Many of the pesticides/herbicides/fungicides used on fruits, vegetables and grains carry very clear and giant labels warning of their hazards. Some are considered carcinogenic, some are strongly associated with neurological disorders or a higher percentage of birth defects.
If anyone doubts this you can check the MSDS’, available online by the manufacturers of these agents.
I haven’t even touched on the issue of pesticide, etc. runoff collecting in streams and rivers near farms, and their effects on wildlife.
If anyone thinks that all the farms that use these agents are equally scrupulous about the handling of them as per MSDS, they are living a fantasy equal to that depicted of the organic produce acolyte.
There are a number of studies done by the EPA that tackle the issue. At least one that I read states the frustration of trying to accurately and longitudinally study a group that consists largely of undocumented workers who often do not wish to participate and do not always stay in one place for long.
Also, “Organic” produce is not monolithic. The term may be standardized but different farms in different areas selling to different markets have different standards. So, while organic produce can be grown using equally toxic pesticides, herbicides etc. that does not mean that all organic farms use them.
And, even if they did, you still have the same issue of the health and safety of a vulnerable population who must endure prolonged exposure. So, again maybe the debate needs to be framed in a different light
All that being said, I admire your work and have been an avid listener and promoter of the SGU almost from it’s beginning. Thank you for your excellent work.
“These binary choices are a bit of a false dichotomy, but not entirely, as people do tend to fall into one or the other camp.”
As skeptics, we’re supposed to figure out what the facts are, not argue for whichever narrative is more appealing to us.
“…science is often fighting with one-hand tied behind its back and is playing fair, while the other side is fighting dirty.”
Science can’t be compared to a person. And if one is speaking about the people who are “fighting” on behalf of the science – or what they believe the science to be, or what they are pretending as to what the science says – then they certainly can fight as dirty as anyone else. And they often have more motivation to do so when the science is where the money is.
“I did some background research, and they appear to be legitimate and not grossly ideologically aligned. …. I’ll keep digging, but for now they seem legitimate.”
Dr. Novella has said this before. In fact, he’s said it about one of the very authors of the “study” he references here. Either Dr. Novella never does the further digging, or he doesn’t dig very hard or very long.
“…creating the impression that organic food is safer and more nutritious than conventionally grown crops, even though there is no science to back up such claims.”
There’s as much evidence for that (see the Newcastle study, referenced by GMO critics) as there is for conventionally grown crops being equivalent to organic (see the Stanford study, referenced by GMO advocates like Dr. Novella)
“There is also no evidence that the small residues on conventional produce have any negative health effects.”
Dr. Novella is assuming that all USDA organic is grown using excessive organic-approved pesticides. While it’s true that we have a growing number of organic farms that aren’t in keeping with the “spirit” of organic, he needs to provide some evidence that the current use of organic-approved pesticides is as environmentally dangerous as those used in conventional agriculture, and that when it is, it’s as widespread as he indicates. (if he wants to support his claims)
“Organic has become a brand, a lifestyle, an attitude.”
I think I can agree with this, but it’s reactionary to then attempt to undermine the USDA organic label and claim it has no validity as an alternative to conventional ag as done today in the US.
“Rather, it would be better to evaluate each farming practice on the evidence and the outcomes it produces, regardless of whether or not it fits a naturalistic narrative. Some practices considered “organic” are really just good sustainable practices, such as avoiding monoculture, crop rotation, and using cover crops. The evidence suggests these are good practices, whether or not they are part of achieving an “organic” label or not.”
I can agree with this. But he needs to study this issue a bit more instead of continually engaging in undermining the only differentiation we have right now which informs the consumer as to production. Perhaps Dr. Novella would like to detail the differences between organic and non-organic and try to suggest a better certification/labeling methodology. The industry will always attempt to exploit whatever the government requires. That’s what’s happening now with “organic” farms that grow monocultures and use tons of “organic” pesticide, and with conventional farms that label foods as “natural” when grown with GMOS and treated with glyphosate. If organic really isn’t meaningful anymore – tell us what the skeptical worldview suggests we do instead.
By trashing the USDA organic label, Dr. Novella is undermining an area where independent farmers can still turn a good profit while being good stewards. That’s not to say there aren’t abuses and exploitation – but Dr. N is mimicking the industry rhetoric to say that it’s just about the naturalistic fallacy and the USDA is facilitating deception. Food corporations would like nothing more than to see USDA organic go away – so that all foodstuffs could be somehow altered to fall under patents or be freed from regulation – increasing profits and CEO salaries while reducing farmer’s incomes and independence.
A skeptical and unbiased look at this topic would compare the Newcastle and Stanford papers and see which one provided the most thorough review and least interpretive mistakes. Instead, Dr. Novella does his (unknowing) best to line up with shills like Chassey, defending conventional food production (which does many times include organic, and that’s where he could deconstruct the false dichotomy, but he doesn’t). Those who are earning money, either directly or indirectly, from the continued success of companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, etc. are making a concerted effort to undermine federal regulations. For millions of consumers who don’t know where their food comes from, the USDA label is a minimal assurance that: the food wasn’t grown with sewer sludge, artificial hormones, prophylactic antibiotics, etc: http://blogs.usda.gov/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-the-usda-organic-label-means/
Big ag/chemical/biotech don’t like USDA organic because it cuts into their profits. Even if you want to have an “industrial” organic farm, it’s more costly (you can link to requirements through the above web site) Organic production is the ag sector where individual farmers can still make a go of it because people will pay more money to be sure their meat isn’t injected with steroids (for example).
