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Organic Produce: A beautiful lie

I've been reading a lot about organic food recently. I started my search on organic produce when a local produce store owner voiced his doubts about organic food. I decided to see for myself, since telling customers organic is not all its cracked up to be would be within the owner's best interests. I've read several articles, and I've come to the following conclusion about organic produce.

Organic started out as a great idea. Small farmers treating the animals, workers, and environment with respect. The innovative small farmers painted a picture of beauty and ethics. Big companies wanted in once the organic movement took off.

Big companies took advantage of the picture created by small farmers. One of the big concerns with the original organic movement is local produce. Once the government stepped in and started the organic certificate program to make things "better" things really went downhill. The organic certificate program is expensive and helps big farms more than small farms. Particularly the regulation that an organic crop must be grown at least a certain distance from a processing plant.

Not only that but organic is not pesticide free. Many of the natural pesticides need to be applied more times to get the same benefit as a synthetic pesticide. Also the same natural pesticides can be very detrimental to the environment.

What trumps all in my opinion though is where organic food is grown. Remember the original organic movement involved local produce. Many of the organic foods being sold are being grown in California, New Zeland, and China. China for crying out loud. Do you really think organic food grown in China is healthy or better than conventional food?

In conclusion organic food in its current form may be grown from a small farm. Instead, you are most likely buying from a gigantic farm very farm away. In short, you are buying inferior quality food at premium prices. Yes, organic food in my opinion is inferior quality because of the nutrients lost in transportation.

Thoughts, comments, ideas on where to buy good local produce?

Here's my sources:
Brady, Diane. Businessweek. "The Organic Myth"

No author nor title, talks about natural vs synthetic pesticides and organic foods

Kuepper, Georg. Organic Farm Certification & the National Organic Program

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  1. I believe it, because it started to hit me when a family member decided to go into the "organic business" and this was overseas, so shipping things over here because they are grown without pesticides in a specific region (no regulations as far as I know)

    I like the idea of locally grown, organic food, but not everything we buy and need can come from certain climates so this is when I really started to think about things differently.

    Thank you for raising these points, I will read the articles you posted too.

    1. Didn't Pollan cover this in the Omnivore's Dilemma?

      Did you add anything new here?

      3 Replies
      1. re: toomuchfat

        Well, Bottomless Pit convinced me that I was right in my original suspicion that I would be paying too much for too little if I was suckered into buying organic produce.

        1. re: toomuchfat

          Yes, plus I think it's fairly common knowledge anyway to people who want good food. Michael Pollan did say it was marginally better to buy from large farm organics over large farm non-organcs, FWIW. When WF sources its frozen organic vegetables from China, you know organic isn't always better. Buying by sound bites like "always buys organic" doesn't work.

          To the OP, ideas on buying local, try:

          If you're buying from a farmers market, get to know the farm (and make sure it's not someone just picking up produce from the terminal market). Or better yet, start your own garden.

          1. re: toomuchfat

            Yes - bringing it up for discussion among the Hounds. This is the cliff notes version. :)

          2. I never really bought the organic argument. Seemed like over price stuff to me.


              1. "...ideas on where to buy good local produce?" Join a local CSA.

                1. Having read your post, Bottomless_Pit, and scanned some of your references, as I see it, few of us are moving back far enough to see the really BIG picture.

                  Does anyone remember DDT? It got into the food chain and came very close to wiping out several species, most notably the California brown pelican and California condor. Why California? Because at that time California was the largest produce producer in the United States. It fed the country. And that specific pesticide got into every living creature's food chain. Once it was banned, and with a lot of help in the way of breeding programs and protection against killing or eating specific animals, much of that damage was reversed, but not all.

                  Bear with me, I'm almost to the point. The United States government BANNED the use of DDT within the United States. Period! BUT....! It did NOT ban the manufacture! I'm skipping a lot of important and very salient points, but an example of the complexity of the problem is this: The U.S. bans the use of DDT within the United States, but still allows its manufacture in this country (which contributed greatly to the DDT polution problem) and what country do you think bought (buys?) the MOST DDT from the U.S.???? MEXICO! And how much of the produce in your local market carries a little sticky label saying "Grown in Mexico?"

                  Many pesticides (and DDT is only one of them) are extremely long lasting, and once introduced into the ecosystem they are damned near self perpetuating. Seafood is a good expample of the problem. The food chain in the ocean is that fish are ever eaten by bigger fish, and the farther up the food chain you go, the more concentrated the pollutants (mercury, etc.) are in the fish we catch and eat. Top-of-the-food-chain fish such as swordfish, tuna, salmon, well, all of the "big guys" are hazardous when eaten more often than once every week or two. And sometimes maybe even when eaten that little. I don't know of any fisherman or agency who will divulge that information completely.

                  This brief history of DDT is only an example of how things can work. Pollution and contamination of our food chain is not something that can simply be "obliterated completely" by buying organic, or even by growing your own organic foods. Things come into the picture like the history of the use of the ground you grow things in, the purity/contamination of your water source, what the wind carries in from near and far distances. It is a very complex problem, and my guess is that it will take at least as long to clean up the mess we've made as it took us to make it. But that time frame is only possible if we work on it in unison at the global level. What do you think the chances are for that to happen?

                  So in a more direct answer to the original question, "organic" is and is not a myth and/or rip off. Organic in one local ecosystem will not equate directly with organic from another. But the GOOD thing is that consumers demanding and buying organic DOES have the advantage of making agribusiness (the big guys who steer where we go) aware that there is profit to be made by "going green." We have not yet reached the point where buying organic is all that we hope it is, but if we keep pushing, we may get there yet! Making our desire for organic is the loudest voice we have. Demand!

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: Caroline1

                    "Making our desire for organic is the loudest voice we have. Demand!"

