Those who buy overpriced organic foods in order to avoid chemical pesticides are focusing their attention on 0.01% of the pesticides in a fit of narcissism
In the world of food consumption, there are two kinds of people—those who love organic produce and will have nothing but organic whatever the cost, and those who simply dismiss anything organic with derision, saying it has no value whatsoever.
Then there is a special category, the organic moms, who will swear by organic and will not feed their family anything but organic because they strongly believe it is good for the health of the family.
It is this group that Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University calls affluent narcissists. A quick check will reveal that most of these urban organic moms are upper-middle-class or rich people who have money to spare on organic narcissism. They are the niche market for the organic industry. For these people, concepts such as natural, eco-friendly, chemical-free and locavorism (locally grown food) constitute feel-good.
Producers of organic food claim that the way they grow food is more sustainable than any other. The Worldwatch Institute, a Washington-based organic front and environmental research organization, says organic farming can contribute to sustainable food security by improving nutrition of consumers and the soil and reduce vulnerability to climate change. This is an outright delusion. These claims cannot stand close scientific scrutiny.
A 2014 report in the Journal of Hydrology and Earth System Sciences found that intensive organic agriculture, relying on solid organic matter such as composted manure, resulted in significant down-leaching of nitrates, a strict no-no in the eyes of anyone claiming to do sustainable farming. Composting is supposed to be a green activity, but on a large scale produces large amounts of greenhouse gases, and is a source of disease-causing bacteria.
Organic farming is certainly good for kitchen gardens, but produces far less food per unit area of land and water than conventional farming. Organic agriculture typically yields an average of 20% to 50% less and imposes various stresses, especially on water. A meta-analysis in the Journal of Environmental Management showed that organic agriculture has more ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions per unit area.
With the dawn of modern biotechnology agriculture, the organic lobby has systematically campaigned against genetically modified crops and many other scientific methods, including high-yielding seeds, in chronic opposition to any element of science. They want to be pure and natural. The greatest myth about organic agriculture is it does not use pesticides, with the exception of more than 20 chemicals containing copper and sulphur as suits their convenience, and they have got these included in the US department of agriculture’s arbitrary organic rule. Recently, they even petitioned the department to include antibiotics. For the organic lobby, genetic modification using highly advanced techniques of gene-splicing is an anathema, but irradiated seeds, conventionally bred seeds and wide cross-hybrids are all kosher.
A well-known organics-only chain of stores in the US, Whole Foods Market Inc., admitted that it was consistently overcharging for its products, and had to pay a huge fine to the government for its misleading claims. The US market for organic produce alone is worth about $15 billion. Stanford University Medical School, in a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, has dismissed the claims of health and nutritional benefits of organic produce.
Organic narcissists buy organic because there are no pesticide residues in them, but their levels in conventional produce in the US are below those set by the Environmental Protection Agency and enforced by the Food and Drug Administration. There is a lengthy list of exceptions to the ban on synthetic pesticides in organic agriculture. Permitted pesticides are really toxic. In a September 2014 article in the Scientific American, titled “Are lower pesticide residues a good reason to buy organic? Probably not”, evolutionary biologist Christie Wilcox writes, “Organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones.” No matter who says what, rotenone, a chemical insecticide used by organic farmers, is non-degradable, and copper sticks around for a lot longer and is detectable long after the harvest. There is a well-known association between rotenone and Parkinson’s disease.
A vast majority of pesticidal substances occur naturally in our diets. Bruce Ames (after whom the Ames test for carcinogenicity is named) of the University of California, Berkeley, published a landmark paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences decades ago to show that 99.99% of pesticides by weight are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves. Ames and his colleagues also showed that a cup of coffee contains almost 54 known carcinogens. They also showed that natural and synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be potential carcinogens, and concluded that low doses of human exposure to synthetic pesticide residues can potentially cause cancer.
In an article titled “The Organic Fable”, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote: “Organic has long since become an ideology, the romantic back-to-nature obsession of the upper middle class that is able to afford it and oblivious, in their affluent narcissism, to the challenge of feeding a planet whose population will surge to 9 billion before the middle of the century and whose poor will get a lot more nutrients from two regular carrots they can buy for the price of one organic carrot.”
Organic devotees who buy overpriced organic foods in order to avoid chemical pesticides are focusing their attention on 0.01% of the pesticides in their fit of narcissism.