Missing the Point on Organic Food

The headline reads “Organic food ‘no healthier than conventional“. The piece is reporting on the findings of the Food Standards Agency who was trying to determine if organic foods had a higher nutritional benefit than those produced by industrial agriculture.

The problem with this report is twofold. For one, people who understand the underlying philosophy of organic food already know this. Recent science reports have made this point clear. Even the Mayo Clinic agrees that:

No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food. And the USDA — even though it certifies organic food — doesn’t claim that these products are safer or more nutritious.

While there is a percentage of organic food fans who do argue that there are nutritional benefits, it is of my experience that most people who go down the organic path do so for other reasons. And for some reason, a fair amount of mainstream news organizations miss the point of this entirely. Referring back to the Mayo Clinic piece, the following is written:

  • Conventional farmers: Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.
  • Organic farmers: Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
  • Conventional farmers: Spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease.
  • Organic farmers: Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
  • Conventional farmers: Use chemical herbicides to manage weeds.
  • Organic farmers: Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds
  • Conventional farmers: Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth
  • Organic farmers: Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

When approaching organic foods from this point of view, it becomes clear that the underlying philosophy is not one of individual nutrition, but rather one of both environmental and ethical approaches to production. In other words, the organic food movement is less about consumption than it is about production.

That some people continually to miss this distinction continues to confound me.