                    Completely agree. The more we demand, the more will be grown locally. It works and an increasing number of major producers are now growing organic as well as non-organic crops.

                    I balance my ethical buying between organic and local. For example, I do not generally buy organic that has been shipped from halfway round the world in preference to non-organic that has been grown locally (or fairly local). But I will always look for an organic preferance amongst locally grown produce or, indeed, items that are always imported.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      Thanks for the responses. My personal solution to the problem is to buy local, as local as possible. Personally I am starting my own garden this year. I will only use compost, water, and manure.

                      If I were younger Caroline I would agree with you. I found companies have one advantage over demand and that's limited selection. What I am saying is as a consumer we can demand a product that is green, but the consumer can only buy what is available. A consumer cannot buy a non-existent product.

                      As a consumer I want all products to be greener. Unfortunately I can't buy a product that is greener than what is already available. Instead, the manufacturers produces a product and labels the product "green" or "organic." Manufacturers sell a label not a product. In brief, big business finds tricking the general public easier than meeting the public demands. As a consumer we are sold a rip-off of the product that we demanded and at full price.

                      1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                        I understand what you're saying yet I may be an incurable optimist about some things, and God, I hope you're wrong! Oh, and I'm rather amused that you could agree with me if you were younger." I'm 76. Sweet Bird of Youth! '-)

                        1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                          greenwashing certainly exists, but "organic" is one of the most heavily regulated and hard to obtain designations there is. you can't just slap a "certified organic" label on something that isn't, even walmart didn't get away with that when they tried. . . if you actually knew anyone who was a certified organic farmer, or who works at a certified organic warehouse, then that person could probably explain to you the very intense standards they must uphold, the paperwork they must keep to prove it, the inspections and record keeping on everything from their trucks & shipping records to their compost heaps.

                          your argument that if a crop happens to be grown in california or china or australia or somewhere else you don't happen to be, or happens to be grown on a large farm (how large?) it renders this crop automatically not organic, btw. . . doesn't make any sense.

                          1. re: soupkitten

                            Soupkitten "your argument that if a crop happens to be grown in california or china or australia or somewhere else you don't happen to be, or happens to be grown on a large farm (how large?) it renders this crop automatically not organic, btw. . . doesn't make any sense."

                            I'm saying that the original idea of organic was local. The standards have strayed from the original idea. Not to mention all that paperwork and inspections is time taken away from farming.

                            1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                              paperwork and inspections in restaurants take away from the cooking, but things seem to be trending toward more and more paperwork, & not less and less. few people are arguing that restaurants shouldn't have health inspections, menus, or websites.

                              fwiw, i think the original idea of organic (wrt plant-based crops, per the title of your op) was to turn away from toxic pesticides and petrol-based synthetic fertilizer programs, and to nurture healthy soil to reduce topsoil degradation, erosion and desertification (permanent loss of fertile cropland), in order to raise food crops that were more healthy for the earth and the consumer than their conventionally raised counterparts. that's my best attempt at a "nutshell summary" there, sorry, of course it's more complicated than that, but. . . there is a difference between organic food production and consumption, and locovorism-- local food production and consumption. they can and do frequently intersect, but they are not the same thing. it is up to individual consumers to educate themselves about organic and local food products and make decisions about their own consumption. by unnecessarily conflating the two concepts i really think you may be missing the point.

                              maybe an example or two? a person eats an arbitrary amount of local food. say 25% or 60%, it doesn't really matter-- but there is a product that this person consumes, wants to continue to consume, and it simply does not grow where s/he lives, let's use coffee as an example. the person chooses to buy the shade-grown small farmer co-op organic fair trade stuff. sure, there is non certified coffee of unknown provenance available, but it travels approximately the same distance to the consumer. how is the organic shade grown coffee a scam? how is it "inferior quality food at premium prices?"

                              preserved/processed foods: if i buy some frozen organic sno-pac green beans, produced and processed in my own state, and someone in berkeley california buys the same exact package-- yes there are transport costs, but how does it make the beans "inferior" in one state but not another? same argument for an organic farmer who's contracted by a company to grow organic blue corn for tortilla chips.

                              fresh foods: in february, when there is snow on the ground here, i decide to break up the somewhat, to some, monotonous hydroponic lettuces, cabbage and carrots and other (local) excellent keeper vegetables tack i've been on and offer some tender salad greens and peppers. i could go to restaurant depot and buy some arizona peppers and ammonia-preserved conventional bagged california salad, or go to the organic warehouse and get cases of certified organic options from the same area of the country. the food travels the same distance, yes, but to ignore 1) the totally different ways the crops were raised and 2) handled/processed/shipped. . . and call the organic food the same, or even inferior-- no dice, sorry. in fact, a lot of times it is with shipped foods that the quality differences between organic and conventional produce show up. a lot of it has to do with organic produce not sitting around & not being improperly handled. it isn't unusual for a conventional potato in a supermarket to be 1 year or more old, thanks to gassing, heavy fungicide use, and other artificial preservative treatments. a certified organic potato, regardless of its provenance, will absolutely be fresher, less toxic, and, many would argue-- superior in nutrition and taste. a lot of conventional produce is not stored at correct temp during shipping, and it lags in trucks and in storage warehouses, or (in the case of herbs) on shrink-wrapped pallets on the hot airport tarmac for hours, where organic produce (preservative free) does not. there are arguments to be made that certified organic produce from 200 or 800 miles away may still be fresher and higher quality than conventional produce from a lesser distance.

                              1. re: soupkitten

                                This is a very well argued response. I would just add that it's a mistake to assume that organic automatically means "certified organic." Many small growers farm organically, but cannot afford the high cost and the time required to obtain and keep up certification. I know of two in our area who previously had the certification and gave it up because of the time and expense, yet they haven't changed their methods or lowered their standards. It hasn't made a bit of difference to their loyal local customers.

