Organic food fad an indulgence of affluent trendies

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Organic food fad an indulgence of affluent trendies

By Bettina Arndt Ref: The Adelaide Advertiser April 13 2007 It was a natural food shop filled with the displays of fruit and vegetables, baskets of wheat germ and other items pulsing with natural goodness. They sold only one brand of bubbly water, proudly labelled �organic mineral water�. Organic water? What on earth does that mean? Mineral water contains minerals which are inorganic compounds, not the compounds of carbon required for an �organic� product. Water can�t be organic. It�s a nonsense designed to seduce consumers into believing they are buying something special. And the suckers line up for more. The organic food industry is booming, with ever more people deluded into thinking that paying two or three times more for organic food products will provide them with healthier, safer food. Given the nonsensical claims being made about these food products, what is surprising is how few Australian scientists, nutritional experts or simply people with common sense speak out about this subject in Australia. Overseas, it is a different story with prominent people quite happy to point out the emperor has no clothes. In Britain, Lord Taverne characterises the trends towards consumers buying overpriced organic food as a �monument to irrationality� promoted by advocates whose �principles are founded on a scientific howler� � namely that �natural� chemicals are good and synthetic chemicals bad. His book, The March of Unreason, points out years of research has failed to show major differences between organic and normal food in terms of food safety or nutritional value. Late last year, the US Institute of Food Technologies summed up all the latest research in a scientific status summary on organic foods, stating that it is premature to conclude either food system is superior to the other with respect to safety or nutritional composition. Yes, organic fruits and vegetables do possess fewer pesticide residues and lower nitrate levels than the ordinary produce. But research also shows the absence or pesticides can stimulate the production of naturally occurring toxins and organically produced farm animals can show higher rates of bacterial contamination. What�s most worrying about the whole organic-product movement is the underlying notion that scientific progress is inevitably bad and we are all better off reverting to primitive, �natural� ways of doing things. Where�s the logic in turning our back on the enormously beneficial scientific developments that have led to massive increases in healthy food production, including the chemical washes and pasteurisation which rid crops of dangerous bacteria? It makes no sense to revert to practices used a couple of centuries ago, like using animal manure as the major fertiliser for food crops and refusing to pasteurise milk and fruit juices. According to the US Centres for Disease Control, people who eat organic food are eight times more likely to contract the dangerous E coli strain. The organic fad is an indulgence of the rich. Even if most claims for organic farming could be substantiated, its main disadvantage is its inefficiency. Organic food costs more because average yields are 20-50 per cent lower than those from conventional farms. While the affluent trendies indulge their foolish food fad, we still need to treble food production in the next 50 years to feed three billion extra people. According to Indian biologist C.J. Prakash, the only contribution organic farming will to make to sustainable agriculture will be to �sustain poverty and malnutrition�.