Hence, shills like Chassey (along with a whole legion of other social bloggers loosely affiliated with the industry) now find occupation dismantling the marketing of “organic”. One method of doing that is: try to say it’s the same as “natural” and is just a marketing ploy. GMOs are often a part of food products labelled “natural”, whereas GMOs aren’t allowed in organic production. Lots of food, organic and non-organic, is labeled “natural”, but Chassey and Tribe haven’t pointed out for us that both conventional and organic food corporations are trying to cash in on the word “natural”. In fact, many USDA organic foods do NOT label as “natural”. They don’t have to in order to appeal to their typical buyers. It ‘s the uneducated who find appeal in “natural” – and, as I said, foods from all sources are often labeled “natural”. Monsanto itself would like to also appeal to the uneducated through painting itself as interested in sustainability, the environment, etc. It’s ALL marketing.
If anyone wants to be a “skeptic” with regards to our grocery store shelves, they need to wise up to where the $ are. And they can’t be fooled by sciency-looking sites like “Academics Review”.
The reason GMOs aren’t used in organic farming is: the vast majority of GMOS in US agriculture are GM soy, cotton or corn. And now also now alfalfa, sugar beets and others which are all engineered to be sprayed with glyphosate or to produce bt toxin throughout their life cycle, and in large amounts. In organic, you don’t plant in order to spray pesticide, nor do you use bt toxin except in response to need. The toxin has been shown to kill predator insects, which is counterproductive to your goals of not using any pesticide at all. If GMOs were engineered that were more in keeping with the stated goals of organic farming, then I would think that a case-by-case evaluation would be appropriate and I think it’s possible that organic farmers would be on board with using them (if they could likewise be shown to not reduce nutrients, which is still an open question, as it appears that current means of modification can affect secondary metabolism and resulting nutritional compounds – something we don’t thoroughly investigate as part of deregulation.)
“Your position is eat whatever you want as long as you do not exceed prescribed calorie limits. Food cannot cause of disease.”
I never said nor implied either of those two statements. You keep changing the discussion, and arguing against strawmen. As far as the “eat whatever you want” part, I mostly agree with that on a ‘micro’ level (i.e. from an individual food or meal perspective), but I do think that there are ‘healthier’ and less healthy diets.
Perhaps this is a slight oversimplification (but I think this captures the most important aspects), for populations like in the US, on average- diets that are high in fruits and vegtables, and low in land animal derived fats appear to be healthier in many aspects. There is no eivdence, however, that the organic label tells us much about the quality of the produce, nor whether the produce is healthier or better in any way.
The addiction argument takes a limited analogy, and takes it way beyond any evidence. You link to 2 rodent studies, in which rodents prefer water with MSG to plain water and another in which rodents preferred saccharine over cocaine. This is not compelling information, and says very little about human behavior. Do you really think I can go to a cocaine addict and say, “Hey, if you think that cocaine is good, wait to you try some diet cola?”
I worked in animals labs back when I was an undergraduate in college, (actually in very simlar types of studies involving cocaine and alcohol), and they are not intended to be extrapolated directly to human behavior. That is a gross misuse of that type of research, and is a popular thing to do among the alt-health crowd, because you can support any number of pet theories.
You object to his post, but never quite pointed out what you object to. You actually say some things that support Steve’s perspective, such as “Also, ‘Organic’ produce is not monolithic.” The point is that the organic label says very little about the things most people think it does (e.g. safety, quality, and sustainabilty of the produce). You seem to be writing from the perspective assuming that the organic label is very meaningful in this regard. The point is NOT that safety, quality and sustainability are unimportant, but that they are important and the organic label does not properly address those concerns because there is a high level of arbitrariness to its criteria.
“I never said nor implied either of those two statements. You keep changing the discussion, and arguing against strawmen. As far as the “eat whatever you want” part, I mostly agree with that on a ‘micro’ level (i.e. from an individual food or meal perspective), but I do think that there are ‘healthier’ and less healthy diets.”
My comments are all under the umbrella of this blog entry which I distill as “Organics foods are deceitfully marketed and they are not that different from commercial foods in nutrients and pesticide levels.” Therefore we can compare and contrast the differences between commercial and organic foods. You admitted you eat commercial foods as long as they adhere to whatever your version of a “healthy diet” implies. No strawman here!
“There is no evidence, however, that the organic label tells us much about the quality of the produce, nor whether the produce is healthier or better in any way.”
Then why have a organic classification?
“I worked in animals labs back when I was an undergraduate in college, (actually in very similar types of studies involving cocaine and alcohol), and they are not intended to be extrapolated directly to human behavior. That is a gross misuse of that type of research, and is a popular thing to do among the alt-health crowd, because you can support any number of pet theories.”
Oh my God. You can’t have your GMO laced, frosting in a can, sugar-coated cake and eat it too. Do not assign that behavior only to the alt-health crowd. You can never ever reference a rat study for any reason now.
The reason GMOs aren’t used in organic farming is: the vast majority of GMOS in US agriculture are GM soy, cotton or corn…
CCOF Policy (Which is shared by many other such state-level certification programs):
CCOF opposes the commercialization and use of genetically engineered (GE) crops because of the threat they pose to organic growers and consumers.
Genetic engineering is a technology that takes DNA from one organism and moves it into another, creating new varieties of plants and animals that wouldn’t be found in nature. Genetic engineering is prohibited in organic food and farming because of concerns about their environmental and health repercussions. Although biotechnologists experiment with genetically modifying plants for taste or nutrition, the majority of genetically engineered crops are engineered to resist herbicides such as Roundup, resulting in increased use of chemical herbicides.
While concerns about the potential for greater pesticide use is one of the top reasons why organic certification programs are against them, it certainly is not the only reason; direct harm to human health and the environment are also important factors as has been discussed in previous posts on this subject.
What the CCOF is saying in their policy statement is that beneficial uses of GMOs don’t matter, the fact that the majority of identified uses are inconsistent with their standards justifies throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
If organic standards were science-based, they would entertain the possibility that some GMOs may not represent a threat to human health or the environment, but they don’t because at their core, organic standards are based on the naturalistic fallacy.