                                1. re: cheesemaestro

                                  This happens all the time around here, maestro -- it's become almost a badge of pride for the guy at the farmers' market to have a sign that says "Pesticide, GMO, Hormone, Antibiotic and Chemical-free. FED-FREE TOO" or something like that! ;) I've seen farmers bust out the grad-school vocab and write stuff about the "Organic Certification Hegemony"!

                                  Capriole Farms goat cheese (local to me but somewhat widely available), according to its proprietress, will never be certified organic as long as that certification requires that she never use antibiotics. If one of her beloved goats gets sick and can be made well by a simple, one-time antibiotic injection, she's not going to let the creature die just to maintain some arbitrary standard and get a little label to go on her packaging! :)

                                  1. re: LauraGrace

                                    Just wanted to mention that dairies that are certified organic don't necessarily let their animals die rather than use antibiotics. A typical protocol is to treat the animal to save it, but then sell the animal to another producer or individual. Someone else can make use of the recovered animal, and the certified organic herd maintains its status.

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      I just find it bizarre, I guess, that the choice in the US seems to be either constant and pre-emptive antibiotic use or absolutely none at all.

                                      Obviously I don't think that most organic farmers would actually let an animal die rather than give it antibiotics -- that was poorly stated. My point was that it seems silly that a farmer committed to natural methods is forced to be a Luddite in order to meet a particular standard. Taken as a whole, antibiotics are a priceless tool that shouldn't be off-limits for any farmer, IMO.

                                      I wonder what a good substitute system would be? Perhaps levels of Organic? Organic 1 meaning the strictest standards (including something about it being produced on local and smaller farms), Organic 2 meaning not necessarily local or small farms, perhaps occasional use of antibiotics, etc.? I don't know! I do know that the system we have approaches being useless, I just don't know the solution.

                                      1. re: LauraGrace

                                        i don't think it's fair to call farmers who follow organic principles luddites. it's great that the organic label can be applied to everyone in the marketplace, including traditional-method amish, hmong, and native american farmers, as well as agriculturists who employ flame-throwers and the latest machinery to run their operations, but many organic methods are extremely contemporary, are more innovative than the conventional methods, and are more agile at adapting to problems wrt climate change, seasonal weather conditions, market fluctuations etc than the stereotypical "nuke everything with round-up and nitrate fertilizer" conventional farming methods. it can be argued that a farmer who applies a homeopathic remedy to one of her grass-fed cows' eye infection, rather than just calling in the antibiotic cavalry, is doing a fine and innovative job. the cow gets cured either way, and with the natural method, the antibiotics don't get into meat, and into human beings. there are many examples of very sophisticated organic farming methods that are so successful that conventional farmers are adopting them-- they save the farmers money and increase crop yield.

                                        1. re: LauraGrace

                                          It is my understanding that WHEN an animal clearly needs antibiotics, an organic farmer removes them from the food supply, either temporarily or permanently. That doesn't mean they "let them die." It means they become conventional milk producers, egg suppliers, beef, pork, chicken, etc...

                                          1. re: Beckyleach

                                            Soupkitten and Beckyleach -- sigh. Sorry I'm so inarticulate today. I'm definitely not calling organic farmers Luddites, nor am I saying that organic farmers let their animals die. I'm just trying to lament the fact that federal organic standards force farmers to make choices that they shouldn't have to make, IMO. That's all.

                                      2. re: LauraGrace

                                        Seriously, a good example of why strict standards do not mean better. There is a big difference between applying antibiotics before the animal is even sick and when the animal is going to die.

                                        I know people who have taken antibiotics who don't need them and I've seen "microban" on socks. So, if antibiotics are used in the above situations I'm sure some farmers use antibiotics way too often.

                                        1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                                          80% of the antibiotics manufactured in the U.S. are dumped into feedlots and sprayed onto produce. That's hardly "some farmers."

                                  2. re: Bottomless_Pit

                                    This recent article by David Karp, aka The Fruit Detective, might help:


                                    David as well as Russ Parsons (I have a great respect for both) have often made reference to the whole "organic certification" issue - how while it's not a bad thing, it also tends to hinder and mislabel many good players in agriculture. What I keep picking up on is both are proponents of the spirit of good agricultural philosophies. Yeah, they both have the luxury of knowing who the reputable farmers are, but I guess it begs the proposition that we should as well.

                                2. re: Bottomless_Pit

                                  It's good to have your own garden. I've been growing produce in my garden for a few years, and I have enjoyed it except for the weeding. The produce is far better than anything you can buy.

                                  You can certainly grow without pesticides, but you should be prepared to lose a large portion of your crops. Organic pesticides are available, but they are not necessarily less toxic or hazardous than non-organic ones. Just do your research beforehand.

                                  1. re: raytamsgv

                                    Maybe it has to do with the locale, but I've been growing entirely organic for six years, now, and don't lose "a large portion" of my crops, at all. I lose probably 10%--15% at the worst (unless I'm having a lazy, lazy year and don't get the cabbage worms picked off in time, or I don't cover the kale with Reemay, etc.) and maybe less. I don't really keep track.... certainly I don't loose enough to make any difference, and what isn't acceptable as food makes great compost fodder.

                                    Practice crop rotation, treat your soil with loving care (compost, manure, don't walk on it, etc.), and keep your plants healthy (I use kelp spray and an organic compound made by Peaceful Valley Organics, called Omega), and you should do just fine--at least here in the Midwest.

                              2. With a few exceptions, "organic" is as big a rip as "vitamin" water.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: beevod

                                  Oh, what a good comparison, beevod. I love that the same folks who are sweating the ecological (really, where were you for so many years?) ban on water in plastic -- which those with a tap couldn't figure out was a ripoff -- have now figured out that the dullards will still buy if they supposedly put vitamins in it and make it pretty shiny colors!

                                  As the man said, there's one born every minute.

