View Full Version : Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Agriculture

07-31-11, 09:07 PM
I'm posting this to open the topic for debate. Who's first?

By Christie Wilcox
July 18, 2011

People believe a lot of things that we have little to no evidence for, like that vikings wore horned helmets or that you can see the Great Wall of China from space. One of the things I like to do on my blogs is bust commonly held myths that I think matter. For example, I get really annoyed when I hear someone say sharks don’t get cancer (I’ll save that rant for another day). From now onward, posts that attack conventionally believed untruths will fall under a series I’m going to call “Mythbusting 101.”

Ten years ago, Certified Organic didn’t exist in the United States. Yet in 2010, a mere eight years after USDA’s regulations officially went into effect, organic foods and beverages made $26.7 billion. In the past year or two, certified organic sales have jumped to about $52 billion worldwide despite the fact that organic foods cost up to three times as much as those produced by conventional methods. More and more, people are shelling out their hard-earned cash for what they believe are the best foods available. Imagine, people say: you can improve your nutrition while helping save the planet from the evils of conventional agriculture – a complete win-win. And who wouldn’t buy organic, when it just sounds so good?

Read more: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/2011/07/18/mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/

07-31-11, 09:52 PM
I'm very tired — it's late here, but just a couple of things had my jaw hitting the floor.
We have posted studies here showing organic food IS more nutritious than conventional grown food. I can tell a difference in the taste of an organic apple and a conventional one. We do NOT need GMO technology to feed the world......will read more tomorrow when eyes uncrossed!

08-01-11, 03:01 PM
I read through the article last night but was too tired to address it. First of all, I find it shameful that Scientific American allowed its name to be used here. There is little science and lots of opinion present in this blog. I know, blogs are opinions, but running under the Scientific American banner, most sheeple are going to take it as gospel! I'm going to try to address a few things now.
Pesticides: Many of the points he makes are valid, especially about toxicity. Most were approved for organic use simply because they were "natural" with little known about toxicity or environmental impact. One in particular, Rotenone, is being linked to Parkinson's disease and is used to deliberately kill off "exotic" fish. One reason it is used is that it breaks down rapidly and is not considered to have an environmental impact. However, in the little reading I've done on it, it probably should be banned from organics and conventional. Some "natural" organic pesticides are more toxic than some synthetic. What he doesn't say is that the organic pesticides break down rapidly and there is little/none left by the time the produce hits the market. Because of the fact they break down so rapidly, they are applied more often than synthetic pesticides. Organic farms also use copper and sulfur as fungicides but I don't know about their toxicity. No, organic does NOT mean pesticide/chemical free. However the end product has little/no residue compared to conventional produce. Using nothing would be ideal but many climates dictate that something be used if anything is to survive to harvest. When I was buying local and when I belonged to the CSA, I knew the farmers and that they did not use ANY chemicals, organic or otherwise except in rare cases. When they did use something they told me. However, I don't have that access any longer and all I can say is that if I eat conventional produce I frequently have reactions ranging from mild itching to severe breathing problems to neurological problems to severe pain. Even buying mass-produced organic food, I have no overt reactions. So, I'll stick with organic!

"Just recently, an independent research project in the UK systematically reviewed the 162 articles on organic versus non-organic crops published in peer-reviewed journals between 1958 and 2008 11. These contained a total of 3558 comparisons of content of nutrients and other substances in organically and conventionally produced foods. They found absolutely no evidence for any differences in content of over 15 different nutrients including vitamin C, β-carotene, and calcium. There were some differences, though; conventional crops had higher nitrogen levels, while organic ones had higher phosphorus and acidity – none of which factor in much to nutritional quality. Further analysis of similar studies on livestock products like meat, dairy, and eggs also found few differences in nutritional content. Organic foods did, however, have higher levels of overall fats, particularly trans fats. So if anything, the organic livestock products were found to be worse for us (though, to be fair, barely)."
Produce: I'm not going to retype all the evidence but go here and follow the links: http://www.organic-center.org/science.nutri.php?action=view&report_id=126