Also, organic growers do not want to weaken their brand, in fact, they are asking for government to participate in their branding efforts once again. As with the USDA Organic label, GMO labeling will serve to further establish the -GMO = good, +GMO = bad dichotomy in the minds of consumers without regard for evidence.
You quote the CCOF: “Although biotechnologists experiment with genetically modifying plants for taste or nutrition, the majority of genetically engineered crops are engineered to resist herbicides such as Roundup, resulting in increased use of chemical herbicides.”
The CCOF reached a science based conclusion to reject GMO’s for organic labeling due to increased use of chemical herbicides (glysophate, 2-4-D).
You state: “If organic standards were science-based, they would entertain the possibility that some GMOs may not represent a threat to human health or the environment, but they don’t because at their core, organic standards are based on the naturalistic fallacy”
Therefore your conclusion that organic standards are based on the natural fallacy is false.
Teaser: “In the current marketplace some organic foods are marketed with false claims. But don’t let that stop you from dismissing the desire by some people to eat food that is as unprocessed as possible. The article you linked to seems to imply that paleo or whatever dismissive term you want to use, is a fad. Please write Mr Guyenet and see what he has to say about ancestral health being a fad.”
Your tendency to conflate all healthy eating into “organic” and all unhealthy eating into “processed” is a problem. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive, let alone the opposite sides of the spectrum you keep assuming they are. It is 100% possible to eat a healthy diet comprised primarily of whole unprocessed foods, and have none of it grown organically. And there are plenty of unhealthy cakes and cookies that are made with certified organic ingredients. Organic does not equal healthy. That’s actually one of the points of the original post. Yet cookie makers love to stamp “organic” on their cookies and happily promote marketing that takes advantage of that halo effect. Studies have shown that simply labeling a box of cookies organic will result in people assuming they are lower in calories, higher in nutrients and that they can EAT MORE OF THEM.
Since you keep referencing Paleo: No, I feel pretty confident that the writer of that article would not label paleo a “fad”. He would label it a “Food Cult”. And based on your arguments I would say it qualifies. Not that the paleo method is unhealthy, that is not the point of the analogy. Many diets are healthy. But you are certainly falling down the rabbit hole of insisting that this is the holy grail of how all humans should eat, and your commentary indicates that you are deeply emotional on the topic. Apparently anyone who does not agree with you must be eating “Cheetos and Diet Coke”, or “GMO Frosting in a can”. Which as I pointed out already, is not a valid dichotomy. After all I don’t agree with you and my lunch consisted of a shredded carrot salad, an apple and celery salad, and a piece of home made bread with cheese. And honestly I’m only listing my lunch ingredients because I’m getting tired of overblown accusations that anyone who would dare question the concept of Organic must have a keyboard coated with Cheeto dust.
Mlema:”The reason GMOs aren’t used in organic farming is: the vast majority of GMOS in US agriculture are GM soy, cotton or corn.”
Actually that’s a bait and switch argument. The reason GMOs aren’t used in organic farming is because GMOs are explicitly not allowed for the certification. It does not matter what the GMOs are designed to do. For example the GMO Papayas that were engineered specifically to save the Hawaiian Papaya industry from Ring Spot Virus are not allowed to be labeled Organic. And there are plenty of anti-GMO activists who are agitating to ban even this clearly beneficial GMO from use in Hawaii. If you want to have a discussion about Round Up, or BT then do so, but please do not pretend that the Organic label rejection of GMOs is only because of RR and BT. It’s explicitly clear that the rejection is across the board, regardless of use, or evidence of safety.
“The CCOF reached a science based conclusion to reject GMO’s for organic labeling due to increased use of chemical herbicides (glysophate, 2-4-D).”
No, a science based conclusion would be to reject use of glyphosate, or crops engineered with BT because of specific problems with those crops. Or to regulate the use of these pesticides on organic farms. To ban all GMOs across the board because of evidence relating to only a portion of them is not science based.
I plead guilty to snarky impulses and a hyperbolic streak.
I felt the need to broadly paint the “two sides” of the discussion. Of course there would be collateral damage so to speak. My bad for not including every permutation of diets.
Diet labels are misleading. What paleo, post-paleo, or paleo 2.0 has evolved into is Ancestral Health. I agree with the concept that we have a genetic baseline. Eat against that genetic baseline and you will develop disease. It’s a hard sell to joe public but in my estimation it is correct. If that constitutes a rabbit hole then I will climb in. It is a better model for eating than any other paradigm. As it works out organic farming methods fit my criteria better than other methods.
If interested search Journal for Evolution and Health.
From Steven’s post:
The organic marketing, however, has worked. They have successfully created fears in the public about “toxins” and unnatural mutants in their food, and offer the organic label as an assurance of wholesomeness, despite an utter lack of evidence to support such claims. The USDA was warned this would happen, they knew it would happen, and they facilitated this deception with their official seal of approval.”
You said: “and your commentary indicates that you are deeply emotional on the topic. Apparently anyone who does not agree with you must be eating “Cheetos and Diet Coke”, or “GMO Frosting in a can”
Evidently anybody that buys organic is just a ignorant, science bereft sucker under the sway of a super-savvy marketing agenda aimed to destroy solid science. These monsters are even swaying the USDA! Clearly, despite Stevens pronouncements, the science behind GMO safety is not settled. I am perfectly happy to side with the scientists that find GMO and their attendant agricultural practices as unhealthy to humans and to the environment. As ccbowers stated previously, we as individuals must employ the precautionary principle in such situations. I side with the anti-GMO scientists.
“No, a science based conclusion would be to reject use of glyphosate, or crops engineered with BT because of specific problems with those crops. Or to regulate the use of these pesticides on organic farms. To ban all GMOs across the board because of evidence relating to only a portion of them is not science based.”