                                  1. re: anonymouse1935

                                    Actually, there have been some fairly convincing studies released in the past few years that show that organically grown produce from healthy soil is far more nutritious for you than chemically-cropped produce. In fact, even though you may have LOWER yields growing organically, the vitamin/mineral content of the resultant vegetables is HIGHER, acre per acre, anyway! "More bang for your buck," so to speak.

                                    Just one example:

                                    "Early results of a 12 million pound, 4-year EU study on the benefits of organic food suggest that some of them, such as fruit, vegetables and milk, are more nutritious than non-organically produced food and may contain higher concentrations of cancer fighting and heart beneficial antioxidants. "


                                    1. re: Beckyleach

                                      **Some** of them **may** contain more antioxidants. Yeah, right. And the proponents of the research are using weasel-words like "early results show."

                                      Organic produce may well be healthier than conventionally-grown stuff. If so, the data will prove it. Meanwhile, it's all marketing hype. Believe peer-reviewed articles, not bullshit press releases.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        You still have to be careful about who's picking the peers to do the reviewing. Gets sort of self-selecting to produce desired results.
                                        Then the PR flacks get ahold of it, and it gets dumbed down by general assignment reporters who write the story in 10 minutes without verifying or questioning.

                                      2. re: Beckyleach

                                        I love that phrase, "may contain." What would researchers do without it?

                                  2. I love the "idea" of organic but it would appear that I need to educate myself more on the subject. Currently, I would say 50% of the organic produce/groceries I purchase are from my local farmer's market, where the farms are usually within 50 miles of where I live - which would seem to fall into the ideal. The rest I buy at Trader Joe's - maybe not so ideal after all.

                                    1. Watch Penn & Teller's episode of "Bullsh**" on organic farming. It made me think twice about the overpriced produce and other foods.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Michelly

                                        Bullshit, is bullshit. I watch the show as well, but I think they are so full of shit. For all their talk about reason and science, a lot of their arguments are just ad hominem attacks on the topic's proponents (what's worse, they pick the lamest easiest targets as proponents as well.)

                                        I can't recall the specifics of the organic episode, but I remember they walked right past some important arguments in support of organics. For instance, I think they walked right past any discussion about pesticides and the benefits to the soil and our petro-independence by not staying on a "kill the soil, fertilize it with oil" method. They cited a Cato study about the nutritional content as well I think. They cite Cato a lot, which is rife with intellectually dishonest studies, so whether they cited them in this instance or not, I am always suspect of their arguments that briefly cite a single study.

                                        I like the idea behind their show, but there really is so much bullshit in their arguments (which they attest to, they plan on having a "Bullshit of Bullshit!" episode.)

                                      2. FWIW, I think things are a bit better over in England.

                                        Here, locally sourced food is really a big deal. A lot of supermarkets tell you what farm certain produce is from, and while individually all these things don't necessarily mean anything, it does point to the fact that consumers are willing to pay for their ethics.

                                        So line-caught tuna doesn't necessarily equal wild tuna, and wild tuna wouldn't automatically mean it's sustainable (for instance).

                                        But overall, I'd say that the lengths they go to are indicative of their moral compass. I could be wrong, but I feel pretty good about the state of things over here.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: Soop

                                          i agree with you. i also think the average UK consumer is better informed than the average north american. but can we talk nuts & bolts for a sec? just in terms of sheer size/sq mile/km area-- the u.s.a (and canada, if we are also talking about canada), are *way* bigger than the u.k. logically, the distribution of food items from rural U.K. to london and other large population areas is quite a bit simpler, compared to problems with large rural areas with sparse population in the u.s. the regionally familiar consumer in the U.K. can easily point to the county where the farm is located and realize how far her/his food has traveled. in the u.s. it isn't so simple, because the country is so big (and has a great diversity of crops and growing conditions throughout the country). that's where the "always local over organic" folks can wind up ignoring a huge part of the problem. the family farmer who raises wheat and/or potatoes and/or bison in, say: north dakota, pretty much gets the shaft. her/his fields cover a large area, so s/he's a "big farmer." s/he can't distribute or sell her/his food locally-- s/he produces way more than the population of the rural area can possibly consume. and if s/he attempts to save the family farm/gain economic viability and market muscle by employing sustainable methods and becoming certified organic, the attacks come in from the "local foods only" quarter. i say this even as i consider myself a big local foods proponent! there are great benefits to thinking about how local your food source is, but it's a mistake for so many people in north america to simplify along the lines of local=good, certified organic=bad and ignore the big picture.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            Oh course. I hadn't considered that, but you've got an entirely valid point.
                                            I guess it's difficult for a "local" thing to happen when your agriculture industry is geared that way. Doesn't most of your corn come from idaho or something? Or one midwestern state at least

                                            1. re: Soop

                                              i believe you're thinking of iowa, Soop :)

                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                Ah, the "University of Ohio, Iowa City, Idaho" mistake. ;-)

                                              2. re: Soop

                                                Funny thing is that corn is one of the more widely localized crops. Here in NYC, we can readily get local corn, say, or tomatoes in season from upstate farms or those just across the river in NJ.

                                                Things like bananas, lemons and avocados, though, are another story (and those items are - I'd guess - unlikley to be "local" in the UK, too).

                                          2. A timely post Bottomless. Just reading now about the lettuce recall that a fellow hound posted on this board.

                                            14 Replies
                                              1. re: givemecarbs

                                                FYI, carb: the nypost link doesn't work. Maybe you copied it wrong?

                                                    1. re: PattiCakes

                                                      He he! So you planting a garden this year Patti?

                                                1. re: givemecarbs

                                                  there's lots of reasons to buy organic (not getting hung up on certification) produce because of what's *not* on it/in it (toxic chem), and also to greatly lower one's risk of exposure to e coli and other food borne illness, yes. many folks who have a compromised immune system or a family history of cancer are encouraged to eat organic food. heck even the president's cancer panel is now saying all americans should be eating chem-free foods.


