Organic foods are fraudulent products that are a waste of your money. They are no better for your health, worse for the economy, and often contribute to environmental degradation. Too many students fall for this ubiquitous example of greenwashing. It’s time to end this farce within the CC community.
Greenwashing is a marketing term used to describe the process of sellers imparting a false sense of environmental friendliness to a product. Today’s society increasingly demands eco-friendly products, and while some producers have “greened up” their act, others only pretend to. Supermarket attempts to capitalize on the upper-class trend towards organic food consumption have left the industry rife with this insidious form of marketing. Organic food doesn’t really help the environment. It just makes you feel better about contributing to the same level of environmental degradation as your grocery bill did before.
In fact, a lot of organic food is grown by huge factory farming corporations. Michael Pollan, a professor at University of California Berkeley and author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” has been a leading critic of this trend, labeling it the rise of “Big Organic.” Participation in the organic food movement strikes no financial blows at factory farming companies – you’re buying from them regardless. This global food economy is bad for the environment because of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the transport and preservation of produce. Organic food doesn’t help.
Beyond the environmental fallacies, claims of proven health benefits from organic foods are almost as scientifically untenable as the denial of global warming. While research continues on the subject, the Mayo Clinic and WebMD both report that so far, there is no clear evidence that organic foods contain any more nutrients than conventionally produced foods.
The Mayo Clinic reports that freshness is much more significant to your health than the organic label. Beyond freshness, common sense tells us that other, simpler factors matter more. Do you think it is better for your body to eat a conventionally grown apple, or organically produced potato chips?
Some organic food advocates claim that they are using less harmful pesticides than their conventional-food-eating neighbors. The USDA regulates that organic food can’t be produced using synthetic pesticides. Because it is so difficult to grow large quantities of food without pesticides, organic farmers use “natural pesticides” instead.
This sounds nice, but as a result, organic and conventional foods are both covered in chemicals that kill bugs. There are lots of natural substances that you wouldn’t want to consume – cyanide is a natural pesticide. The good news is that the USDA regulates the concentrations of these chemicals to the same levels, both on conventional and organic produce. Thanks to good old Uncle Sam, you retain the same level of safety from these chemicals, regardless of your shopping habits.
If you think that organic foods are good for the local economy, you are mistaken. Yes, organic foods are often local. But demand for organic goods has grown so high in recent years that organics are commonly shipped hundreds or thousands of miles before they show up in your grocery bag. Local foods are grown by local producers – but organic foods don’t have to be.
At the global level, this growing demand for organic food is unsustainable. Organic farming is not as productive as conventional farming. According to a study in Nature comparing the yields of organic and conventional agricultural practices, sixty-six independent studies showed that organic crop yield is lower on average. This makes sense – organic farmers are not allowed to use the synthetic fertilizers that dump huge bursts of nitrogen into the soil.
Unfortunately, we need to maximize production, because there are a lot of mouths to feed. According to Nobel Peace prize-winner and path-breaking agricultural scientist Norman Borlaug, organic farming practices could only feed four billion people. There are seven billion of us, and the world’s population continues to grow. While organic productivity has increased in recent years, it is not as productive as conventional farming, and it can’t yet feed humanity.
So instead of embracing organic farming techniques universally, we currently produce just enough organic food to feed hungry, wealthier people in first-world countries. This demographic is willing and able to spend nearly twice as much money on food in order to get essentially the same product. While they think they are saving the world, they are actually just wasting their money.
The problem with the organic foods movement is not in its motivations but its actions. I applaud everyone who wants to save the environment, participate ethically in our economic system, or live a healthier lifestyle. But if you want to be healthier, you should get some exercise and properly regulate your macronutrient intake. If you want agriculture to be more environmentally friendly or economically compassionate, you should lobby your Congressional representatives for stricter agricultural regulation. As educated citizens, the next time someone tries to sell you the merits of organic food, your response should be “yes, I know, this food contains carbon.”
Commentary and Debate Editor