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Is Organic a Hoax?

I'm asking this question from several perspectives.
I do believe that the organic movement is a hoax for several reasons. First, organic food is a lot more expensive than non-organic. It also takes more energy and space to produce. If anyone is familiar with Thomas Malthus, he believed a few hundred years ago that eventually the earth's population will come to a point where there would not be enough food to go around. If everyone were to grow organic around the world, due to the space and money needed, that unfortunately would be true and a LOT of people would starve to death. Not to mention, without the use of biotechnology, many organic crops do not withstand all types of weather and are more likely to perish...again leading to more possible hunger, especially in areas of the world who need it most,
From a chowhound perspective, my question is : does organic actually taste better and is it worth the extra money? Personally, my view on this varies. Occasionally at Whole Foods the "organic" section seems more visually appealing somehow. Does this mess with my brain and make me think it tastes better? On Penn and Teller BS, they did an experiment where they cut THE SAME BANANA in 1/2 and told people that one half was organic and the other was not. The majority of people interviewed strongly believed the "organic" half tasted better.
The same show had scientists claiming that there is no difference nutrient wise between organic or non-organic produce. Also, due to the lack of chemical pesticides, they use "natural" ferterlizer (i.e. manure) which can lead to e coli among other health risks.
My questions to you:
Do you think there are real benefits to eating organic? Do you think the economic costs are worth it? How do you feel about the possible negative consequences?
Do you think that organic really does taste better? Do you feel you are eating healthier?
I'm curuous what you think!

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  1. You have various ideas about organic foods.

    You’re right that organic agriculture could not feed the global population - and is a luxury of the rich.

    Better taste, however, is probably not the main reason people buy organic food. Major reasons to buy organic are: a) to reduce the chance of ingesting pesticide residues and b) to (very arguably) buy food whose production is more agro-ecosystemically sustainable. Similarly, biotechnology and "inorganic" are not the same. Biotech is largely and simply genetic identification of key gene sequences and sometimes recombination in the lab vs. traditional cross-breeding. Biotechnology has not been intentionally used to adapt crops for organic production. Biotechnology has been used to help increase the productivity of crops in difficult conditions in terms of their nutrient use efficiency, disease and drought resistance, and many other adaptive characteristics. These crop improvements can be used for both organic and “inorganic” crop production. Organic fertilizer is not limited to manure – all sorts of composts and different uses of non-grain legumes also count. And crop management is key in maintaining soil organic matter (soil carbon), a key to both organic and “inorganic” farming.

    Personally: I try to avoid foods with high pesticide residues. I don’t buy organic when in the US. In other countries where I work, ironically there is both more stuff grown organically and some crops that are way too heavily sprayed. Make sound purchasing choices.

    Like probably 99.9% of agricultural and environmental scientists, I strongly support integrated approaches (including improved crops) that reduce pesticide and fertilizer use; work to find alternatives to inorganic fertilizer use; but recognize that in terms of plant nutrients there is no free lunch; and recognize the importance of agroecosystems health over “organic” vs.“inorganic”.

    And Malthus died in 1834, not really (albeit technically) “100s of years ago”.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      Nicely balanced. I was somewhat amazed in the US and Canada to learn that the same crop might be grown year after year in the same fields. (If you can call something the size of Lichtenstein a field).

      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Thank you Sam, I was hoping when I saw the thread that we'd hear from you.

      2. <"Also, due to the lack of chemical pesticides, they use "natural" ferterlizer (i.e. manure) which can lead to e coli among other health risks.">

        I can't address the topics that Sam has explained but as a master gardener I know that only manure that has been composted for at least 3 years should be used on a vegetable garden. A proper compost pile reaches such high temperatures as to kill all pathogens. I'm surprised those "scientists" didn't know that only composted manure is used on organic farms and all bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that are capable of producing an infection or disease are killed during the composting process.

        1. When I became a young mother at the age of 20 (in 1988), I had choices that I could make when it came to feeding my 2 daughters. I could buy them baby food that came in jars with a bunch of additives, and sugars, etc. Or I could do what my italian grandparents did for us, and that is, feed us REAL food. Both sets of grandparents cherished their gardens, and each year I was exposed to the healthiest, tastiest vegetables this side of the Atlantic Ocean (Toronto, Canada). Never once did my family depend on pesticides or artficial components to stimulate growth, etc.
          I searched out organics in the late 80's early 90's as a result of all the "scary" realities that existed in conventional fruits and veggies. High-tech farming is my reason for not buying anything but organic. It has nothing to do with taste, nutrition, "status". (that's all BS)
          Study the facts on high-tech farming and you will see that diseases such as asthma and cancer are more prevalent in areas where farmers are spraying their crops. The pesticides do not remain solely on the plants, they appear in our water, and in our air. When it rains hard, the chemicals run off into lakes, rivers and streams killing all the wildlife in those waters. Please read this link for more info: http://www.healthcoalition.ca/W5.pdf
          The above is a link to a transcript of a show that aired in Canada in 2002 on the realities of our Potato Province (Prince Edward Island).
          So my answer to your question is NO! - Organics are not a hoax.
          Your comment on crops outstanding all types of weather, etc. What type of crop should withstand a typhoon or a tsunami? What extremes are you referring to?
          We are not out to save the world. Let's focus on our own communities first before we go out and preach to the rest of the world how they will be better off with our massive corporations who produce these pesticides. I am sure there is a bettter way.
          Question to all of you: When was the last time you ate a modified conventional tomato that tasted delicious?