                                                  last i checked, sysco had between a 15% AND 16% market share in food distribution. they are literally the right arm of conventional big ag. they buy cheap and in big shipments, and sell cheap and in big shipments, lots of crap goes thru their system, and yet people are shocked every time this happens with a huge food company, and how widespread the illness breakouts are.

                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                    "greatly lower one's risk of exposure to e coli and other food borne illness"

                                                    Really? Do you have any data to back that up? I can't imagine any reason that organic food would be less likely to be contaminated with coliform bacteria. Matter of fact, I seem to recall a recent nationwide outbreak of e. coli caused by organically-grown spinach.

                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                      you are thinking of conventionally grown dole spinach, Alan. i remember it very well, since the organic spinach i was sourcing for my business was unaffected by the recall.

                                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                                        Actually, I'm thinking of the 2006 North American e. coli outbreak, which was caused by spinach grown by Mission Organics and sold by Natural Selection Foods, the parent of Earthbound Farms Organics. Hundreds of people around the country got sick from eating the stuff.

                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                          is there a reason for the sarcasm? the outbreak, in 2006, in which over 200 folks were sickened and 5 died, was in dole conventional bagged spinach.

                                                          here is an article:

                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                            **Most** of the tainted spinach ended up bags with the Dole label, but Natural Selection also recalled its organic spinach.

                                                      2. re: alanbarnes

                                                        This is true, as e. coli can originate in irrigation water or in sources of handling that are not dependent on whether organic growing practices are being used.

                                                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                          mostly it has to do with the gigantic quantities of food, from many sources, that are all processed grist-mill style in the sysco/dole type mega-industrial food companies' supply system. you have one contaminated source, and it contaminates everything that comes in with it and after it. then the contaminated food goes out to multi-states, like in the current sysco romaine lettuce scare.

                                                          a secondary reason is the untreated industrial cafo waste that is used in conventional ag in some regions of the country. the animal waste is sprayed directly on the conventional fields and is unregulated. and yes, you are correct that this can contaminate irrigation water and ground water which could in theory contaminate other food crops.

                                                          with organic production, the use of compost and manure is very strictly regulated and depending on the type of crop, the manure or compost must be heated to where harmful bacteria is killed off, or aged sufficiently, i think it's 240 days off the top of my head- could be wrong-- in order for there to be thorough natural composting and no possibility of contaminating organisms surviving.

                                                          there is always a risk of food poisoning, no matter what you are eating. familiarity with the u.s. food production and distribution system has led lots of folks to conclude that some foods are inherently riskier than others based on how they are produced and how they are processed and distributed.

                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                            I'm in complete agreement with your final paragraph. Unfortunately, the handling problems you note can affect organic production, when it is one of the huge concerns like Natural Selection, which as Alan notes above was one of the sources of the 2006 e. coli outbreaks in spinach. There are local and regional organic growers, and there are industrial-scale organic processors operating in the US and internationally. That scale makes a difference, whether the produce is conventionally or organically grown.

                                                            We're in agreement about the relative values of both organic production and mega-industrial agriculture (and meat) production.

                                                  2. Bottomless,

                                                    "Not only that but organic is not pesticide free. Many of the natural pesticides need to be applied more times to get the same benefit as a synthetic pesticide. Also the same natural pesticides can be very detrimental to the environment. " -- that is true.

                                                    I am not sure if it is a lie, it is more like misleading. Organic products certainly do not use certain chemicals and pesticides, but is using the alternative pesticides better? That is up to individual to figure out.

                                                    19 Replies
                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                      in many cases the organic pesticide is nothing more than a plant-based oil or soap. organic pesticides are evaluated based on their biodegradability. many begin to break down immediately in contact with sunlight and air, for example-- and are designed to be applied with discretion, at a certain life cycle of a specific pest.

                                                      this is important because in most cases the substance does not remain on the plant, and must be reapplied *because* it is a natural substance that proceeds to disintegrate immediately after it is used. For example a vegetable oil based organic pesticide works by clogging the spiracles through which certain insect pests breathe (they don't have lungs). then the oil immediately breaks down and composts itself. at no time during application of a vegetable oil based organic pesticide are human beings at risk of dying due to the oil getting in our spiracles (since we don't have them, we have lungs). this is just one example. contrast this type of targeted pest control with synthetic petrol-based chemical pesticides, like DDT, which are designed to permanently adhere to plants and fruits, even well after application, designed to remain at unaltered toxic levels, and which wind up persisting in the environment for decades and affecting many more organisms than the ones they were originally meant to kill. not having to reapply a conventional pesticide more than once during a growing season only means that the chemicals are very toxic and very persistent in our environment.

                                                      i agree that individuals need to be a lot better educated about conventional and organic pesticides, and make their own decisions based on good information.

                                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                                        Thank you! I work with organic produce daily, and work directly with farmers and customers. This sort of topic gets me too emotional to be able to respond in an intelligent/rational manner. I am so glad we have your voice/expertise on this board.

                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                          SK "i agree that individuals need to be a lot better educated about conventional and organic pesticides, and make their own decisions based on good information."

                                                          Educated decisions is the point of this thread. People buy organic produce blindly, and think the food is better for them. That's why in my original post, I said in my opinion a lot. Rarely can one apply the same label to such a wide group.

                                                          SK "organic pesticides are evaluated based on their biodegradability"

                                                          My problem is the above statement. Products are labeled with the label "Organic." From your statement above not all organic products are the same. There is a big difference between an organic farm in another country that lays on the worst of the natural pesticides, compared to a farm that uses little to no pesticides at all. In the latter farm the pesticides are the most environmentally friendly.

