Public Comment

How Organic is Organic Food?

Harry Brill
Saturday April 27, 2019 - 01:58:00 PM

The public is generally aware that many foods are unsafe to consume. But it is surprising to learn that even many delicious foods are permeated with dangerous pesticides. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which studied this issue, released its grim findings on contaminated fruits and vegetables. Just one strawberry contained 13 different pesticides. Each grape tested contained 15 pesticides. EWG found 13 different pesticides on each cherry tomato. Among the fruits, apples are the most contaminated. Very disappointing, the pesticides have remained in the foods even after the fruits and vegetable were washed or peeled. 

Unfortunately, the poisonous pesticides do not only attack their target. They cause many health problems in humans, from respiratory diseases to cancer. They even damage the mental capacity of children. For example, exposure of a women to pesticides during pregnancy increases the risk that their children will suffer from autism and other serious developmental problems by 60 percent. 

Undoubtedly, consuming organic food is a safer bet. But it is not risk free. Many producers of organic food are unable to avoid the drift of sprayed pesticides from conventional to organic farms. The drifts can travel long distances where they can be very destructive to the crops. It could make it impossible to sell the assaulted produce. Most often these neighboring organic farms still sell their products, imperfect as they may be. 

The phrase "pesticide drift" can be misleading because it implies that the drift is always unintentional, that is, its force and direction are determined by nature only. However, most conventional farmers have not taken the steps to control the flight. Although, for example, although pesticides should not be sprayed during windy days, these farmers continue to do so. 

Of course, economic considerations play a role. But also the conventional farm grower is not interested in protecting the agriculture of organic farmers. In fact, they view organic farming as a threat to their interests. Their propaganda has publicly accused the organic industry of using deceptive marketing practices and even using pesticides that are more toxic then what conventional farmers use. But although some organic farmers have engaged in successful law suits against agribusiness to curtail their assaults, the so called pesticide drift problem continues to haunt organic farmers. 

Also, the non-organic producers have developed an effective strategy to market their food by convincing consumers that their non-organic food is actually organic. On this issue they have benefited from the cooperation of the federal Food and Drug administration (FDA). The trick has been to mislabel many of their products as "natural", "All natural", or "100 percent natural". According to one poll, 86 percent of consumers believe that the term "natural" indicates that the food does not contain any artificial ingredients. Unlike the organic label, which is required to sell food as organic, there are no legal prohibitions to deceiving the public. Except for some regulations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that apply to chicken and meat, producers of food products can be labeled as natural no matter what ingredients they contain. Despite pressure from knowledgeable food experts, the Food and Drug administration has been unwilling to impose any requirements. 

Longevity in the United States for many reasons has been stagnating and even declining. Whatever the tendency, this is not among the issues that the corporate food industry is concerned about.