          16 Replies
          1. re: zen_ca68

            To answer your question about extreme weather, during the green revolution new crops were bioengineered to better withstand drought. They were meant for 3rd world countries, particularly in Africa. Unfortunately, due to numerous protests due to fear of bioengineered food, these better strains of rice and other such foods have not been fully utilized...and they could help feed people who need it the most. Personally, I agree with you that I do not want to eat a lot of pesticides because the gov is not always right. The FDA has gone on record to say that the amount of pesticides on non-organic food in the US is perfectly safe....you stll have to make your own judgements. However, I have no problem with bio-engineered food because technically people have been doing it for 1000s of years; though not always in a lab. For ex, corn used to have a very few # of kernerls when people in Mexico began farming it. They engineered it over time to become the corn that we eat today. Also, I love the engineered watermelon without seeds- I love it! :} I don't know if I've eaten any modified tomatoes, but I've had many non-organic ones that are delicious. As long as they're bright red and juicy I'm happy- it's simple to just wash them off.

            1. re: NicoleFriedman

              Plenty of bioengineering is now being used to create crops that don't need as much pesticide. A few months ago, we had a thread going on here about how Montsanto was teaming up with Dole to create tastier fruits and vegetables that required less pesticide than what's currently available. I have read a lot about how the industrial organic farms aren't really that much better than many of the conventional farms.

              As for when I buy organic, in many cases it's because it has a longer shelf life, and in other cases it's because it's what my supermarket typically carries for that fruit/veggie. I have read a few articles that weighed the benefits of organic with conventional produce, and many cases the pesticides used are so minimal with the conventionals that there is no real benefit to buying organic.

              1. re: queencru

                Longer shelf life? How so? Seems like everything organic I buy goes bad in half the time due to the fact that it isn't (supposedly) Frankenfood™

                1. re: biscuit

                  Exactly. I was thinking of posting a thread about a recent scary experience with some Frankengrapes (but didn't get to).

                  I happen to discover a forgotten Tupperware container full of grapes I packed away for my toddler, in the travel bag. In addition to having been forgotten for about four or five days and left at room temperature, they were washed before packing so they must have been somewhat damp too. I was making a grunting sound to myself as I took the container out of the bag, expecting to have to clean the moldy mess.

                  Guess what the grapes were in immaculate condition. And to satisfy my curiosity, I tasted one of the grapes and it tasted exactly like the rest that are in the fridge. Makes me really wonder what magic they put in the grapes to withstand all this!

                  1. re: biscuit

                    Post-harvest fungicide application is a factor in longer shelf life for some conventional fruits.

                    A big weakness for organics is the limited range of preventive fungicides that are allowed, mostly copper compounds or sulfur. Conventional growers can and do use these as well as other fungicides with different modes of action. Varying fungicides helps prevent resistance from developing.

                  2. re: queencru

                    At this point, I'd need a whole lot of convincing that anything Monsanto did was actually healthier for me.

                    Certainly industrial organic isn't backyard organic, but it's more than just what you're eating, it's also what's going into the soil and rivers and what impact that junk has once it leaves the farm.

                    1. re: Panini Guy

                      "it's also what's going into the soil and rivers and what impact that junk has once it leaves the farm."
                      NYT's front page today! Our government agency is doing a poor job of protecting us from water polluters!

                  3. re: NicoleFriedman

                    The Green Revolution started in the mid 1960s with the development of shorter statured, nitrogen responsive rices, maizes, and wheats. It was based on traditional plant breeding and NOT on "bioengineering" (although I understand that your particular use of the term includes normal crosses). Unfortunately, drought tolerance is something we're still working on with limited but steady successes.

                    You're right about one thing: improvements in pesticide development and use means most modern pesticide risidues - if present - are water soluble.

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      Sam, is it not true that many products labeled "organic" in the US still use chemical pesticides - those chemicals just aren't YET on the list for what is not allowed?

                      1. re: mojoeater

                        I said nothing of the kind. Was just saying to Nicole that her giving produce a wash makes sense because most modern pesticides are water soluble.

                    2. re: NicoleFriedman

                      You aren't telling both side of this (the bioengineering) story...

                      3 of Monsanto's biggest black eyes came from bio engineered crops. And the way they deal with them.

                      "Starlink" corn was developed to grow with elevated amounts of bT, a chemical compound toxic to corn moths. In spite of the objections of a neighboring farm, Monsanto planted this experimental (not yet approved for human consumption) crop near an organic farm. Well, insects and birds did what they do. They spread pollen from the starlink corn to the neighboring organic crops. The result was corn deemed unfit for human consumption. Any back yard gardener could see that problem coming.

                      In another instance they sold experimental seed stock to farmers in third world countries, failing to tell them the seeds produced by the resulting plants would be sterile. Sterile seeds don't make positive stride to end world hunger.

                      Meanwhile, back home in the US, they brought lawsuits against farmers that did what farmers do, saving seed for the next years planting. They tried to use shady sales contracts to claim IP rights over soybeans produced, and forbid farmers from saving seeds.

                      I am no fear mongering conspiracy nut. However when something walks, flies, swims, and quacks like a duck, I will call it a duck.

                      When businesses like Monsanto act this way they lose my trust as a consumer and lose my support for most any thing they do. Their "altruistic" attempts to "end world hunger" are for PR, nothing more.

                      1. re: Brandon Nelson

                        I'm no fan of agribusiness in general or Monsanto in particular, but you've got your facts almost completely wrong.