Yes science, GMO’s are dependent upon the herbicides they are programmed to resist. You don’t get one without the other. Whats the point otherwise?
Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. — the first sixteen years
Charles M Benbrook
Centre for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University, Hulbert 421, PO Box 646242, Pullman, WA, 99164-6242, USA
Genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant and insect-resistant crops have been remarkable commercial successes in the United States. Few independent studies have calculated their impacts on pesticide use per hectare or overall pesticide use, or taken into account the impact of rapidly spreading glyphosate-resistant weeds. A model was developed to quantify by crop and year the impacts of six major transgenic pest-management traits on pesticide use in the U.S. over the 16-year period, 1996–2011: herbicide-resistant corn, soybeans, and cotton; Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn targeting the European corn borer; Bt corn for corn rootworms; and Bt cotton for Lepidopteron insects.
Herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 239 million kilogram (527 million pound) increase in herbicide use in the United States between 1996 and 2011, while Bt crops have reduced insecticide applications by 56 million kilograms (123 million pounds). Overall, pesticide use increased by an estimated 183 million kgs (404 million pounds), or about 7%.
Contrary to often-repeated claims that today’s genetically-engineered crops have, and are reducing pesticide use, the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in herbicide-resistant weed management systems has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied. If new genetically engineered forms of corn and soybeans tolerant of 2,4-D are approved, the volume of 2,4-D sprayed could drive herbicide usage upward by another approximate 50%. The magnitude of increases in herbicide use on herbicide-resistant hectares has dwarfed the reduction in insecticide use on Bt crops over the past 16 years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Lumen2222on: “It is 100% possible to eat a healthy diet comprised primarily of whole unprocessed foods, and have none of it grown organically.”
One example (there are a number) of how the Stanford review distorts the difference between organic and conventional:
The studies reviewed showed that pesticide residues were found in 7% of organics and 38% of conventional foods. Stanford reported this 81% difference as a 30% lower risk of pesticide contamination for organic. And the actual findings weren’t available in the publicly available abstract or press release.
It’s interesting how when a press release suits the industry’s narrative, skeptics seem to be all over it. When it doesn’t, they criticize the press.
For example, “Science-based Medicine” says that organic food is not healthier than conventional, even though all literature reviews have found a lower incidence of pesticide residue and antibiotic resistance bacteria in organic food. How are we defining healthier if not to include less pesticide residue and fewer antibiotic resistant bacteria?
So, you may be eating a healthy lunch of conventionally-grown vegetables, but you’re likely consuming more pesticides or antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If you’re generally healthy, it’s probably not a huge concern. But if you’re making lunch for your child, you’ll be interested to read the link I provided about children’s consumption of conventional vs. organic foods. Notable also is the fact that some fruits and vegetables are typically higher in pesticide residue and also harder to clean.
Regarding Hawaiian GM papaya, GMO advocates are fond of saying that GE “saved” the papaya in Hawaii. From the beginning, the University of Hawaii hasn’t been able, apparently, to control the spread of the transgenic papaya. They currently can’t even develop non-GMO cultivars because of the extent of cross-pollination or their failure to control it. Many growers had been able to avoid the ringspot virus by using traditional and alternative methods of Papaya ringspot virus management including introducing non-GMO PRSV tolerant varieties. However, after the release of the GM variety, the majority of papaya was found to contain the transgene pretty quickly, which, rightly or not, negatively affected sales. Many smaller growers have left the business – not because of the virus, but because of the effect of the GMO on their lucrative markets in places like Japan, and the fact that they can no longer command a premium price for their products (again, I’m not saying that it’s right or reasonable to reject GMO papaya – but I think it shows a level of irresponsibility on the part of the developers to fail to control or consider the resultant economic effects of the transgenic papaya) If you could provide for me some details on which methodology was used to develop the PRSV-resistant transgenic papaya, I would be better able to explain what, if any, concerns might be raised. Not all transgenics are equal with regard to human health and environmental safety risks. Both advocates and critics often fail to discriminate between individual GMOs. I can’t say too much about GM papaya because I don’t know the further incidentals. One continuing objection is that transgenics produce patented products which contribute to a decrease in diversity and an increase in expense for small farmers. I don’t see that this is the case for the papaya – which I’m sure is a plus for many growers. This is a long a complicated discussion to undertake. It’s also one which I’ve undertaken before on this site. Perhaps Dr. Novella will one day index his GMO posts so that we can reference earlier conversations more easily.
What are the GM crops you’d like to see incorporated into organic agriculture in the United States? Remember, those engineered for nutritional changes pose more complicated regulatory questions (according to independent scientists – not the industry of course), since they meddle with the plant’s secondary metabolism – technology that has already given us a few surprises, and about which we still know very little. The goal for biotech in this area again seems to be: patent a genetic change and charge ongoing technology fees, along with imposing technology contracts. This of course may be a negative as far as organic farmers are concerned (many conventional farmers don’t like it either).
“Yes science, GMO’s are dependent upon the herbicides they are programmed to resist. You don’t get one without the other. Whats the point otherwise?”
I will repeat. There are more GMOs than herbicide resistant GMOs. Your statement is incorrect because it is too broad. That is why it is not science based reasoning. It is blatantly fallacious.
The Ford Pinto is a car.
The Ford Pinto is dangerous.
Therefore we should ban all cars.
(backs up final statement with list of studies about Ford Pinto cars)
That is the logic you are following.
So once again: To ban all GMOs because of perceived problems with the pesticides applied to specific GMOs is not a scientifically or logically sound position.
There is no excuse for you to not understand this since I already handed you one of several examples of a GMO that has nothing to do with herbicide resistance. The Papaya. It was engineered to resist the Ring Spot Virus, which was a serious disease poised to wipe out the papaya industry in Hawaii, and it was successful. You do not spray it with anything to get this effect. The plant itself has immunity to the virus.