                                                          In other words simply knowing whether the food is organic or not is not nearly as informative as we would think, or want to believe. Not to mention factors that are out of the farmers control. For example an organic farmer goes out of his or her way to do everything right. A farmer a few acres away sprays DDT or something almost as bad, and blam! The organic food is not so organic.

                                                          In short, pollution is like a plague that spreads. There must be a global initiative to reduce the use of pesticides and other pollutants, or else we could spend weeks, or even years to see if one piece of produce is safe to eat. I mean what's the use of having an organic farm if the water is containment because of someone in Mexico using DDT? Yes, DDT has been used recently in Mexico.

                                                          Jaymi Heimbuch says "By 2008, Mexico had ditched insecticides including DDT in all its anti-malaria efforts and the number of deaths from malaria reported during that year was a whopping zero. " Here's a link with proof:


                                                          My personal opinion is that even if organic farming is helping, organic buying is not enough. To get the changes I desire, the United Nations or another powerful organization would need to put strong pressure to ban DDT, period. No manufacturing, no use, no sales of DDT in any country. On top of a national initiative to reduce pesticides and clean up our water supplies.

                                                          Organic produce costs a lot most of the time. Organic produce contains less preservatives, which means less shelf life. I cannot count the number of times I had an organic food item go bad. I really do not want to pay an extra 50% for a label with dubious benefits.

                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                            There are many toxic organic pesticides. Rotenone and sulfur are toxic to aquatic life. Rotenone have used to kill every living thing in lakes when authorities are trying to get rid of invasive fish species. Copper, if used too much, results in heavy metal contamination of the soil, and it does not degrade.

                                                            I agree that people must be better educated about pesticides and make decisions appropriately. Too many people blindly accept conventional or organic pesticides without serious consideration about their side effects on human beings and the environment.

                                                            1. re: soupkitten


                                                              DDT is not used in USA anymore. I am not sure exactly what oil you were refering. Are you talking about rotenone? Rotenone has its own issue and is not as harmless you may have stated. If we are talking about the effects of pesticides from organic farming, then we should talking about the ones which are being heavily used. The heavily used pesticides in organic farming includes copper and sulfur. Part of the problems of certain pesticides like DDT is that they linger in an area for a long time as they are very hydropholic. The upside is that they don't need to be applied very often. The problem of copper and sulfur is that they are hydrophilic, so don't stay put. They need to be applied often and they leak out to area far from the farms.

                                                              Yes, copper and sulfur are natural, but they don't disintegrate into anything, unless you are thinking of nuclear fission. Therefore, I disagree with the idea that pesticides in organic farming simply disintegrate immediately after used.

                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                True. DDT is not USED in the U.S. any more, but it is manufactured here, then exported to other countries in huge amounts, they use it and we import their crops and sell them all over the country. What have we gained? Brown pelicans and California condors, but the DDT is STILL in OUR food chain!

                                                                Here's an interesting thought: What if the FDA required labeling on ALL foods, but especially produce, stating which pesticides and fertilizers had been used in growing those produccts?

                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                  DDT is no longer generally used as an agricultural insecticide anywhere in the world. Under the Stockholm Convention (to which Mexico is a signatory), its only use is as a vector-control method of containing malaria.

                                                                  The method used is IRS, or internal residual spraying. DDT is applied to the interior walls of homes to kill or repel mosquitoes, and has saved countless thousands (millions?) of lives.

                                                                  There's no doubt that misuse of DDT has caused immeasurable environmental damage. But neither is there any doubt that, properly used, it can be an important tool in fighting malaria in the developing world with mininmal environmental impact.

                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                    "DDT is no longer generally used as an agricultural insecticide anywhere in the world. Under the Stockholm Convention (to which Mexico is a signatory), its only use is as a vector-control method of containing malaria. "

                                                                    Thanks alanbarnes, I did not know the above.

                                                                  2. re: Caroline1


                                                                    I think it is a tradeoff. DDT has its faults, but DDT has saved more life than not in developing countries. Our country has been criticized by many experts by being way too political correct because we restrict funding for DDT in developing countries. I am concern that dumpling copper and sulfur as they not harmless either. Rather being concern about DDT in our food chain, why are we not concern about copper and sulfur in our food chain?

                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                      It's true that everything (well, ALMOST everything) has a place when used correctly. I just don't have a whoooole lot of faith in the intelligent set up of rules by the governing bodies. <sigh> I wish it was more the nature of man to find out the problems before they occur instead of (all too often) after.

                                                                    2. re: Caroline1

                                                                      DDT is indeed used in the US, though perhaps not on crops. Last year I was visiting friends and was told not to go in certain areas for a couple hours in the evening. When I asked, I was told the Parks Department was spraying DDT to kill mosquitos. This is a location frequented by many tourists and they wanted to kill the biting insects before the big season came. They do this every year, twice a year.

                                                                      1. re: mojoeater

                                                                        Your friends may be misinformed. Although there is still provision for the use of DDT in the United States, its use is limited to instances that fall under the "public health" exception. For example, it was widely used in 1979 to kill fleas that were the source of an incipient bubonic plague breakout. The trucks that fog for mosquitos usually use pyrethroids.

                                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                          They very well could have been wrong. Mosquitos are big trouble in their area and when the West Nile scare hit, they were greatly affected and whatever they sprayed then was pretty severe.

                                                                    3. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                      i'm sorry there seems to be so much confusion about pesticide use in organic ag. i didn't realize that folks were thinking that organic producers just replace the pesticides used in conventional ag with a natural alternative and proceed to spray the heck out of their cropland. i think that's the original error which is leading to a lot of the backlash and misrepresentation here.

                                                                      look: organic alternatives to conventional pesticides are enormously expensive, comparatively-- & conventional pesticides are so widely & heavily used *because* they are so cheap! if organic farmers dump-sprayed organic-approved pesticides in the same way as conventional farmers, they would go out of business in a season. it would just flatly be too expensive. organic producers have to turn to other methods of pest control rather than the spray baby spray route in order to successfully manage their operations.