                        Bt corn is routinely grown for human consumption; the brand name is Attribute. Starlink was made by Aventis, not Monsanto. And the Bt protein didn't render corn "unfit for human consumption." Although 28 people complained of mild allergic reactions, the CDC determined that there was no evidence those reactions were associated with hypersensitivity to the Starlink Bt protein. Nevertheless, Starlink corn was pulled from the market shortly thereafter.

                        Your comment about sterile seeds is so vague as to be difficult to refute. Nevertheless, so-called "terminator" technology - the modification of plants so that their seeds will be sterile - was developed in the '90s, not by Monsanto, but by the USDA and Delta and Pine Land Company. In 1999, Monsanto pledged not to commercialize the technology. Then, in 2006, Monsanto acquired Delta Pine and Land. So it now owns "terminator" technology, which it has promised not to sell. Sounds to me like the issue is off the table for the time being.

                        But that doesn't mean that Monsanto allows farmers who buy its products to save the (fertile) seeds and replant them at will. Monsanto doesn't "claim IP rights over soybeans produced," it owns those rights. The soybeans are patented, and those patents have been upheld by every court that has considered the issue. To protect its patents, Monsanto will only sell Roundup-ready soybean seed to farmers who promise NOT to save seed for replanting. Every farmer who purchases Roundup-ready soybean seed from Monsanto voluntarily agrees to those provisions. Those who want to save seed and replant it can just buy non-patented seeds.

                        The problems - and the lawsuits - arise when farmers want Roundup-ready seed, but don't want to pay Monsanto for it. The suit that got the most publicity came when a farmer claimed that he hadn't gotten his seed from Monsanto, but that accidental cross-pollination had given his non-Monsanto plants Roundup-ready characteristics. After the press had demonized Monsanto, it turned out that the farmer was a bald-faced liar. He had just gotten some patented Monsanto seed and was growing it in violation of the patent. Shady tactics, yes, but not on Monsanto's part.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          Your google fu is weak
                          http://www.starlinkcorn.com/
                          http://www.organicconsumers.org/ge/st...
                          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgen...

                          The first 3 entries when you google “starlink corn”. All of them support, without question that Starlink corn found it’s way into the human food supply when it was approved only for animal feed. Taco Bell suffered a huge PR hit over this. You are correct it is an Aventis product. I was wrong there. However the my post is about questioning the altruism of agro business. Although I got the producer wrong, the situation is still every bit as relevant.

                          The Monsanto issue is cumbersome in a thread like this. Here is a great videos that spells out some of my points.
                          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah-ZeN...
                          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swVjzI...

                          The Southeast Asia issue occurred when Monsanto “donated” experimental seed to impoverished farmers. The seedstock wouldn’t grow or thrive without proprietary chemicals. They were not told this up front, and had to buy the chemicals. That isn’t a direct violation of the pledge to not market terminator seeds, but I think it violates the spirit of that concept.

                          Dupont is in the middle of a legal battle with Monsanto right now. Both sides have big war chests. We will see where the courts fall on the IP rights of concept vs prototype, they most often go in the direction of protype.

                          The end point is agro business wants the IP rights to every crop on the planet. I don’t see that situation resulting in the end of world hunger. These businesses have always valued dollars more than humanitarian efforts.

                          1. re: Brandon Nelson

                            Yes, Starlink was only approved for animal feed. And yes, it found its way into the human food chain. But it didn't do any damage other than the PR hit Taco Bell took when hysterical morons falsely claimed that they had been harmed by it.

                            Speaking of hysterical morons, who made those videos you linked to? Long on breathless, short on information.

                            You seem to have shifted your developing-world argument from vague complaints about "terminator" technology to vague complaints about proprietary chemicals. But you still haven't provided much in the way of information, let alone substantiation.

                            I agree that there's a potential problem with agribusiness dominating the world seed markets with their patented products. But if you're going to attack them on that front, you'll be much more credible if you get your facts straight.

                      2. re: NicoleFriedman

                        Fact
                        I didn't say bT corn harmed anyone. I correctly pointed out that genetic plant material migrates. There lies the problem. The folks who claim to have"control" over such things don't. I find that point to be pretty straightforward.

                        Fact
                        Monsanto doesn't "produce or market" terminator crops. They do however produce seedstock that will go sterile if you don't use their IP protected ammendments on it. I find that be hypocrisy. The is a defacto version of a terminator crop be design, if not by name.

                        That hysterical morons (the indian woman) is Vandana Shiva. Right Lively award winning writer, ecologist, and political activist. The other is Marie-Monique Robin awrd winning French journalist and film maker.

                        On point, the OP thinks that agrobusiness is about "feeding the world". I disagree. You (Alan) seem to agree with that point. We have different opinions of Monsanto. You extend them far more trust than I do. Your perogative. I can agree to disagree there.

                      3. re: zen_ca68

                        Hydroponic hothouse tomatoes from Maine are pretty good in the winter, as are some newer varieties from Florida. (No, they're not free.) Also: Big Beef hydrids are fabulous in season. In season does not have to mean organic, and there nothing wrong with having certain produce in season if you want the best flavor. However, I am extremely grateful that I could get cantalope in the winter in NE for my toddler!
                        Kudos to the OP for even putting her hand in this buzz saw!

                      4. "does organic actually taste better and is it worth the extra money?... Do you think there are real benefits to eating organic? Do you think the economic costs are worth it? How do you feel about the possible negative consequences?"