Do you want more?
Flood tolerant Rice – Engineered to withstand twice as long underwater and developed for farmers in flood prone regions. The scientists identified the flood tolerant gene in a low yield rice variety and inserted it into a high yield variety.
The Arctic Apple – engineered to resist browning after being cut. This is an example of a GMO that did not have any new genes inserted. The apple browning gene was instead turned off.
Cassava – increased protein and nutrients
And those are just the ones that exist. Money is being poured into developing nitrogen fixing crops, which would be a massive boon to the environment and greatly reduce fertilizer pollution.
“Flood tolerant Rice – Engineered to withstand twice as long underwater and developed for farmers in flood prone regions. The scientists identified the flood tolerant gene in a low yield rice variety and inserted it into a high yield variety.”
“Cassava – increased protein and nutrients”
Please identify the varieties you’re referring to and why you say they’re GMO.
What is the evidence that we will be able to develop nitrogen-fixing cereals (which is what you’re referring to). What would be the physiological mechanism by which this would be possible?
Any catagorization should be meaningful, and utilizing the best evidence to assigning criteria. This is not what we currently have. So I agree, why have it? (I realize that you likely disagree with this conclusion)
“Oh my God. You can’t have your GMO laced, frosting in a can, sugar-coated cake and eat it too. Do not assign that behavior only to the alt-health crowd. You can never ever reference a rat study for any reason now.”
This quote speaks for itself, really. Now, I did not say that rodent studies are useless, but are often misused in the same way that you did. I must have hit a nerve here. I am not sure if you are unaccustomed to these types of discussions, but being emotionally invested in a particular perspective can get in the way of a productive discussion. I find that you sometimes make assumptions about my argument, as if you are “filling in the gaps” that you think I am arguing. Most of the time this has been counterproductive.
Animal/rodent studies can be very helpful for their own sake, or if interested in impications for humans, generating hypotheses for further testing. Extrapolating basic research to generate conclusions about what humans should do will often lead you astray.
Anyways, it was fun, but this topic/discussion has reached the end of its life for me, at this time. Hopefully you don’t have a negative view of our discussions.
I am well aware of pesticide residue, and the vast majority of the evidence points to the residues being very small (well below any level that will harm a human) and easily washed off.
But that wasn’t the conversation was it. Teaser was equating organic with eating vegetables and I was pointing out that not eating organic is in no way the same as “eating cheetos”. You changed the argument. Not a bad idea for you since Teaser is doing an absolutely terrible job at representing your cause. But let’s be clear what I was making an argument about: Organic diets can be unhealthy and non-organic diets can be healthy. The question of appropriate and safe levels of pesticides should be evaluated on a case by case basis, AND organic pesticides should be held to the same standards. Because plenty of organic “natural” pesticides are harmful to both health and environment.
If you learn nothing else from this website then you should learn what “Moving the Goal Post” is. Because you do it a lot.
Another example of your poorly constructed arguments: the GMO papaya has nothing to do with pesticides. So why are you so anxious to prevent the spread of it’s genes? Arguing that it’s possible to avoid ringspot virus without a GMO does not in anyway address the issue. Is the papaya unsafe? If it is not then why is it bad that it behaves like all other papaya?
Not to mention that the large number of GMO papayas being grown in Hawaii are contributing to keeping the virus contained. Before the GMO was introduced the papaya industry in Hawaii WAS in trouble. In the 90s it infected an entire growing region and plenty of farmers lost their crops. Now it’s under control, and it’s largely because most of the plants being grown are transgenic. In fact some growers who wish to also sell organic have tried planting non-transgenic papaya in fields surrounded by transgenic ones. So even those organic papaya have GMOs to thank for their health. It’s like herd immunity. Or do you not believe in that either? I’ve noticed vaccine denial goes hand in hand with anti-GMO beliefs.
So here’s the problem with your argument:
You make claims about how unhealthy pesticides are. Point to the GMOs that encourage use of pesticides and then leap to complaining that the GMO papaya you start scare mongering about how difficult it is to control, while not bothering to mention that it is no more difficult to control than any other papaya. Yet you make it sound so scary. Because? You have zero evidence of any problem and no plausible mechanism for the Papaya to be unsafe. It is a fantastic example of a beneficial GMO. But of course you are deeply invested in anything called a GMO being bad, so you are grasping at straws. Clearly you are familiar with it, since you talk about how the “industry” claims to have saved the papaya… yet you offer no good arguments for why it’s a problem. Just fear that the ring spot resistance will make it’s way into other papaya… because that’s such a horrible thing?
The exact rice variety is in a book that I have at home, and all the references I can find about it online fail to give the exact variety name. However the people against the rice variety seem to feel it’s GMO so hey. If the activists want to hate it, there MUST be something to it right?
As I commented above Nitrogen Fixing Cereals is a holy grail. It’s an example of a potential application of biotech that could be extremely beneficial to the environment. It may never materialize. But DuPont sure as hell seems to think it might, and they are investing in trying to do it. And ultimately its an example of a product that would ALSO sell extremely well, and that’s certainly why the big biotech firms are interested in it. I don’t care. If it helps fix the massive amounts of fertilizer run off we currently cause and it’s readily and quickly adopted by farmers then DuPont can make as much money as they want off it as far as I’m concerned.
And for me that is precisely why you cannot group all GMOs under one banner. There is tremendous potential to solve real problems. Rather than knee jerk ban we should be pushing for smart usage and encouraging regulation that actually addresses pesticide use and it’s effects on the environment directly, not indirectly through GMOs.
I was incredulous since rodent studies seem to be the bedrock from which other human level studies are derived. To invalidate a rat study in this case seemed like a easy way to dismiss the point I was making. My response was tongue in cheek.
I enjoyed the discussion very much. Thanks for putting up with my antics.
