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Why I Prefer Organic

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In a Nutshell

I buy primarily organic foods when I shop in the supermarket, though the selection is narrower and the cost is higher. Why do I go to the effort to seek out organic produce and products?

  • Organic food is healthier
  • Organic food is tastier
  • Organic food is safer for farmers and farm workers
  • Organic food is safer for birds, wildlife, fish, plants, and their ecosystems

The United States government claims the nation’s food supply is the safest in the world and that current agricultural practices do not harm the environment. The government has been consistently wrong about such things in the past, so why should we trust it now? Should Charlie Brown trust Lucy for that next kick? The food supply is laced with pesticides and toxic chemicals. Runnoff from agriculture has harmed or killed fish, wildlife, farm workers, and people downwind and downstream. The government is inherently untrustworthy on these sorts of issues because it is owned by national and multi-national corporations and works for their benefit, not to the benefit of its individual citizens. The way the government operates, the burden of proof is to show that something is unsafe, rather than to show that it is safe.

Organic food is both healthier and better for the environment. It is a movement born of like-minded producers and consumers proving that things can be better. Instead of operating on basis of anything is ok until proven otherwise, organic food production takes the opposite, conservative tack and won’t accept something until it is proven safe and environmentally sound. It is still hard to imagine that a different standard is used for most food production.

The Government Can’t be Trusted

The Corporate Connection

One of the functions of government is to protect its citizens. However, in the United States at least, some citizens are more equal than others. In particular, if you’re a corporate citizen that gives heavily to politicians, your rights (e.g. the right to make money, to squelch others free speech rights, etc.) are heavily protected. If on the other hand you’re an individual citizen, wealthy or not, your interests are secondary. It should be the other way around, of course, but the wealthy corporations and their media allies (which themselves are mega-corporations) can spend millions to induce individual citizens to vote contrary to their own interests, either on propositions, or for elected representatives. When corporations fund the election of politicians, they ensure that the politicians become their agents, and will work hand in hand with the corporations to make money at the public’s expense. Dissenting voices, even when they have the money and the will to challenge, are often denied access to the public air waves to make their case. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of food, where the protection of citizens’ health is in conflict with corporate greed.

Government by the corporations, for the corporations, and of corporate agents.

Track Record[Under Construction]

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Food and Pesticides[Under Construction]

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Genetic Engineering[Under Construction]

I have no inherent bias against genetic engineering of food plants, but the early applications of this technology have certainly made me angry. Thirty million acres of the six million acres of soybeans grown in the U.S. are planted with a genetically engineered variety that allows more Roundup, a herbicide, to be used for weed control. Yields are not enhanced, and are probably somewhat reduced. Just what is the point of genetic engineering that gives us more Roundup to consume with our food and less food to feed the world? It was done because it increases the profits of the manufacturer of Roundup, and it reduces weeding costs for the farmers that grow soybeans. Is this justification for performing a massive experiment using most citizens of the world as guinea pigs? In theory consumers will see a few pennies shaved from the cost of products made from soybeans, but I would readily pay a few cents more so as to keep my exposure to Roundup lower.

But Monsanto, the creator of this Frankenstein bean, doesn’t want me to have a choice whether to ingest more of their Roundup or not. There is no requirement that products produced from genetically engineered plants be labelled, and an effort to create such a labelling standard would be actively opposed to Monsanto. In Monsanto’s world, we must be guinea pigs willing or not.

In another distressing case, corn has been genetically engineered to create its own pesticide, Bt toxin. In its favor, was first isolated from nature (it is produced by a bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt for short), and has been in use as one facet of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) used by organic farmers for some time. However, IPM sprays Bt on plants externally, and the toxin can be washed off before being consumed. When genetically engineered corn expresses Bt toxin in every cell, we end up eating the toxin. In addition, IPM calls for Bt toxin to be used in ways that avoid the development of resistance in the pests it seeks to control. With Bt produced by the plant continuously, pests will develop resistance is perhaps seven years or less, not only forcing industry to move on to some perhaps more dangerous toxin, but also ruining Bt’s use for IPM and organic production.

Is this progress?

In both of these cases and others, it is not only the specific uses of genetic engineering that are worrisome, but the speed with which they are being accepted by the regulators and the market, the lack of a larger view on the worthiness of these products (they benefit their makers, but the test should be whether they benefit society), and the lack of labelling that would allow consumers to choose. Still other worrisome aspects include: the changes in the nutritional characteristics of the food produced; the way in which these foods have been engineered, and our lack of understanding of the consequences thereof; the effects of monopolies in specific products created for the producing companies; the possible cross-pollenation of these plants with natural stocks; and the consequences of producing food from a few monocultures, but these are beyond my scope here (see Against the Grain cited below).

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the Frankenbean and toxic corn for the moment, because organic soybeans and corn are still grown from natural varieties. The industry’s so-called regulator, the USDA, tried to change that by drafting new organic standards that among other things would have allowed genetically engineered food to be labelled organic, and would have preempted stricter standards (of course consumers must be denied a choice, since we might not choose what the industry wants). Only an enormous outcry from organic producers and consumers prevented this attack on the organic label from succeeding.


Further Reading

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