                        I don't eat organic food as a matter of taste, but to avoid pesticides and because they tend to be grown more sustainably. I don't exclusively eat organic, but do whenever possible and where it makes sense. I also avoid some organics because there is no benefit with some foods.

                        1. Oh, well, you've asked a question that will defy genuine rational discussion on the part of many because it implicates nearly religious beliefs and assumptions that are beyond arguing but that people will reverse-engineer selected facts to reinforce and create a Potemkin village of argument.

                          I just say to keep dogma in religion and out of food.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: Karl S

                            Please be more specific. Are you insinsuating that the "green" or "organic" movement has become a religion? (I've heard many people say something akin to this) or do you mean something else?

                            1. re: NicoleFriedman

                              My comment is directed towards ideologies about food in general, be they pro-industrial or anti-industrial in nature. Ideologies tend to become a-rational because they tend to be ruddered by dogmatic assumptions and beliefs and plastered over by cherry-picked facts. If one is constantly looking for facts that support one's position and trying to downplay their limitations or the saliency of mitigating counter-facts, then one is likely falling into this trap.

                              1. re: Karl S

                                Pro-industrial and anti-industrial is not congruent with non-organic and organic. Organic is about as industrial as you can get; while small, poor farmers the world over practice non-organic.

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  Agreed. It was just one example of many possible pertinant examples. Substitute terms as you will, the argument still stands.

                            2. re: Karl S

                              It would be one thing if your post were the first one here. But there's plenty of rational discussion above, with very little cherry-picking of the facts. Although there are fanatics on both sides of the issue, there's also plenty of room for intelligent, mutually respectful debate. Give your fellow Chowhounds some credit.

                              As for me, I definitely lean "anti-industrial" most of the time. But big agriculture is growing plenty of organic crops these days. I'd rather eat a chicken that was raised humanely on conventional feed than one that got organic food in a huge poultry mill. YMMV.

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                Indeed. Just wait. I am basing my caution on years of observing these discussions here and elsewhere.

                                1. re: Karl S

                                  By definition, being CHers, we are mainly idealists; most of us are somewhat idealogues. Idealism and Realism are rarely bedmates from conception to consumption. I suspect your tendentious remark is accurate. "Let loose the chows of war."

                                2. re: alanbarnes

                                  Yes, I totally agree with you regarding the humanely raised chicken. Alas, there isn't yet a certification in my area for "humanely raised". Hope it happens, though. Meanwhile, I do my best by asking questions...

                                  1. re: Full tummy

                                    If you have local humanely raised chickens, visit the farm. Any legitimate producer will welcome you with open arms. If you're given a long list of reasons why you can't visit, move on.

                                3. re: Karl S

                                  Doesn't it defy rational discussion with the OP, when the first thing out of the OP's mouth is "I do believe that the organic movement is a hoax"? Isn't that like starting a discussion about space travel with "I don't think we walked on the moon."?

                                4. I made an original comment which was deleted....for what reason I do not know, so I'll try again. There are some great farms producing great produce....however, for me I believe it is a hoax....not for any beliefs or benefits about organic products themselves, but rather the source from point of purchase. I have witnessed firsthand many deceptive practices when it comes to retail food sales.....especially at one day fairs and markets.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: fourunder

                                    Buyer beware!!!! ----- All that glitters is not gold!!!!

                                    Enjoy!

                                  2. My feeling is the heart of the "Organic movement" is rooted in good, honest, back to basics food ideology. Like our ancestors did it years ago. The belief being that the added pesticides, hormones and whatnot are the cause of modern illnesses and allergies.

                                    What seems to have happened along the way is a bunch of bean counters have realized there's a huge market for this kinda thing and a premium can be placed on it for various reasons.

                                    So no, it's not a hoax. It's more like an idea that has been exploited by big business. Bordering on a scam IMHO.

                                    It should be pointed out that our ancestors who ate nothing but locally grown, pesticide (or anything else) free food still got sick.

                                    As for cherry picking facts, that's just how it goes. As in the OP where the scientists said that contamination from manure could cause food borne illness (which was rebuked), well, cherry pick your scientists and you can get that argument.

                                    I for one will try to buy as close to home as possible. Organic or not. I will not pay extra in a store for something organic simply because it is. Nor do I have a problem paying a bit extra to the farmer 5 miles up the road for something that was picked this morning. I have my own set of guidelines and I tend to just make them up as I go along. LOL

                                    DT

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: Davwud

                                      Rebuked by whom? There have been e-coli scares in the US every now and then- I wasn't saying it happens all the time but it does happen. The fact is that people fear pesticides (that as I said before, the FDA says will not harm us, whether you want to believe them or not they are basing this statement on scientific studies) and yet there are dangers, aside from pesticides from eating "naturally" grown food. I never said not to eat organic. But we shouldn't kid ourselves that just because something is "organic" or "natural" that it's perfectly safe. Many mushrooms are naturally grown- and some will kill you.

                                      1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                        E. coli "scares"? There are numerous documented e. coli outbreaks. If you can point to one that was caused by manure-based fertilizer, please do so.

                                        There's a huge difference between contamination by fresh fecal matter and the application of composted manure, which is sanitary.

                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          There isn't a single e. coli outbreak that has been traced to soil amendments. E. Coli is almost always about contamination during handling or packaging. That was the problem with packaged spinach, and peanuts (recent) and the problem with Odwalla juice (1995).

                                          1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                            I believe there was an e. coli outbreak in fresh apple cider in New England several years ago. Animal manure had been spread on the orchard floor as a soil ammendment and contaminated drop apples.