Controlling genetics may very well turn out to be as important to humanity’s continuing success as controlling electricity, the sun’s energy or the the flow of water. Boycotting and fear-mongering were a common but useless response to electricity, to trains and cars, and to pretty much every other technological advancement. Even agriculture is “unnatural” and we’ve seen it meet with stiff resistance by traditional hunter-gatherer societies.
If you really want to live in a world that doesn’t need genetic manipulation, then get everyone you know on Facebook to stop breeding. Otherwise stop resisting a technology just because it is powerful, and get to work supporting sensible regulation, improving the teaching of science, ethics and critical thinking, and vote for candidates who understand the science and the issues.
“…Organic diets can be unhealthy and non-organic diets can be healthy.”
I can’t really argue with that. What I’m suggesting is that a healthy organic diet is healthier than a healthy non-organic diet due to the presence of pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in conventionally grown foods. And an unhealthy diet is unhealthy no matter what, I guess. Also, remember, we still have posilac in non-organic milk, which is further tied to unhealthy practices in the dairy industry. “Healthy” is relative, and, obviously, you and I have different ideas of what it means to have a healthy diet. For me, having my kids peeing pesticide metabolites wouldn’t be healthy. And if you want to consider how the environment affects human health, a case could be made for organic practices being healthier there as well.
I’m sorry if I scared you about the papaya. I didn’t mean to do so. The problem presented by the gm papaya is that it was already growing throughout the region where it was being tested before it had been evaluated. Perhaps we were very lucky and this papaya is not fundamentally different from it’s non-GMO parent. One reason I’d like to have more information on how it was engineered is because, as I’ve explained, not all genetic engineering is the same. Some presents very little risk as far as mutations that might negatively affect the plant and it’s fruit as a source of nutrients for humans. However, unless appropriate evaluation is done, there’s simply no way to know whether the fruit is inferior to it’s parent, produces concomitant problems, or is indeed superior by virtue of its disease-resistance. Or perhaps you follow the scientific falsity that: if you eat it and you don’t get sick or die then it’s ok. In general, the papaya, just like golden rice, has been used by the industry to assist in improving the public perception of GMOs in general. My contention is that each event must be individually evaluated, and those evaluations should be transparent. Also, I did point out that there were already PRSV resistant non-gmo papaya available.
If you want to properly defend your rice and cassava statements, you’ll have to provide the instance of the GM cultivar you’re referencing. The article you linked to explains that that particular rice variety isn’t a GMO.
“However the people against the rice variety seem to feel it’s GMO so hey. If the activists want to hate it, there MUST be something to it right?”
I don’t understand what you’re saying here – either the rice is genetically engineered or it’s not.
Conventional breeding with marker-assisted selection has allowed us to develop flood-resistant rice. Genetic engineering, as of yet, isn’t able to confer the genes and switches that are required to make the trait “work”. This hasn’t stopped the industry from promoting the idea that such rice was “genetically-modified” (I guess here meaning, the genetics were modified through breeding
I can’t think of any GMOs that supposedly provide benefit beyond conventional breeding that aren’t more cheaply and quickly created through conventional breeding. Most patented GMOs are “built” on hybrids that already provide whatever benefits their manufacturer claims, such as drought resistance or salt or poor soil tolerance, etc. The biotech company buys the patents on the best seed they can find, then they insert their proprietary genes and charge a premium for that.
You may be confusing Dupont’s development of nitrogen-efficient crops with the hope and dream of nitrogen-fixing cereals (which we’d all like to see.) So far it seems the discussions about nitrogen-fixing cereals are a sort of gmo public relations meme which are coming out of the John Innes Center in the UK. We don’t have any means to engineer a symbiotic relationship between two also-engineered species currently. The extent of our GE is to add genes for bt toxin production or pesticide resistance, or disease resistance, or to stack those same traits. As far as i can learn, the new nitrogen-efficient crops are conventionally bred. However, I also see that some blogs would like people to confuse nitrogen-efficiency with nitrogen-fixing. Did you know that use of herbicides like roundup actually reduces the nitrogen-fixing capacity of pulses? Something to be aware of as we decide which “side” to take in this supposed debate in which we all seem to want the same thing in the end.
You didn’t answer my questions about what GMOs you’d like to see incorporated into organics. I’m assuming you are referring to those which offer disease-resistance? The thing is, again, conventional breeding offers these without the expense and lag-time of GMO development. And no patented seeds.
People seem to think GE is powerfully solving many of our agricultural problems. Certainly this is what the biotech companies would like us to believe. In reality the important advances are being made in conventional breeding and management. This is evidenced in the new emphasis companies like Monsanto are putting on their conventionally-developed food plants. (although I’m sure it’s also in response to the public’s continued rejection of GMOs)
What do we want? I think that ultimately all of us here would probably agree on the answers to that question. How do we get it? This is where there’s a lot of disagreement. If we don’t agree on what the particulars entail, we won’t be able to agree on what to do to reach our goals. Improved understanding of the science in order to avoid being misled by misinformation plays an important role in resolving our differences. Back to the op. We all agree that marketing can mislead consumers. But is the USDA label misleading? It is if people don’t understand what it ensures and how that’s different from non-organic. Maybe skeptics ought to help elucidate the differences between organic and non-organic, in both intent and practice.
throw the baby out with the bathwater much? This seems to be a common tactic Teaser. You shotgun out generalities without really taking in the whole picture. It’s why I don’t believe you’re capable of accepting a science based view on diet, organic and healthy living. You’ll move the goalposts and mine every ounce of data for any nugget that might in some way support the outrageous claims you want to build off of them.
I think the point of the article has really been subsumed by other agendas. It’s common for so called organic and healthy living proponents to throw out accusations of Big money fighting against their beliefs, never mind that they as a group can’t really settle on what it means int he first place. When turn about is fair play they get all up in arms.
