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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Organic Nonsense

    Matt Stonecolumnist
    Matt Stone
    columnist

    You are what you eat, or so the old adage goes. It has a nice biological ring to it: The building blocks that constitute my food are digested, broken down and absorbed into the body, later forming my skin, hair, organs, tissue, bones and so on. I am indeed the sum of many nutritional parts.

    But the adage has a political ring to it as well. And the proponents of organic foods will tell you that

    eating organic is not only healthier for you, it’s good for the environment as well.

    Such notions are wrong.

    When it comes to the health benefits of organic foods, the jury is out. Organic food production uses fewer man-made pesticides, which sounds like a reasonably good thing. In lieu of synthetic herbicides and insecticides, however, plants produce more of their own toxins, which can be just as dangerous – if not moreso – to the health of an individual.

    “”Plants can’t get up and walk away,””

    The advocates of organic foods think they are doing the Earth a service by buying organic. The exact opposite may be true.

    explained Carl Winter, a professor of toxicology at the University of California at Davis. “”If they’re being attacked, they’ve got to sit there and take it. So they may resort to their own chemical warfare.””

    The result is toxic ambiguity: fewer synthetic toxins, more natural toxins, each just as deadly in excess as the next.

    David Klurfeld at Wayne State University summarized the thinking on organic foods’ nutritional value: “”There’s really very limited information in people on actual health outcomes with consumption of these products. We don’t know enough to say that one is better than the other.””

    But the staunch advocate of organic foods will point his wayward gourmand in another direction: Organic food production is good for the environment.

    The misconception would be funny if it were not so deadly serious.

    The primary critic of organic foods is a man who knows a little something about food production and its social implications. Norman Borlaug, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the father of the “”green revolution”” that drastically increased crop yields throughout the world in the 1950s and 1960s, rails against organic farming – because it deliberately reduces crop yields.

    By using natural, manure-based fertilizers instead of synthetic ones, and by foregoing the use of artificial pesticides, an organic farmer harvests less food per acre than a conventional farmer does. With a growing population, such regression in food yield per acre puts pressure on farmers to expand their plots of land, often into virgin rainforest.

    Due to synthetic fertilizers, Borlaug points out, global cereal production increased 300 percent between 1950 and 2000 – but land cultivated only increased 10 percent in the same period. The “”green revolution”” promised more food per acre by relying on man-made innovations to escape the unforgiving whims of nature.

    The “”organic revolution,”” then, is really a counterrevolution, a return to the past. The organics want to toss out the man-made innovations that are so beneficial to food production today. But in order to support continued population growth, lower crop yields per acre imply additional land put into agricultural production. This development threatens the very natural habitats many proponents of organic foods would like to preserve.

    What makes this worrisome, however, is that advocates of organic foods think they are doing the Earth a service by buying organic. The exact opposite may be true.

    The world’s population today is 6.6 billion. Some time around 2012, it will be 7 billion. Approximately 15 years later, it will be 8 billion. The food must come from somewhere, but tradeoffs are ever-present: Do we destroy additional forests and habitats to feed the population explosion a diet of organic products? Or do we continue to rely on human energy, innovation and entrepreneurial activity to overcome our demographic and agricultural hurdles?

    One can’t be sure the organics would choose the former if the facts weren’t clouded by the hippie-ish feel-goodism that dominates the organic food industry.

    In the meantime, I’ll happily (and perhaps healthily) avoid the organic aisle.

    Matt Stone is a senior majoring in international studies and economics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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