                                            The peanut problem was supposedly caused by birds and/or rodents in the warehouses. The packaged spinach situation from CA involved E. coli O157:H7, which is found in cattle intestinal tracts. I don't think they ever determined where it came from, but there were dairy farms in the area.

                                            READ THIS: http://www.organicconsumers.org/artic...

                                            or full article here:
                                            http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                                            The desire for increased food safety will have its own costs, environmental and otherwise, and most likely will impose new hardships on the smaller and/or organic grower.

                                            1. re: gnocchi

                                              There was an orchard in Connecticut where this was a problem.

                                        2. re: NicoleFriedman

                                          Gio. Second post from the top.

                                          "As a master gardener I know that only manure that has been composted for at least 3 years should be used on a vegetable garden. A proper compost pile reaches such high temperatures as to kill all pathogens. I'm surprised those "scientists" didn't know that only composted manure is used on organic farms and all bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that are capable of producing an infection or disease are killed during the composting process."

                                          I believe Gio. If you don't, take it up with him/her.

                                          DT

                                          1. re: Davwud

                                            A proper compost heap needs only a year to kill all bad things. In the depths of winter, we used to lie on top of the compost to warm up. Sound yucky, but it was amazingly warm. We applied the well-decomposed manure to our garden in the spring.

                                            1. re: Davwud

                                              more than you (probably) ever cared to know about composting and soil amendments on organic farms:

                                              http://www.cefs.ncsu.edu/PDFs/Organic...

                                              to sum up, it's a scientific process, and regulated. the farmer is using sterile compost. . . not trying to burn the heck out of her/his valuable organic crops with ammonia or other nasties.

                                              1. re: Davwud

                                                Not only does compost have to reach, and stay in, a range of temeperatures before it is applied but there is a restriction on application based on when harvest is for organic crops.
                                                Compost can be applied to plants whose edible parts do not contact the soil 90 days before harvest. If the edible portion does contact the soil then compost can't be applied sooner than 120 days before harvest.

                                              2. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                There's natural danger everywhere (poisonous insects, snakes, flowers), and to interject mushrooms into this discussion is inappropriate. Mushrooms are one of those hot buttons that play on people's fear of the unknown.

                                            2. It is not a hoax but it is a scam.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: beevod

                                                The whole thing has lost relevance now that the marketing machine has gotten ahold of it. I doubt that most of the Whole Foods Stepford wives who have made "organic sustainable locally sourced " their mantra de jour even know what they are talking about.

                                                1. re: Samalicious

                                                  So the people who buy the product define it more than the people who produce it?

                                                  1. re: babette feasts

                                                    At last I'm beginning to understand "The media is the message".

                                              2. I very much believe that there are health and environmental benefits to eating organic foods. But when I say organic I don't necessarily mean "certified organic". There are local producers here that can't afford the official certification but don't use chemicals and pesticides. There are also big "organic" producers that have very deceptive practices and are certified.

                                                It does frustrate me when I hear people say that it is all a big scam to sucker "rich people". My parents grew our food organically because they were poor and growing their own food was cheaper.. organic doesn't have to cost more. Also, if you look at the stats, Americans pay a very small percentage of their income on food compared to other countries. As a culture we just don't place a high value on food but many could afford organic whole food items.

                                                I also don't really expect organic food to taste better, or to have more vitamins. But I do expect it to be more natural and to have less chemical residue. I don't even really care what the studies show - if chemicals are on it, I don't want to eat it!

                                                1. "First, organic food is a lot more expensive than non-organic."

                                                  -Not always. Depending on the time of year and the source of the commodity organics can in fact be less expensive for the end consumer. I could go on for pages debunking this premise it is so deeply flawed. "

                                                  "It also takes more energy and space to produce"

                                                  -If you purchase the product close to the source it in fact uses less energy. Harvest methods (which have nothing to do with "organic" certs) can vary greatly. Hand harvest is more expensive, but less polluting, and uses less energy. Mechanical harvest costs less, but produces fuel emissions. The suggestion more space is used is silly, and again not based on whether the product is "organic" or not. Mechanical harvest requires more room between trees and plants then hand harvest does. Organic standards cover soil amendments and pesticide practices, not space usage.

                                                  " anyone is familiar with Thomas Malthus, he believed a few hundred years ago that eventually the earth's population will come to a point where there would not be enough food to go around. If everyone were to grow organic around the world, due to the space and money needed, that unfortunately would be true and a LOT of people would starve to death. Not to mention, without the use of biotechnology, many organic crops do not withstand all types of weather and are more likely to perish...again leading to more possible hunger, especially in areas of the world who need it most.

                                                  -Starvation and malnutrition are already profound problems. The cause is distribution of resources, not the lack of resources.

                                                  Organic standards have no negative affect on biotechnology. Botanists have developed crops that produce better yields under harsher conditions since farming began. The only hitch has been the exclusion of GMO crops from organics certs. A situation that companies producing those products want to change.

                                                  "From a chowhound perspective, my question is : does organic actually taste better and is it worth the extra money? Personally, my view on this varies. Occasionally at Whole Foods the "organic" section seems more visually appealing somehow. Does this mess with my brain and make me think it tastes better?"

                                                  -This isn't an apples to apples comparison. A vast majority of organic produce has come from niche farmers that grow less popular (but often tastier) species of fruit. While a factory farm is concerned with yield, easy harvest, durability through shipping and storage. Taste and texture are NOT their primary goal. A small specialty farmer has to offer you something that tastes great to compete. The small farmer is more likely to grow a Blenheim Apricot, Gravenstein apple, Van cherry, or Goldbud Peach. A factory farm won't touch these ethereal fruits because they don't fit the business plan.