Meat: He is talking about mass produced, supposedly organic livestock actually having more fat. This is possibly true...fat content would at least be the same as conventionally raised animals. The organic label is a farce except (hopefully) for two reasons: organic livestock will not have been fed GMO grains and they will not have been given antibiotics, hormones, arsenic, Paylean and other chemicals. Regardless of nutrition content organic is better for these reasons. What he does not address at all is grass fed and especially grass fed organic meats. In the case of grass fed animals, there is no argument that overall fat content is less and that the Omega 3/Omega 6 profile of the fat is much healthier. http://www.organicgrassfedbeefinfo.com/
Trans-fat: He claims organic meat is actually higher in trans fat than conventional. Trans fats are present in TRACE AMOUNTS in all meat and eggs. These naturally occurring trans fats appear to protect arteries. The naturally occurring trans fats are Vaccenyl and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). The deadly trans fats are fats where oils have been forced to react with hydrogen. They are made from oils that are liquid when not tampered with. They are MAN MADE and have little to nothing in common with the naturally occurring ones. Again, the natural ones only exist in trace amounts.

Environment There are already massive amounts of information here regarding the harmful effects of GMO crops. While organic farming may require more space, at the same time, the soil remains nourished rather than depleted into a desert of chemicals. Organic methods are sustainable. Weeds have already developed resistance to Round up and more Round up is used on conventional farms than ever before while the picture he presents shows less use. That is completely untrue. I could go on but please review all the info here re: GMOs.

So IMHO, organic isn't perfect. Yes, pesticides and fungicides are frequently used and yes, some are toxic, not only to wild-life but to humans. However, overall, they break down more quickly and very little is present by the time the produce is consumed. Organic (factory farmed) meats only have an advantage in that they are free of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals. Grass fed/free range livestock, eggs and dairy have definite health advantages. There is nothing redeeming about GMO. Overall, organic farming (produce) is better for the environment in that it does not deplete soils. At least factory farmed organic livestock does not put tons of antibiotics, growth hormones, Paylean etc back into the environment. Is organic produce more likely to be contaminated than conventional? It's possible due to the use of manure. However, outbreaks of deadly e-coli and salmonella have been traced to RUN OFF from nearby factory farmed livestock.

08-01-11, 06:22 PM
Mellow, thank you for that detailed analysis and for the link to the nutritional superiority of organic vegetables. That was the one statement out of the entire article that almost made me laugh out loud. I knew studies had been done confirming the nutritional supremacy of organic foods, but the very notion that there was no difference in taste was just absurd. I will be more than happy to host a taste test with anyone, any day of the week, and I'm prepared to put large sums of money on the outcome as well.

Once in a while I enjoy posting a flawed item just so we all have an opportunity to throw darts at it.

08-01-11, 08:53 PM
Thank you Mellow.

I skimmed it last night. Do you remember the science article from a few weeks ago that talked about our biases and why we keep them. I knew very clearly that there is little they would say that i believe or would sway me. My bias has kicked in!

On the taste, however, i'm with Islander. I hardly see how people can deny it.

Duane was very skeptical about organic ketchup when i first brought it home, but he doesn't want anything else these days. A few years ago i was in a raspberry mood and the store had no organic raspberries, so i decided to get conventional.

Organic raspberries always remind me of the summer i was 8 and pulling them off the bushes at a neighbor's house. The flavor was more than i can describe, and eating the organic raspberries instantly transports me back. The conventional ones (packaged by the same company as the organic) are like paste and cardboard in comparison. No flavor at all. So these days, if the store doesn't have organic raspberries (or organic are just too expensive), i do without.

Who would want to eat conventional after tasting the organic? However, i do suspect that folks who eat processed foods have their taste buds deadened anyway, so maybe they can't taste the difference. My MIL thinks i'm crazy to spend the extra money on organic.

08-01-11, 09:49 PM
I was watching Dr. Oz the other day (reruns) and he did a taste test with 4 organic vs conventional foods. I remember peanut butter, ketchup, a frozen Mexican meal and I think there was something else. The only person to pick the conventional as the organic item was the lady who had the meal. Every one else picked the organic with no problem.

08-01-11, 11:13 PM
Even rats prefer the organic food!