                                                                      fwiw less than 10% of organic farmers use regular applications of organic approved pesticides. around 75% use crop rotation as the primary means by which they manage pests.

                                                                      rotenone is not used in organic or conventional food production. its only legal use is in water to kill fish. it was removed from the epa registry in 2007 and the manufacturers voluntarily withdrew all applications other than piscicide. prior to that time it was approved as a pesticide, but organic producers were among those lobbying for a ban on the substance. use of this substance in organic production has been informally verbotten for years before 2007. if someone is telling you that rotenone is used by organic farmers they are trying to put one over on you.

                                                                      sulfur compounds are used in fruit production during the dormant stage of the plant (it's not producing fruit) to kill mites and mite eggs. sulfur is used in both conventional and organic production. note that it's quite difficult to control pests in established orchards by using crop rotation, as orchards are by nature sort of permanent set-ups with long-lived, fruit producing trees that are alive for years and decades, and don't die out after just one season. again, if someone is trying to tell you that all organic produce growers are using sulfur, or that organic apple farmers use sulfur and conventional ones don't, or that buying organic tomatoes lead to sulfur contamination in soil. . . they are yanking your chain.

                                                                      1. re: soupkitten


                                                                        Thanks. Somehow I believe rotenone was removed, but put back in recently. As for the sulfur part, I agree with you. It is supposed to be used during the non-productive stage. I believe it may be use as a pH control agent. I don't think I were too worry about the health aspect of sulfur as much as the environmental aspect. Since sulfur is hydrophilic, it can travel very far.

                                                                        I thought you may refer to rotenone as the oil you were talking about. Rotenone is producted/found from plants and it is hydrophobic (oil like). Moreover, it has a relatively short half life under the sun, so it matches your decription of the plant-based oil pesticide. Sorry about assuming you were talking about rotenone. So what oil were you refering when you wrote "plant-based oil or soap ... begin to break down immediately in contact with sunlight"

                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                                          cool. when i said "oil" i literally meant common vegetable oil, like you'd use in cooking. organic farmers mix up a solution of vegetable oil, detergent and water right on their farms and apply it selectively, often with a hand held spray bottle, directly to the pests they want to kill. the stuff isn't crop-dusted! this technique is very labor intensive, obviously-- it's mainly used in the very early stages of a vegetable crop growth and a lot in closed greenhouses and high tunnels where an infestation would be catastrophic.

                                                                          there is no "brand name" of this type of pest control mixture, anyone can make it. if you'd like to make it at home on a small scale you can use 1 tsp dish detergent, 1 cup vegetable oil, shake to mix, then mix with 1 quart water.

                                                                          more info on this recipe (it's first on the page) and other organic methods of pest control from a gardening magazine:


                                                                        2. re: soupkitten

                                                                          It is nonsensical to say that conventional farmers use pesticides "widely & heavily because they are so cheap." Like any business owner, if they "dumped" unnecessary inputs into any production, they would go out of business just as quickly as the most up-tight organic farmer.
                                                                          Purchase and application of all inputs is costly. No one uses anything for fun or because it's always been done that way. Conventional farmers have moved further away from inputs because of the cost. Increasingly, they are moving to integrated pest management, no-till methods of farming, and other technologies because they're good economics.

                                                                          Many of the inputs used by conventional farmers are also applied at the dormant stage. That's a major part of integrated pest management. Just as in organic production, there is no residue on crops at market.

                                                                      2. re: soupkitten

                                                                        Bit of a biased and incomplete example. Oil based (and soap based, for that matter) contact insecticides are non-selective. They kill both good and bad bugs.

                                                                        Who uses oil-based products? I've never heard of that being used in a persistent nor on a wide scale. Oil is extremely damaging to plants, even in small amounts.

                                                                        Carbaryl is synthetic and breaks down very quickly. Your selective example of DDT somewhat ridiculous. Rotenone is natural and extremely toxic.

                                                                        You also fail to mention that the most commonly used insecticide, "synthetic" or "natural" are pyrethrin-based, and those are extremely toxic to small children and aquatic lifeforms. Oh yeah, it's also totally non-selective.

                                                                        What I see from the organic lobby is a campaign of misdirection and goalpost moving. Since the vast majority of people in the first world are totally ignorant of food production, organic marketing uses that ignorance and instills fear into people to purchase their products.

                                                                        1. re: Shazam


                                                                          I don't think the organic lobby is on a campaign of misdirection and goalpost moving, but I do think some organic supporters appear to start with the conclusion and then to find things to support this "conclusion".

                                                                          Some people start with the notion that organic farming is good and they are on a mission to find things to support that statement while also to find things to damage the other side. This is a tactic for campaigning, not for facts finding. They treat this as something very personal to them and get very emotional. Surely health is a personal thing, but truth finding should not. If a person becomes too emotional attached or personalizes an issue too much, then he/she cannot be objective because there is a conflict of interest.

                                                                    4. Many of our local growers have moved on from "organic" to "sustainable" farming. Sustainable means locally-grown with methods that protect the earth, water, and people. Seems like the way to go.

                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                                        Do you not drink coffee, tea or eat chocolate? Those are three things that are not grown locally in the continental USA and cannot be grown there.

                                                                        Local indeed. It's a convenience term.

                                                                        1. re: Shazam

                                                                          I never claimed to eat totally local. I have no idea what "convenience term" means.

                                                                          1. re: Shazam

                                                                            Shazam "

                                                                            Do you not drink coffee, tea or eat chocolate? Those are three things that are not grown locally in the continental USA and cannot be grown there.

                                                                            Local indeed. It's a convenience term."

                                                                            Tea can be grown locally, I went to a shop that sells native American goods and one of the goods was Indian tea.