                                                  "On Penn and Teller BS, they did an experiment where they cut THE SAME BANANA in 1/2 and told people that one half was organic and the other was not. The majority of people interviewed strongly believed the "organic" half tasted better."

                                                  -They had higher expectations of the organic banana. Also, not knowing the people involved in such and "experiment" it is hard to give it credibility. Were any smokers? A detail like that certainly affects the end result. My guess if faced with the option most people would say they would rather have an organic banana.

                                                  "The same show had scientists claiming that there is no difference nutrient wise between organic or non-organic produce. "

                                                  -Why would there be? The goal of organic farming is to lessen the impact a farmer has on the land. This might lessen the amount and impact of chemical soil ammendments and pesticides in the air, water, and soil. One might consider that a long term health benefit. The goal has never been a more nutritious end product.

                                                  "Also, due to the lack of chemical pesticides, they use "natural" ferterlizer (i.e. manure) which can lead to e coli among other health risks.

                                                  -Properly handled fertilizer manure is sterile.

                                                  Handling soil ALWAYS carries a risk to your health. Lots of micro flora and micro fauna live in soil. Some carry a negative impact on human health.

                                                  BTW the lack of pesticide has nothing to do with the use of manure. I don't think this typed out how you meant it.

                                                  My conclusion...
                                                  I grow some of my own food. I try to be very involved with knowing where the food I don't grow comes from. I love having great raw materials, and i am willing to pay premium prices for premium products. Sometimes organics meet my desires as a consumer. I don't find a single "negative" mentioned that holds water.

                                                  Organic products have a purpose, minimize agricultural impact on their environment and the plants and animals that live there
                                                  . They aren't a cure for baldness, impotence, or the common cold. Any one who tells you otherwise is selling you a bill of goods.

                                                  14 Replies
                                                  1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                                    You missed all those copies of Organic Gardening magazine where organic is called better and healthier. This is the reason most organic growers and gardeners will give you. Rodale publishes it. The idea is a healthy soil produces healthier produce. That a superior soil produces superior produce. Superior produce has higher mineral content for one and usually has better and fuller taste
                                                    Do I believe all that organic and bio-dynamic stuff? Yes, but I would like some scientific proof such as analyzing carrots and see which as more minerals. I would test organic carrots from a small local farm versus non-organic from a small local farm versus carrots from a supermarket

                                                    If you can find this on the internet let me know

                                                    1. re: zzDan

                                                      I have spent 20 plus years retailing produce...

                                                      I have never had a grower or wholesaler attempt that (organic has more nutrients)angle. Nor have I attempted it, but maybe being in the industry has its benefits.

                                                      However, in all of the years I have been frequenting farmers markets I have yet to have a vendor try that sell on me. Those folks don't know from Adam, although I do ask questions their average customer does not.

                                                      Your carrot experiment isn't an apples to apples ( or in this case carrots to carrots) comparison. The conventional supermarket carrot will be older. Older produce loses both water, and water soluble nutrients. Conventional carrots are almost exclusively Nantes or Imperinator. They are shipped with the tops clipped, and can be weeks old. "Fancy" carrots with intact tops give away how fresh they are. The greens won't last weeks.

                                                      In order for your test to hold water you need to grow like varieties in the same sun, with the same water. The only variance should be the soil and amendments.

                                                      I would expect Rodale to sell me on every nuance (real or imagined) that Monsanto would for their products. Never trust everything that comes from a sales pitch.

                                                      1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                                        Actually, there has been dozens of studies on the topic of nutrients in organic produce, although the results have been mixed. Many studies have shown that organic produce has more nutrients:
                                                        http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                                                        However, a large retrospective study recently said that overall no significant difference could be determined based on an analysis of 162 studies:
                                                        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/...

                                                        I personally have my suspicions about the legitimacy of the most recent retrospective study - they agency who funded it may have had an agenda and they rejected 2/3 of the previous studies outright for inclusion. So many of these studies are often funded by groups with a conflict of interest.

                                                        At any rate, the theory is that organic farming puts more nutrients back into the soil (composting, organic fertilizer), and those nutrients end up back in the fruit or veggie. Whether that is true or not isn't a big deal to me personally, because I buy organic for other reasons.

                                                        1. re: Jitterbug

                                                          Every study I have seen reads like an ad campaign for the entity that funds it. That is the god honest truth.

                                                          1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                                            I've got to agree with this. I worked in medical publishing for a few years, and it was obvious at times where the research funds originated. If it is not from the CDC, NIH, etc. I take it with a grain of salt.

                                                          2. re: Jitterbug

                                                            Hi
                                                            My reply to you and Brandon is just below

                                                          3. re: Brandon Nelson

                                                            We must meet different people
                                                            The ones I encounter know that organic is better because it is more nutrient dense. More vitamins and minerals packed into each pound. Less water usually. Fact that it is unsprayed is icing on the cake

                                                            I would love to see ash residue tests run on organic versus commercial produce. Run the way you suggest
                                                            You really think they would be equal? The organic theme is that the vegetables and fruits you get are a reflection of the soil health. If I am wrong then so be it

                                                            My own personal test is with chickens. The organic/natural ones have harder, stronger bones.
                                                            This means more minerals to me as in the opposite of osteoporosis
                                                            I gnaw the ends on chicken bones
                                                            I like the bone gristle and cartilage
                                                            The organic ones are always tougher to gnaw and eat
                                                            Conventional grown chickens have softer bones

                                                            I got an organic turkey leg and it was so hard I could gnaw very little
                                                            But I must test that against conventional turkey leg
                                                            BTW my refrigerator has organic and non-organic in it
                                                            I am very good at eyeballing the best whether commercial or organic produce

                                                            1. re: zzDan

                                                              I have read that chickens raised in confined spaces have weak bones because of a lack of exercise. Don't know if this has anything to do with more minerals...