Rats Agree: Organic is Better
By Alison Rogers
April/May 2008

Apparently Remy from the Disney movie Ratatouille isn’t the only rat with a nose for chemical-free munchies. According to a recent article in The New York Times, Swiss and Austrian scientists offered 40 lab rats a choice between biscuits made with organically grown wheat and biscuits made with wheat that was grown through conventional methods. The rats showed a notable preference for the biscuits made with organic wheat.


02-21-12, 12:31 PM
I read through the article last night but was too tired to address it. First of all, I find it shameful that Scientific American allowed its name to be used here. There is little science and lots of opinion present in this blog.

I have to dismiss this "Mythbusting" article with a lot fewer words than Mellowsong did. I would just say it's another big-Ag inspired piece to influence the masses against spending any money on foods labeled as organic.

The only "Myth" I could see as having enough relevance to even be mentioned was No. 2 "Organic foods are healthier". Even the article Mellowsong cites is anything but conclusive on superiority. With 236 comparisons done, 61% of the time a superiority was shown for organic food, and 37% of the time a superiority was shown for conventional methods. This is devastatingly ambiguous overall for the person trying to decide if they should pay extra money to get possibly better value from organic foods.

While I wish there was a way that organic growers could prove their products superior on a nutrient-by-nutrient basis, I doubt that day is close at hand. And without such tests, how can we expect commercial organic growers to take any pains to improve their soils in a way that will truly enhance their products nutritionally. From reading the paper cited by Mellowsong's article, it seems that the superior test results achieved by organic produce, when it was achieved at all, came mostly from use of non-synthetic, or non-"chemical" fertilizers which tended to keep the soil balanced in nutrients better than rapidly absorbed chemical fertilizers. But from all I have read on soil improvement, great strides can be made in amending the soil to gain more nutritious produce, animal feed, and animals. At present, with no published assay on each product from a farm, there is little incentive for organic growers to tune their amendments to produce more nutritious food. And because of this, there can often be conventional farms that will exceed organic farms in measures of certain nutritional components.

What we really need is a way to measure the polyphenol, vitamin, mineral, fat and protein content of produce, and stamp the produce with that pedigree, just as fuel is rated in octane. If we had those measurements, people would see what they were getting for the money, and conventional growers would see the advantages of proper, organic and rock-based soil amendments (not to mention compost) in order to obtain better prices at market.

Until then, the nutritional value of "organic" is effectively a myth as far as definitive proof, peach by peach, pear by pear. In other words, there is no way to know, when you pick up an organic peach, whether it is more nutritious than a non-organic peach in the next bin at the market. You just have something like a 61% to 37% chance that it will be more nutritious on balance, and if you look at specifics like vitamin C content, or anti-oxidant content, you have a much better chance than that. But you have no way to compare it to "optimal" or "abysmal" for a peach.

A very real weakness of the study cited was that it measured only two minerals: potassium and phosphorous! Not iron, not zinc, not sulfur, not calcium, not magnesium, etc. Proper mineral balancing of the soil is important, not just to encourage plants to grow, produce fruit, and regenerate. It is also important because the animals eating the vegetables are going to flourish and maintain health according to what minerals they derive from the plants. For more on this subject, and the history of how we even ended up with the organic movement:

Or, if that link turns out to not work, here is the article on a web site:

http://www.soilminerals.com/AgricolaI.htm (This version is continued for several web pages.)

02-21-12, 01:12 PM
Not having read Stoneharbor's 2 links yet, I'm going to respond anyway. (I'm moody because I had to log out and log back in to find this article again)!

I agree: we lack definitive numbers to demonstrate once and for all, via hard-science, that organic is more nutritious than conventional. But the focus here is being placed entirely on nutrition, when that's only one segment of the picture. What about the pesticide load? I know that conventional produce is going to deliver unwanted toxins to my plate: herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, growth regulators, and very possibly genetic modification as well. For me, the poisons on conventional produce carry far more persuasion than nutritional superiority.

