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Quoted from The Hundred-Year Lie:

Ever since 1940, when a British scientist, Sir Albert Howard, laid down the theoretical foundation of organic farming, a basic tenet of organic philosophy has been that crops must grow free of synthetic chemicals to maintain high levels of nutrients. It is believed that herbicides, pesticides, and fast-acting, inorganic fertilizers destroy or disrupt essential microbiotic activity in the soil, thus further diminishing nutrients and food flavor.

Proponents of agricultural chemistry seem to take delight in pointing out that testing of organic produce still turns up detectable pesticide residues, no matter how rigorous or pure the production standards. Why do organic products made without synthetic chemicals still contain them?

A 2002 study appearing in the peer-reviewed journal Food Additives and Contaminants revealed three reasons for pesticide residues on organic foods: (1) Past pesticide use leaves soil contaminated through successive growing seasons. (2) Wind carries pesticide sprays from nearby nonorganic farms. (3) Some tested samples have been mislabeled as organic, either due to innocent mistakes or fraud.

Since 1990 many of the corporate giants of food processing, such as General Mills, Heinz, Dole, Kraft, Gerber, ConAgra, and Archer Daniels Midland, have either acquired or created organic product brands. Much like what happened when the vitamin industry came to be dominated by pharmaceutical companies, this takeover of organic foods by the makers of chemical foods threatens a redefining of what organic means, until the word itself becomes just another meaningless marketing term.

The latest evidence comes from attempts in late 2005 by Dole, Kraft, and the other major players in organic foods to amend the national organic standards regulations enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture so that thirty-eight synthetic substances could be used in the production of organic foods. These synthetic chemicals include leavening agents, ripening agents, thickeners, and a range of other ingredients.

Previous attempts to weaken the definition of organic were even more flagrantly absurd. In 1997 and 1998 the USDA proposed that genetic engineering, food irradiation, and even the use of toxic sewage sludge be permissible for use on organic farms, while in 2004 the USDA tried to allow pesticides and antibiotics to fall under the label of organic. Each time, an outcry from organic foods consumers forced the government and large corporate producers to back down.

Despite this general lack of purity in organic foods, research has shown that organic fruits and vegetables contain only about one-third of the number of chemical residues found on conventionally grown foods. The levels of contamination for each type of chemical residue also test much lower in the organic foods.

What continues to set organic foods clearly apart from foods intentionally doused with chemicals are the nutritional advantages. A study in the Journal of Applied Nutrition analyzed and contrasted the mineral content of conventionally grown versus organically grown potatoes, pears, apples, sweet corn, and wheat over a two-year period. Organic proved far higher in mineral content by these percentages: selenium, 390 percent; magnesium, 138 percent; potassium, 125 percent; chromium, 78 percent; iodine, 73 percent; calcium, 63 percent; zinc, 60 percent; iron, 59 percent.

Another study, this one from the University of California at Davis, found that organic berries and corn carry 50 percent higher levels of phenolic compounds—antioxidants believed to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer—than do conventionally grown berries and corn. A reason why came from Alyson E. Mitchell, an assistant professor of food chemistry who led the study: Since phenols are generated in response to attacks by fungus or insects, plants not being defended by pesticides produce them in abundance.

A Scottish biochemist, John Paterson, trumpets still another health advantage of organics. Research studies have shown that soup made from organic vegetables contains six times the levels of salicylic acid found in nonorganic vegetable soup. Salicylic acid is the active anti-inflammatory ingredient in aspirin, and evidence suggests that it can reduce the risk for heart disease and bowel cancer.

Considering all of these scientifically demonstrated health benefits from organic foods, one might hope and trust that the standards for organic would be strengthened, or at least maintained at reasonably high levels, and not be diluted by the economic impulse for quick fixes and profit considerations. If current trends provide any indication, our hopes in this regard may prove unfounded.

Fitzgerald, Randall (2006-06-22). The Hundred-Year Lie: How to Protect Yourself from the Chemicals That Are Destroying Your Health (pp. 192-194). Plume. Kindle Edition.

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