                                                              It does have a lot to do with the happiness of the animals, however, which is important to me.

                                                              1. re: Full tummy

                                                                Last time I bought a conventional chicken and simmered it a thick layer of fat formed on the surface. Much thicker than with natural/organic chickens

                                                              2. re: zzDan

                                                                Do you have any idea what's required for poultry to be labeled "organic"? Feed made from organic grain and "access to the outdoors." Although the access need not be continuous (a few minutes a day will do), the "outdoors" need not have vegetation (it can be a concrete slab next to the barn), and the birds don't actually ever have to go out there.

                                                                If you think that "organic" chickens or turkeys live lives that are markedly different than those that are conventionally raised, you need to take a trip to Petaluma, CA and check out the "organic" poultry operations there. They're factory farms, pure and simple.

                                                                If you want really good chicken, don't buy it at the grocery store. Buy it from a farmer who pasture-raises the birds. That's going to get you stronger bones, less fat, firmer meat, and better flavor. If you believe that the "organic" label delivers any of that, you're seriously deluding yourself.

                                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                  This is true of "Free Range" also. So many people believe it means the chickens/cows/pigs get to run around in a pasture all day. Here's what Wiki has to say:

                                                                  "The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requires that chickens raised for their meat have access to the outside in order to receive the free-range certification. There is no requirement for access to pasture, and there may be access to only dirt or gravel . Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means. Many egg farmers sell their eggs as free range merely because their cages are two or three inches above average size, or because there is a window in the shed."

                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                    All well and good.
                                                                    I am using the terms organic and natural loosely & interchangeably

                                                                    I posted my chicken tests --- Which chickens have stronger bones and less fat. And the organic/natural chickens prevail. I have seen disgusting quantities of fat float to the surface when simmering a conventional whole chicken. Enough to power a Chanukka latke party

                                                                    BTW I have been reading about and "into" organic since 1972 and organic gardening in 1975. With lots of non-organic also eaten since then too.

                                                                    1. re: zzDan

                                                                      Isn't there something about the fat color as well... something about yellower fat in a really healthy kosher chicken, etc.? (Vs. a nonorganic literal run of the mill bird.)

                                                                      And there can be a really remarkable difference in the strength and thickness of the eggshells, for one thing.

                                                                      1. re: Cinnamon

                                                                        Didn't Frank Perdue brag about his yellow chickens? It came from feeding them a common flower. Yellow looks healthier to consumers than deathly white. Yellow implies the chickens maybe perhaps got outdoors a bit

                                                                        Harder eggshells means chickens on a better calcium diet and using it on the eggshells. Kosher chickens are raised better than your average supermarket bird. Not organic but raised more wholesomely from what I have read from Empire and Murray's

                                                          4. Food for thought for you, Nicole, in the article about peaches and pesticide in this link.

                                                            For some time now, my mom has questioned the "organic" label quite a bit. I'm all for lack of pesticide in my produce, but I'm beginning to think "organic" is not all it's cracked up to be:

                                                            http://www.courant.com/business/hc-08...

                                                            1. My belief is that organic... is Not a hoax. It's an attempt to bring us back to the natural production of various foods for our consumption which will have beneficial impact on our bodies without the ingestion of chemicals which have adverse effects.

                                                              No one has mentioned Integrated Pest Management. It's another method to cope with the predators which can have a devistating effect on various crops. It's not exctly organic, but leaves the farmers free to use those chemical pesticides or fertilizers necessary to alleviate or forestall certain invasions of crops with the least impact to the soil or envirnoment. ... or to us.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Gio

                                                                I'm with you, Gio.

                                                                I buy almost all of my meat over the internet from a small organic family owned farm about 100 miles north of me. I order; Simon the butcher rings next day to confirm cuts and agree delivery. It arrives by overnight haulier a few days later.

                                                                They raise sheep, pigs and cattle and sell it as lamb, mutton, pork, gammon, sausages bacon and beef. The animals are taken to a local abattoir for slaughter and then butchered on the farm. Seems to me to be farming as it should be - and there's little or no cost differecne between their organic meat and supermarket premium non-organic.

                                                                http://www.manserghhall.co.uk/index.html

                                                              2. If I could afford it, I would eat strictly organic. As a PhD student, however, that is a luxury I will not enjoy for some time.

                                                                As someone with a severe autoimmune disease whose cause is unknown but that is strongly affected by food (Crohn's Disease), there are definitely certain chemicals that set me off... it's extremely difficult to ascertain which ones are triggers, though, given the sea of chemicals in our food and indeed, ones that are not even indicated in labeling (e.g. pesticides). Organic, while I realize is no guarantee of reduced chemical usage, is generally a safer choice for me.

                                                                There are certain organic choices I make based exclusively on flavour. I find that organic bananas and apples often (but not always) taste much better than the regular store variety. I buy organic potatoes because I know specifically that chemicals that I am sensitive to are used on nonorganic varieties.