                                                                            1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                                                                              I suspect Shazam meant 'Camellia sinensis' when talking of tea. This 'Indian tea' might have a desert shrub that more often is called Mormon Tea. Many other native herbs and leaves can be used in to make hot beverage.

                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                Mormon tea makes as much sense to me as Muslim pork.

                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics


                                                                                  Family: Gnetaceae Genus Ephedra
                                                                                  Common names: Mormon Tea, Brigham Tea, Cowboy Tea, Whorehouse Tea, Squaw Tea, Canyon Tea
                                                                                  Indian names: Tuttumpin (Paiute), Tutupivi (Kawaiisu)

                                                                              2. re: Shazam

                                                                                It's not a convenience term. You can strive to eat more locally, but it doesn't mean everything has to be. I strive to follow the law but I can't say I never drive over the speed limit. That doesn't mean that following the law is a "convenience term" (or maybe it does, since, like pika, I have no idea what that means). We can strive for perfection but live in the real world. That doesn't make ethics, morals, being green, etc. any less desirable.

                                                                            2. I don't mind that people unthinkingly purchase "organic" produce, because I think the movement has helped me out. Here is my purely anecdotal evidence:

                                                                              A few years ago, the teenagers at the checkout line at my grocery store would marvel at the thought that I was buying cage-free eggs. There were no free-range eggs, and there was no convenient way to buy fresh eggs. There was some outrageously expensive organic chicken trucked in from somewhere far away, and I bought it when I felt I could afford it. I guess it made me feel like I was doing something better than sticking with Tyson. Lots of other people must also have done this, because we now have a selection of more ethically raised eggs at the grocery store. Lots of organic produce and meat. But what's really interesting is that now we have several stores in town where we can buy fresh eggs from our local farmers. And produce, and beef, buffalo, and cheese. The farmer's market and food co-op are doing really well. And this is all being supported in my little chain-restaurant, mega-mart suburban town.

                                                                              I think that when people first make the decision to invest more in their food for nutritional or ethical reasons, they are more inclined to keep thinking about it over time. And people thinking about food is a good thing for hounds.

                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                1. re: soonerhound

                                                                                  >>"And people thinking about food is a good thing for hounds."<<


                                                                                  1. re: soonerhound

                                                                                    Excellent--it's the snowball effect for good.

                                                                                    1. re: soonerhound

                                                                                      You have a point soonerhound. My opinion is as consumers we should not settle for organic though, especially organic produce from very far away. Local is better, local and organic is better than local, and so on. Local and USDA organic do not mix together well. Local farmers tend to be smaller, unless you happen to live right next to a giant farm. USDA certification has a lot of extra hassle, and costs money.

                                                                                      You make a better point for cage-free and free range eggs than you do for organic. Personally I think all the GMO produce should only be used for scientific study and not sold to the public. Also, in my opinion, hybrid seeds should not be protected under patents, a seed is living.

                                                                                    2. This mornings Today show had a segment about a link between oganophosphates and ADHD in children.

                                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: meatn3

                                                                                        Ya, and Alzheimer in adults.


                                                                                          1. re: Paulustrious

                                                                                            Stop. ;) I'm just wondering how fast the body pushes these organophosphates out. A radio segment on KPCC (public radio based in Pasadena, CA) had an interview with an advocate for eating organic food - I don't know who the person was attached to or her credentials as I caught the story mid-stride getting into my car. The interviewee stated that a study was done where a given population of school kids (don't know the ages, where they're from or the size of population) was put on a diet of conventional food for one week. At the end of the week, their bodies were checked for organophosphate levels (I'm guessing blood tests). The same kids were then put on a diet where only organic foods were consumed for a week. The interviewee claimed that the tests indicated a huge drop in organophosphate levels - this after only one week of organic-only consumption. We all know that studies and tests are dubious for erroneous results for various reasons. Even worse, we know that any group can extract the exact results from any biased study that they choose to extract. So, assuming that this interviewee's reference is valid, is this to say that organophosphates are quickly metabolized out of the body? And if so, does this imply that it's the constant inflow of organophospates into the body that is harmful?

                                                                                            1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                                              May be. Apparently, organophosphates have a high clearance or have a very small distribution volume.

                                                                                        1. re: meatn3

                                                                                          Here's a Yahoo news article about the link:


                                                                                          I'm starting to get really angry that our society is based upon unsafe food and fear. I mean really who wants to live in a world where we have to look at every piece of food and say to ourselves, "is this poison?" I say no! Organic has only made matters more complicated, U.S. citizens need a longer term and broader solution. My suggestion is to pass legislation against most pesticides. The U.S. has a huge surplus of food, I believe we should take our chances with pests, at least we know the food is safe.

                                                                                          1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                                                                                            We are eating much healthier food than before. Yes, today fishes probably have more mercury in them than before, but if you look at the bigger pictures, foods are much safer now. People used to die from drinking unclean water (some people in third world countries still do). People routinely get food poison from drinking milk before milk was pasteurized.

                                                                                            You do know when food prices shot up when pesticides are removed. It is the poor people who will suffered the most.

                                                                                            1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                                                                                              Here's the science digest summary - based on university press release materials

                                                                                              However we learned via the recent Princeton HFCS case, that press releases can sound a lot more definitive than the actual journal article.

                                                                                              Note that the SD sidebar of related articles suggest phthalates, smoking, and lead are culprits.

                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                We keep getting medical whiplash from association reported as evidence of causation, which it is not. Kind of like the "meat eating causes cancer" where meat eating may just be a marker for fries, coke, fried apple pie and processed buns. Or cured baloney made from stuff they sweep off the butcher's floor.

                                                                                                1. re: mcf

                                                                                                  "may just be a marker for fries, coke, fried apple pie and processed buns"

                                                                                                  Ha. Totally true.