That’s what I find funny about true believers when it comes down to it, or depressing anyway. As a skeptic, if someone shows me a company is doing something wrong or harmful, I’m all for using real evidence to punish any misdeeds. If science uncovers something that might be bad for us that once was thought to be good, I can adjust my view and stance on it. True believers want to deny evidence and move goalposts. They want to fight tooth an nail regardless of the mounting evidence to support their system of beliefs without ever taking the time to stop and think maybe, they might possibly be wrong.
What I’m suggesting is that a healthy organic diet is healthier than a healthy non-organic diet due to the presence of pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in conventionally grown foods.
On average, always, per definition or because of a regular schedule of analyses? In my neck of the woods, we’ve had some serious health scares through organic bean sprouts, organic eggs etc. The point is that responsible cultivation practices are less a matter of ideological positioning than using the best possible information.
The thing is, again, conventional breeding offers these without the expense and lag-time of GMO development. And no patented seeds.
Lag time because of regulatory issues, or science-based issues? Are all GMO based seeds patented, and none of the conventionally bred?
Maybe skeptics ought to help elucidate the differences between organic and non-organic, in both intent and practice.
Bill O, I’ve provided stats before on the differences in “scare” rates between organic and non-organic produce. Your anecdotes are interesting, but not convincing.
Those within the industry, including Monsanto, have themselves said that to engineer and successfully complete the development of a transgenic takes more time and $ than a conventional seed. I suppose there’s a difference between those simply developed by putting a patented gene which is already available (like RR or bt) into a desired plant, and developing a desired plant through conventional breeding (like drought resistance corn) and then inserting the patented gene. Regulatory delays do occur. Are you supporting reduced regulation for plants that pose unique possibilities for negative consequences?
Of course i don’t expect, or even want skeptics to agree with me. I guess you want me to agree with you?
“The overall cost to bring a new biotech trait to the market between 2008 and 2012 is on average $136 million.” – Phillips McDougall
Apparently regulatory costs do contribute to that cost, but I don’t know at what percentage, do you? The thing is, the technology requires a developer to do testing on his own anyway, to ensure that the plant is equivalent for his own purposes prior to deregulation, not just for deregulation. There’s no other way to tell if he’s been successful in his attempts at introducing a new gene. I’m sorry if I misrepresented the cause of the expense. Do you have some info on the cost of development separated from the cost of regulatory approval? Do you want to discuss the regulatory process and it’s appropriateness to the technology? Marker-assisted selection has sped up conventional breeding of desirable new traits. It’s not like genetic technologies haven’t helped breeding. But transgenics pose unique problems (in general, because there are different methodologies within transgenics of course)
Also, there are differences in how GM and conventional seeds are legally protected from theft of intellectual property. Not all GM seeds are patented. Again, if you have some particulars you’d like to discuss we could do that.
I don’t know how much of the cost is due to regulation (and the effects of having to cater with anti-GMO obstruction, to move the goalposts ). It is you who suggested the process is more expensive, and the comparison is only valid if we’re comparing apples with apples. One thing is certain, companies don’t pour money into black holes, so if they can’t make money –for whatever reason– they will abandon the technology.
As far as I can see, foodstuffs run the gamut in terms of quality, and there is no clear (and objective) link between “organic” and quality. I have the impression you’re comparing the worst of non-organic practices with the best of the organic.
Organic cookies are not necessarily of better quality (or healthier) than similar non-organic cookies (I understand neither pesticides nor antibiotic-resistant bacteria are an issue with quality flour). Similarly, organic cultivation processes are not necessarily less taxing on the environment (e.g. organic sprouts cultivated in hothouses), or less subject to contamination. As far as antibiotics (and steroids, etc) are concerned, using them to “fatten” animals is illegal, so it’s not like organic has a leg up on non-organic in this matter. As long as organic farmers are a dedicated, motivated minority, one can (more or less) rely on their being more honest, but humans will be humans, and cheaters are found everywhere (and that includes organic agriculture).
It might well be that by choosing organic produce one has a better chance of getting a quality product, but organic food is more expensive, and I would not be amazed if for the same price, both production methods result in foods of equivalent quality.
Bill O. -
It’s more expensive to develop a gmo. I don’t know how much of the cost is in meeting regulatory challenges. Since all we require is substantial equivalence (and environmental impact assessment), which manufacturers likewise desire and must test for as part of development, I don’t believe the regulatory costs are currently a big concern. nor do I see that “anti-gmo obstruction” contributes to cost. You’ll have to explain that part I think. I suspect that cost in these cases is about delayed profits.
Most people don’t realize that the government doesn’t do any testing of GMOs for deregulation. The FDA has a voluntary consultation process. Here is the wording of a typical approval letter:
“Based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, it is our understanding that Monsanto has concluded that corn grain and forage derived from the new variety are not materially different in composition, safety, or other relevant parameters from corn grain and forage currently on the market, and that they do not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by FDA”
That’s it. Subsequently we find much debate about it’s safety both for consumption and for the environment – notably harm to beneficial non-target insects. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MON_810
One thing to keep in mind is that in order to genetically modify a plant, you must begin with the desired, already-conventionally-bred hybrid or other seed you wish to modify. Is it fair to include the time it took to develop that? Also, as you pointed out, we have to compare apples to apples. And even within GE, there are various technologies which would vary in expense of development. Since all methods require subsequent conventional breeding to remove unwanted mutations (those not irrevocably tied to the transgenic event) there is time and expense involved there too. Of course, once you get a process going with your patented genes, it becomes more economical every time you insert that same gene into a new plant. Hence the m.o. of adding the same bt toxins or rr tolerance to one commodity crop after another, selling through contract and easing regulation to maximize profits (if the plant is determined to be “equivalent”, and the new gene produces what it’s supposed to when inserted in bacteria, you will likely receive your approval. Unfortunately, the secondary metabolism of the resultant plant is more complicated than that of a bacterium, and can be altered by the insertion and accompanying mutations caused by the process itself. But the industry says it’s too expensive to test the plant in that way, and deregulation doesn’t typically require it).