I wonder — don't shoot me for asking the question — to what degree the "organic" label is faith-based to begin with. How many shoppers will be converted when shown hard science that organic produce is nutritionally superior? Those who "believe" organic is better, and can afford the extra cost, will make that choice. The rest will remain unconvinced regardless of what "proof" they see.

02-21-12, 03:51 PM
But the focus here is being placed entirely on nutrition, when that's only one segment of the picture.

Well, the slanted article didn't place all the focus on nutrition. I'm the only one who placed focus on nutrition, as I was saying that was the only "myth" that the article tried to reveal that had any substance to it at all, that I could determine. I think the article was distorting the truth so much I couldn't concede that it was anything but a sales-pitch for non-organic methods. But I just wanted to say that for a long time I have had agreement with it that people follow the myth of organics with little proof. I don't mean that there is a myth to the fact that organic has less herbicides and pesticides. I mean that there is a myth that organic produce will necessarily provide more vitamins, minerals, etc., and even worse, will provide an optimum level of nutrition! The link that Mellowsong provided regarding "produce" was very helpful in that it showed that most times, an advantage can be shown nutritionally for organic crops. But it also showed that "organic" did not in any way mean "necessarily more nutritious". Thus the validity of the "myth" claim, as I see it.

I think the most important thing I can say at this point is that, from what I've read, most organic produce is far less nutritious than it could be though it will have a good chance of being more nutritious than non-organic. But because there's no easy way to measure the nutritional value, organic growers choose not to worry about it, and that's why we still get studies that show that a significant percent of the time, a particular non-organic crop will out-perform an organic crop in one or more nutrients tested. Studies I've read cite many examples of how our land must have been far more productive centuries ago when there was a greater supply of minerals than we find in any farm/ranch soils today. So if we had a means of measurement, and comparison to ideal, organic and also conventional farmers and ranchers would have some incentive to provide more nutrient rich food, and be challenged to duplicate the nutritious content that was available from crops grown before our soils were depleted.

Then we could forget about taking "supplements". Then possibly we could eat a few veggies foraged from our garden and get sufficient nutritional value such that we would not have to eat 6 servings of greens every day to equal one multi-mineral plus one multi-vitamin pill. No wonder people have given up and just lapsed into the "carb" habit. Eating enough vegetables, organic or not, to provide proper nutrition seems to be nearly impossible these days. I long for the day when I can get my soil improved to the point where I can eat reasonable sized meals of vegetables and I will feel satisfied for hours because I am getting complete nutrition, and when the vegetables don't do the trick, just a little organic meat or eggs will put me over the top, and I will feel sated and will not get sick and will not need any supplements to stay healthy. For me, that will be the test.

So I agree with Islander and the conventional alternative wisdom that organic foods are worth the money, but I wish there were proof. And when I feel there possibly is little chance to come up with extra toxins, or be short on nutrition, I am one who definitely still buys non-organic. Avocados are a good example. If I saw the nutrient statistics though, I could easily be swayed to pay extra for organic. So to answer that Islander question: "How many shoppers will be converted when shown hard science that organic produce is nutritionally superior?" I would have to say, "I am one of those for sure".

By the Way, the article I cited in the above post is titled Better Than Organic and gives a lot of insight into the myth of the "necessary nutritional superiority" of organic food. If one has a garden in which she is trying to grow nutritious food for her own intake, I consider it a first rate piece of information and history regarding soil science.

Mr. Wizard
02-21-12, 10:02 PM
Maybe it's just me, but I'm persuaded to eat organic foods because it tastes better than conventional foods. Free range, hormone-antibiotic free chicken is simply delicious, as compared to regular grocery store, mass-produced chicken. I love collard greens. But, the organic version costs twice that of the conventional kind. I pay extra for the organic collards because they simply tastes better. However, I am aware that perhaps the veggies taste better because of the lower pesticide, chemical load. But the thing that convinced me to eat more organic was the taste...the nutrition, chemcial load issues were secondary to me. BTW, everyone I introduce to free-range, organic chicken and eggs tell me they can no longer eat the conventional versions. Taste....that's what it's all about for me!! Oh, btw, when I can't differentiate between the taste of organic vs. conventional, then my purchase decision depends largely on my budget at the time.