NUTRITION : Are ‘Organic’ Foods Just a Marketing Ploy?

Organic apple. Better, or just more expensive?

Study shows what you eat is more important than whether the food meets the criteria to be called ‘organic’
By Roger Baker / The Rag Blog / September 29, 2008

Are “organic” foods really safer or more nutritious?

They could be in some cases, but in general, there is little scientific evidence that this is so.

The evidence seems to indicate that WHICH types of foods that one eats are a far more important factor than, say, whether you eat foods that meet the USDA criteria for organic, and as officially determined and promoted and certified by the organic food lobby. Here is a MAYO Clinic study affirming this conclusion.

The term “organic” seems to be largely a marketing ploy by corporate chains like Whole Foods to convince people that by eating their higher-priced foods, which do not involve the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, one can therefore avoid medical problems which are now scientifically known to be genetic in origin, etc. It is little accident that the isles of organic groceries are filled with countless herbal nostrums and remedies and cures with no proven scientific validity whatsoever, whereas drugs of well-known efficacy such as aspirin are non-existent.

A multi-billion dollar marketing empire has thus arisen based on the unsubstantiated theory that “pure” organic foods are by themselves an important addition to health and longevity. And furthermore that general health and longevity of consumers are determined more by the conditions under which the food plants and animals are grown are more important than which types of foods are chosen for the diet. Another example of corporate marketing and their lobbies dominating science.

The fact is that average human life spans were MUCH shorter BEFORE the advent of chemical fertilizers, genetic engineering, and pesticides in the food chain, and before the advent of scientific medicine.

Thus, whether or not you eat healthy KINDS of foods is probably far more important than the parts per billion of fungicides that may be present in your foods, until it is scientifically proven to the contrary, especially since it is now known that many naturally occurring toxins are also harmful.

That is not to say that the chemical additives are perfectly harmless, but rather that they may be an unimportant factor in relation to other risks when they are evaluated scientifically rather than emotionally.

The nutrient and chemical toxin quantities are usually unmeasured even in those few cases where their benefit and risk is accurately known, thus giving the “organic” label a false importance. The organic food lobby is totally focused on the organic certification to the exclusion of the scientific assessment of risk as a food health factor, because to adopt this official certification is such an important source of corporate profit.

In any case, peak oil will localize food production and minimize fertilizer and pesticide additions, so these will become factors of less concern as food costs rise and food availability tself becomes primary.

Higher priced “health” foods involve billions of dollars of dubious and unproven benefit and should be subjected to the impartial judgment of science rather than pseudo-science and corporate marketing promotions.

It is far better for health and the wallet to focus on the increased consumption of grains and vegetables, reduced meat consumption, and increased exercise than it is to focus on the “organic” label – if one is to survive in optimum health and to avoid the incipient poverty induced by corporate marketing scams.

The Rag Blog

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5 Responses to NUTRITION : Are ‘Organic’ Foods Just a Marketing Ploy?

  1. Anonymous says:

    amen, amen, amen!

  2. Mariann says:

    While I greatly respect Bro. Baker’s scientific and economic acumen, he misses the mark on several counts here.

    Yes, certainly, eating the “right kinds of foods” (and there is as little scientific agreement on exactly what they might be as on anything else)is THE most important SINGLE factor in a healthy diet. The fried-sugar-and-fat diet featured on many fast food menus and at the Texas State Fair; diets high in red meat laced with preservatives and breads & cereals from which all nutrients have been removed; and faddish diets often undertaken for weight loss, such as 30-days-of-cabbage-soup, aren’t healthy in the long run because they aren’t balanced and don’t provide vital nutrients.

    But characterizing the aisles of organic grocery stores as “filled with herbal nostrums and remedies …with no proven scientific validity whatsoever” is simply uninformed. I highly recommend the website of the Austin-based American Botanical Society (www.herbalgram.org), for the latest news about scientific validations (and rejections) of various herbs’ reputed benefits; I won’t even try to argue the point here. Still, supplementing diets deficient in key vitamins and minerals, for which a great deal of scientific validation exists in many cases, and that are removed or destroyed, sometimes deliberately but more often in the course of processing, from modern “industrial” foods, is a logical step to maintaining good nutritional status. As for herbs, the exclusion of anecdotal proof from the realm of “scientific validity”, coupled with a lack of financial incentive for drug companies to study plants that they cannot patent, is largely responsible for today’s sad situation in which many herbs are undervalued and some are even illegal. Meanwhile, thousands of Americans die every year from “scientific” mono-chemical drugs, approved by the FDA and prescribed by doctors, used exactly as prescribed.

    More to the point of your argument, perhaps, just because eating the right foods is more important than whether they have a few parts per million of contaminants — and even acknowledging the immunizing value of comsuming a certain quantity of bug parts, germs, fungus spores, etc., as we all surely do even in organically produced foods — doesn’t mean we should be unconcerned with contamination and adulteration. Just this week, thousands of Chinese babies are reported ill due to a plastic compound in their formula, added by dairies to stretch their product. Organic foods are certified produced under certain conditions, using certain methods, in order to minimize chances of salmonella outbreaks and E. coli-contaminated meat, and in the State of Texas at least, laws regulate organic label claims.

    I can’t conclude that chemical additives and other contaminants in foods are “unimpotant… in relation to other risks”. While the risk of consuming poison defoliant spray on non-organic grapes may occur less frequently than that of eating too much omega-6 fatty acid relative to omega-3s, it may also have more severe, potentially acute, consequences.