Here are plants which have completed biotechnology consultation with the FDA: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/fdcc/index.cfm?set=Biocon&sort=FDA_Letter_Dt&order=DESC&startrow=1&type=basic&search=
see a trend?
It’s no mystery why shills like Chassy use their science credentials to push for decreased regulation. Nor is it mysterious why we often find problems post-deregulation.
I don’t know if you have something like USDA organic where you live, but I’ve linked to the usda requirements above. To me, usda certified organic is a sort of minimum assurance for consumers who don’t know where their food comes from, with regard to certain practices, and is often about what is NOT done as much as what is. When you use the term “quality” you change the nature of the discussion from one about health to one about things you must now additionally define.
In the US, beef cattle are given steroids when they enter the feedlot prior to slaughter (standard practice and not illegal here) , to increase their weight. Many say this reduces the leanness, tenderness and flavor of the meat. The market for organic meat is growing in the US.
There are numerous pesticides found in flour – more in whole wheat flour than white. There are a few that are found consistently. Also, growing in popularity, glyphosate is sprayed on various crops (including wheat) pre-harvest, to “dry down” the plants and preserve them against certain kinds of damage. We do ingest the glyphosate, though less when grains are refined post-harvest. It appears to concentrate in bran.
I admit there are many many problems with such a minimal amount of information available to consumers regarding how their food is produced. But this idea that ‘the usda organic label is meaningless’ comes straight from the big food corporations, and seems to be adopted without much analysis by many here. I can speculate as to why, but I think that wouldn’t fit within this discussion.
It’s a shame that Dr. Novella doesn’t put more time into investigation before making broad public declarations on what is an incredibly complicated issue. Dr. Novella hasn’t even learned that Chassy isn’t a good person to reference if you want to appear unbiased and skeptical (even though he said in an earlier post that he’d “look further into the Chassy issue”). http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/gm-crops-overregulated/
Instead, Dr. N has moved more closely to a position of uncritical gmo advocacy – making statements which are in lockstep with the industry rhetoric and don’t reflect the sort of comprehensive consideration I would expect someone advertising himself as a “scientific skeptic” to espouse.
I think we’re looking at things differently. I am under no illusions as far as the ethical quality of people working for corporations is concerned, but I do not believe people become ethical by the simple expedient of working for a government, an NGO, a church, or any organisation. There are good people, and bad people (to use couple of moral shortcuts) everywhere.
This is why I go by information I could, if I wanted to, verify myself using the best information discovery method known to humanity — the scientific method. And that information shows that the residues from the chemicals used in well-executed food production (from seed to plate, so to speak) are not health issues. Quite often, organic food is “well-executed”, but so is non-organic food. Furthermore, most of the health issues with food are due to eating a non-balanced diet. Too much fast food, not enough fresh fruit and vegetables, too much salt, too much sugar, etc.
In my opinion, the belief that organic food is by definition better than non-organic food is just that — a belief. And we know that humans have a tendency to adopt beliefs, and then do everything they can to confirm those beliefs.
People do things in groups, or as part of organizations, that they wouldn’t do as individuals. Groups and organizations function within or outside the law, just like individuals. And as individuals, we’re required to consider what we do as groups and organizations in order to attempt to steer our communities and society toward what we hope is an equitable and enjoyable existence. That’s how I see it.
” I am under no illusions as far as the ethical quality of people working for corporations is concerned, but I do not believe people become ethical by the simple expedient of working for a government, an NGO, a church, or any organisation. There are good people, and bad people (to use couple of moral shortcuts) everywhere.”
That’s well put. I think the point of this article is to show what we as skeptics generally understand this while those pro-organic tend to want to paint BIG agro, or BIG anything as bad, while they’re poor cause is just trying to valiantly fight the man.
“The groups’ co-founder Bruce Massey is on the advisory board of the American Council on Science and Health, a pro-industry science advocacy group that takes significant funding from corporations such as Bayer Crop Science and Syngenta, which can be seen as having a financial stake in these debates. Links to this and other pro-biotechology organizations, such as International Food Biotechnology Committee, Center for Environmental Risk Assessment, and GMO Pundit, are listed prominently on their website.”
Bill, People are people. Moral behavior exists on a continuum. Jesus is good. Satan is bad. The rest of us are somewhere in between.
Moses said murder is a sin. Jesus said those who hate in their hearts are murderers. How you gonna win? Will you call someone else bad because they’re worse than you or me?
Or call someone good because they’re better?
Certainly you or I, if we had the same genetics, experience, circumstances, learning, etc. as they did, would do the same as the bad man or the good man.
“all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
“Plus, I’m not sure why you think that I would think that people who work for a government, NGO, church, etc would automatically be ethical”
We don’t but we’re often accused of this. We KNOW organizations do things they shouldn’t all the time. This doesn’t extend however to an assumption that all organizations do it but that all organizations are capable of doing it.
What I see all the time as I stated in my previous post is that from a pro-organic point of view ALL non organic organizations are killing their source of income, and doing all sorts of nefarious things with no regard for the repercussions. Not only is this simply not true, it’s also true – as this article points out – that those companies that support alternative ways of living are often the same as organizations that aren’t.
grabula – Bill said: “…but I do not believe people become ethical by the simple expedient of working for a government, an NGO, a church, or any organisation.”
I was just explaining that I don’t think anyone is ethical or unethical based on who they work for. Beyond that I’m not sure what you’re trying to say to me. What are you saying that people are accusing you of? And I’m assuming when you say “we” you are speaking for yourself and Bill O.?
Anyway, sorry if I haven’t answered your question.