Organic claims are cleverly written fiction

Jonah Goldberg

3/9/2001 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
I have, sitting on my desk, a box of EnviroKidz Organic Gorilla Munch. I found this cereal at my local Fresh Fields Whole Foods Market, where I had been sent on assignment by my editors at National Review (other journalists get to cover wars, I get to write about stores that pride themselves on their unpronounceable mushrooms). You wouldn't think from looking at the cuddly simian on the box that this is one of the most egregious examples of dangerous propaganda in America. But it is. On the back of the package, children are told that humans are "the only natural enemy gorillas have" and that "the most serious threat to free-living gorillas is the explosion of our human population." Because of logging and agriculture, "Gorillas simply have no place left to go." "EnviroKidz chooz (sic) organic food. Organic agriculture respects the land and the wild creatures who live on it." It concludes, "So if you want the kind of planet where bio-diversity is protected and human beings tread more softly upon the Earth, then chooz certified organic cereals from EnviroKidz. (ital) Wouldn't it be nice if all the food we ate was certified organic?" (end ital) Well, no, it wouldn't. In fact, it would be awful. Boosters claim with profound smugness that organic food is better tasting, better for you and better for the environment. All three of these assurances are bogus. First, blind taste tests show time and again that no one can tell the difference between organic and conventional foods. People, however, are likely to (ital) say (end ital) the organic stuff tastes better, but only if they know it's organic. That is a triumph of marketing, not taste buds. More importantly, organic and conventional foods have indistinguishable nutritional content. Even the environmentally correct Consumer Reports says, "Organic produce tastes no different than 'conventionally' grown produce, and any nutritional differences there might be between them are likely so subtle as to evade detection." University of California nutritionist Dr. Gail Feenstra has said, "As much as I'd like to say yes, unfortunately the evidence doesn't" show that organic food is more nutritious. "The studies are equivocal; there are no definitive studies that show that organic is much better than conventionally produced produce." We're also told that "conventional" food is worse because it contains residual pesticides. "The lack of synthetic pesticidal residues on organically grown produce definitely makes for a safer product," reads CNN's "Organic Explainer" Web page. Actually, study after study shows that there is no danger from residual pesticides on conventional food. The amount of pesticide on the average supermarket apple is several thousand times less than what is considered even remotely dangerous. The organic food industry is fond of touting the fact that there 110,000 annual cases of acute "pesticide poisoning," but what it leaves out is that, according to the National Poison Control Centers, (ital) all (end ital) of these instances are the result of people - mostly kids - actually (ital) eating (end ital) pesticide. It's terrible that kids sometimes eat the rat poison under the sink, but that shouldn't keep you from eating oranges from the corner store. Meanwhile the "natural" pesticides used by organic farmers can be even more dangerous, not least because they have to be used in even greater quantities to do the same work of safer synthetic pesticides. Dennis Avery, the director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues, became a lightening rod for eco-hawks after he pointed out that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that organic and "natural" crops are eight times more likely to carry nasty strains of the E. coli bacteria. That's because these crops are grown in manure. Indeed, the director of the CDC's Food-Borne Diseases branch concurred on the E. Coli threat in the Journal of the American Medical Association, though he now claims neutrality on the topic due to pressure from eco-groups. And what about the poor gorillas? Remember Gorilla Munch asks those guilt-ridden kiddies, (ital) "Wouldn't it be nice if all the food we ate was certified organic?" (end ital) Well, that's the real travesty. Organic farming is simply less efficient than modern farming, which is why modern farming was invented. Growing stuff "naturally" requires more land for up to 50 percent less food, and That food, in turn, is grown more slowly. The Center for Global Food Issues estimates that if all food were grown organically we'd have to immediately clear-cut 10 million square miles of wildlands. Avery, at the Hudson Institute, estimates that ultimately we'd need three more continents just to feed the world. Alas, nobody is creating any new continents, so instead we'd have to kick more of those wonderful gorillas out of their homes, just so EnviroKidz can eat their Gorilla Munch.