                                                                As for "feeding the world", the population is already too high in the first place, especially if the only way that we can maintain it is by poisoning our environment with toxic chemicals; hence, I am not concerned about this facet of organic farming.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: vorpal

                                                                  I agree that it's important to protect our environment, but I strongly disagree that we should put that ahead of feeding the world. Granted, an earlier poster did point out that a good chunk of the problem is lack of distribution of resources. Right now, that is true...but eventually as the pop grows that will probably not be the only reason for starvation. I am not saying that we should destroy the enviornment with chemicals. However, we should not allow our emotions (especially fear) outweight scientific facts- especially when it may mean harming other people.

                                                                  1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                    "I agree that it's important to protect our environment, but I strongly disagree that we should put that ahead of feeding the world."

                                                                    In order to feed the world we need, among other things, viable farmlands, wetlands, and oceans. Pollutants traced to chemical agro business have been negative impacts on the water table, wetlands, and ocean. You seem to think that maximizing crop output by any means is a positive. If you max out corn production at the expense of the salmon population it isn't really a net gain in the food supply. One resource gets stimulated at the expense of others.

                                                                    Protecting the environment is about feeding the world. Clean ecosystems support life. Polluted ecosystems can become fallow. Fallow ecosystems produce nothing in terms of food.

                                                                    1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                      Some of the food that has been given to "feed the hungry" in both this country and overseas is cheap but nutrient poor. Or worse, has made people sick. There are children in the united states who are overweight yet have nutritional deficiencies like rickets and scurvy because they are eating inexpensive junk food. Time Magazine just had a small piece about the low cost per calorie of junk food when compared to produce. And what about the cost of long term health consequences? What about the cost of government subsidies on conventional farming?
                                                                      I know that the original discussion was about organic only - but my point is that there is a lot more to food than quantity and cheapness when assessing its value.

                                                                  2. Not a hoax, per se, but some of the rules involved in getting USDA certification are certainly bogus and seemingly designed only to make the process more expensive and frustrating than necessary.

                                                                    Case in point: coffee. To be certified USDA organic, the paper/regulatory trail goes well beyond the farm. Once the (usually poor) farmer meets the requirements and pays the appropriate agencies, there are rules for shipping (separate containers), rules for storage (must be X feet away from non-organic and in a separate secure holding area) and separate roasting.

                                                                    It's that last part that's truly annoying - most coffee roasters can't afford to buy and keep a coffee roasting machine dedicated to only organic. So they need to take a load of organic beans and roast through a full cycle in order to "clean" the roaster of any non-organic product (of which only traces would remain anyway). So the roaster has to burn through resources and time each time they want to roast a batch of organic. They cannot sell that "cleaning" load of USDA Organic beans as being USDA Organic. Quite often that coffee is useless as an origin coffee, so they add flavorings. What a waste.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                      No. The coffee processors in producing countries are not roasters. They buy certified organic beans and ship it to roasters who have dedicated organic roasters. The processors (or coops) are responsible for segregated collection, packaging, and shipping. Farmers do have to follow expensive, onerous proceedures to obtain certification. Fortunately, certification follows pretty much international standards, not just the USDA.

                                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                        Sam - thought I was pretty clear that roasting was far downstream after planting, harvest, processing, shipping, importing, etc. If I wasn't clear, my apologies. My point was it's the roaster part that gets a bit crazy, arbitrary and wasteful. I'm on that end of the business.

                                                                        Also, dedicated organic roasters are not a stipulation for USDA. But if you don't have a dedicated roaster, in order to sell a roast as USDA Organic you have roast two loads of organic beans, the first of which is used to "clean out" the roaster of non-organic materials. You can do whatever you want with that, but it can't be sold as organic. The second roast can then be sold as organic.

                                                                        The other thing, as many top buyers will tell you, is that much of the coffee from Africa and Indonesia is organic anyway - farms have always used organic methods and can't afford chemical fertilizers. Unfortunately they also can't afford the certifications, so they lose the USDA marketing hype.

                                                                        1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                          PG, although the roasters I know have dedicated roasters, using the "cleaning" grind as conventional coffee wouldn't be that much of a burden.

                                                                          I fought a losing battle to try to get one of the major US specilaty coffee roasters to market fair trade inorganic - but fertilizer only - coffee. Although many small third world producers can get around use of pesticides, many (including consumers) would be benefited if farmers could use inorganic fertilizers. Coffee farmers - including in Africa and Indonesia - have the greatest problems maintaining soil fertility and can (in the cash business that coffee is) afford N purchases. The alternatives for organically maintaining soil fertility for many small coffee farmers are horrendously expensive in terms of labor and even cash.

                                                                    2. Taking this thread's original argument down the slippery slope, everybody would be required to pop experimental protein pills in lieu of eating.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Cinnamon

                                                                        "...everybody would be required to pop experimental protein pills in lieu of eating."

                                                                        I'm partial to the Soylent Green M&M brand myself... ;-D>

                                                                      2. most of what id say has been covered already, but malthus is hardly an incontravertable voice anymore. if we would take more of bucky fuller's ideas into account we could dispense with malthus altogether

                                                                        1. As you read all the responses, you learn that the hoax is there is an easy answer. The average consumer wants to buy by sound bite, w/out learning the details. It's not just a matter of organic or not. I'd rather buy from a small farmer who grows sustainably, even if it hasn't been certified organic than an organic factory farm. The devil is in the details.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                            You nailed it. Polyface Farms would be an excellent example of what you're talking about.