An interesting article by Dunning, a columnist for the magazine Scientific American, reads more like an infomercial for Trader Joe’s than exposing any new salient facts about farming types, economics and health implications regarding organic produce. I would suggest that organic practices remains an evolving subject with many facets for further development.
Dunning cites National Review as a source. National Review also published articles debunking climate change and supporting hydraulic fracturing to maintain US energy security. I’d be more receptive to an article like this if it examined economics/disadvantages/etc of locally-grown produce over heavily subsidized industrialized practices such as these by Lobley (2009), Bolwig(2009), and/or McFadden (2013).
The fact that a substantial part of the US population suffers from overconsumptive diseases such as obesity, diabetes, or cancer, and the US food distribution scheme was developed to produce cheap/plentiful, mass marketed and heavily subsidized calories begs the question whether / which types of food production are sustainable or contributes to long term food/energy security. Further, 2/3 of the US food production is either wasted or used for animal production complicates the issues as well.
Despite the fact that organic farming had been practiced for the last 6 millenia, a multitude of factors contribute to the growth of organic farming & sales (vs conventional factory farming) in the US; namely mass marketing, rising incomes, relative prices/sales to commercially grown products, environmental consciousness & xogenous (ie, food scares, GMO) shocks. Likewise, several longterm studies (Pimentel et al, 2005; others) examined how economics, soil health, environmental consequences and sustainability of organically-raised crops compared with conventionally-raised crops. National Geographic ran an article about a decade or so ago looking at organic vs conventional farming in Wisconsin and indicated that organic farming there was more cost effective and environmentally sustainable practice in the long run.
To be fair, Science produced an article indicating that organic wheat had little additional nutrional value over conventionally-raised wheat. Maybe with the rise in gluten-intolerance in the US, this finding isn’t a big deal. However, Chassy’s study compared organic and conventional produce nutrient components, finding significantly higher nutrient levels in organic produce compared to conventionally-grown identical varieties.
Many supporters of conventionally raised/organic food skeptics appear to stress that conventional produce is exactly the same as organic produce. This is interesting since Monsanto has been on a three+ decade long legal crusade to firewall their GMO-crops/patented stocks from competition while stressing their uniqueness versus non GMO crops, including organic ones. The fact that Monsanto (among others) are currently developing 2nd generation GMOs to produce enhanced nutrients perhaps indicates a realization that 1st generation GMOs lacked many key nutritional metrics currently found in products grown under more natural, organic conditions. Some feel that Monsanto’s endgame is to gain control over the planet’s food production & supply. Organic farming practices and local economic/ecological benefits would appear to be striking an interesting, proactive contrast to those of large scale, market driven food production.
Sources: Seeds of Destruction by Engdahl;
The World According to Monsanto by Robin;
Stolen Harvest by Shiva;
Uncertain Peril by Cummings.
Consumers are increasingly turning to organic foods as a response to GMO (genetically modified) foods. Although Dunning’s claims that 2 E coli outbreak incidents in 2006 were linked to organic produce is true, the vast majority of food borne illnesses over the last 30 years were linked/associated with conventionally raised meat/produce and/or restaurants which served meat or produce raised conventionally. Since conventional and organic produce can be grown with manure, it would appear that careful handling / washing of produce before consumption would be advised.
With regard to Dunning’s claim of organic farmers and their pesticide use, fewer than 10% use botanical insecticides and often complement with other pest control strategies. Finally, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) stated that “organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems. They suggested that this agricultural process would more likely be sustainable in the long-term” by producing “yields that more than doubled where organic, or near-organic practices had been used”, and that soil fertility and drought resistance improved.