By Richard Schiffman
Saturday, 13 October 2012
A new approach to agriculture that combines the best in industrial production with organic and sustainable practices is the key to meeting the changing needs of a changing world, where resources are rapidly depleted by a growing population.
“Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?” is the title of a controversial report released last week by Stanford University’s Center For Health Policy. The study concludes that there is “little evidence of health benefit” from eating organic food.” The meta-analysis of more than 200 separate studies found that organic products were no more nutritious – based on vitamin and mineral content – than conventionally-grown meats and vegetables.
The press weighed in with a bewildering range of instant reactions. The New York Times published an op-ed disparaging the “fad” in buying organic, claiming that it offered “no obvious health benefits” over cheaper conventionally-produced foods and calling it an “elitist, pseudoscientific indulgence shot through with hype.”
The LA Times, on the other hand, pointed out in an editorial that the study largely ignored the ill effects of pesticide residues on conventionally-grown produce, and the hormones and antibiotic-resistant bacteria that taint factory-farmed meat and poultry. It also failed to look at processed foods, the health impact of the chemical food additives, dyes, preservatives and genetically modified foods which are allowed in conventional products, but not in those which are labeled “organic.”
But what most of the media responses to the Stanford analysis ignored is the most compelling argument of all for organic growing – which is the environmental impact of its opposite, the chemical-intensive agriculture that dominates the American landscape and much of the globe.
My own appreciation for organic agriculture dates to a conversation that I had years ago with a cotton grower from the Central Valley of California who told me about his switch from conventional to organic growing. We talked about the benefits to the water, soil and ecosystem of farming without toxic chemicals. But what struck me most was his sheer boyish enthusiasm for a line of work that in my urban arrogance I had envisioned as backbreaking, mindless and numbingly routine.