    Furthermore, I think it highly unlikely that inorganically produced foods equal organically produced in nutritional content. Eggs from free-range, organically-fed chickens are noticeably richer in color and flavor than their pale, cage-laid cousins. Farm-raised, grass-fed beef is in a different class altogether from the product of industrial
    “ranches” and feedlots. Peaches? Honey, if you can’t tell the difference between those cardboardy varieties bred for shipping from Georgia or California and a nice, juicy, Texas peach, you may need a tastebud transplant! I’m not so much sold on organic here as on naturally and locally produced foods. And maybe “there’s no proof” that rich flavors and colors signal abundant nutrients — but the proof is in the pudding.

    Why today’s commercial foods are so non-nutritious is an enormous topic of economic and social history; ’nuff said for 2nite.

  3. RogerB says:

    I agree that I probably took on too many sacred cows at one time.

    Taking on homeopathic medicine and the unproven remedies and such that have filled the isles of food stores subsequent to government deregulation is full time work in itself.

    So for now let us stick to debunking the thinking of skeptical nutritionists represented by links like this one:

    http://www.scq.ubc.ca/organic-foods-healthy-alternative-or-just-another-fad/

    — Roger

  4. I certainly enjoyed both the post and the comments. I was raised on a 1,000 acre farm; raising beef, lamb, chickens, hogs, as well as fresh produce – complete with a small vineyard and orchard.

    We ‘harvested’ the cow manure; chicken manure, to use as fertilizer for the vegetables/fruits. We didn’t spray, and we had a percentage of loss each year due to ‘bugs’, etc.

    We ate very very well, and learned to love the flavor of home-grown foods as well as butchering our livestock and having excellent quality meat and poultry.

    My grandfather owned the farms; he won the Swift Centennial Award in 1952 for the most outstanding beef producer in the United States (and I still have the beautiful plaque they gave him).

    During those years of growing up, I would visit my friends in the city; I clearly noticed (even then) a difference in the foods they ate, and the taste.

    All these years later, I would say it best to grow your own foods whenever possible; even if it’s a small patio garden, you’ll benefit from this.

    However, at the same time, I do believe the ‘organic’ claim and the higher price is not warranted. It actually costs LESS to grow organic foods than it does when it requires the cost of various fertilizers; approved pesticides, etc., to massively grow and provide for our nation’s food needs. For the life of me, I can’t understand why people fall for this ‘higher-priced’ product when first of all, they can properly wash their produce to eliminate 90% of the risk that has come from use of pesticides.

    They can also buy frozen produce and if properly cooked, they will lose little of the nutrition. Canned foods lose more of the nutrition, but not such that it challenges your health. You can take vitamin and mineral supplements; you can buy a variety of herbs that enhance your health of you feel the need to do so.

    It amazes me that we get all riled up and charged up by these food claims, when many will still end up eating out 2 times a week – having no idea as to the source and quality of the food they order at the restaurant. Further, they’ll buy up frozen dinners and the like; they’ll still end up living probably as well and as long as many who make a ‘big deal’ out of only eating ‘organic’.

    We’re exposed to the toxic fumes of cars; of industry, and enough pollutants during the course of our life, that trying to overcome those negative effects on our lives by somehow thinking we can do it with ‘just food’, makes a person wonder if it’s like adding a thimble-full of water to the ocean to keep it from running dry.

    I’m 66 years old; in excellent health – still weigh the same as I did when I was 16 years old, and my doctor claims he’s never seen anyone maintain such a sound and proper weight. The doctor I had before him wondered why at my age, I have no gray hair (and of course he would be able to tell if I dyed it). I think having held to eating a proper balance of foods (organic or not); taking my supplements, and getting proper exercise has helped.

    The body is very capable of dealing with a certain amount of toxic threat; we need to trust its ability to cleanse and rejuvenate.

    We can minimize exposure and abuse, but we don’t have to be fanatical about our diets to the point we support an industry who should NOT be charging a higher sum of money for ‘organic’ food, but rather providing food to the people at a price we all can afford.

    As food prices continue to rise, we need to focus on those food groups and foods within those groups, that bring us the greatest amount of nutrition for the least amount of cost.

    We can stop seeking ‘variety’ for the sake of ‘taste’, and stick with the basics that will bring us proper nutrition and health.

    Oatmeal/juice/yogurt/eggs for breakfast are sound. A few prunes are excellent. Whole grain bread with egg salad make a basic and low-cost sandwich for lunch. Adding canned beets are excellent for lunch. Fresh carrots are still inexpensive and an excellent addition.

    We can build a dinner based on a quality soup that includes beans; barley – rice. Adding fresh vegetables and a serving of fresh or frozen fruit is adequate.

    I eat vegetarian; I don’t need meat, and use yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs and hard cheeses to get my protein requirement.

    Water is such an essential part of our body’s requirement; a bit of lemon juice in your water is important. Many of our problems are because we don’t take in enough water; we over-eat, and under-hydrate.

    If we were to cut out ALL BAKED GOODS, we’d be better off for it. If we used only HONEY and molasses as a ‘sweetener’ we’d be better off for it.

    I guess the problem will be is if we all decide to eat ‘only fresh’, we’ll create a real food shortage problem because there’s not enough agricultural land in this country to feed a nation who wants nothing but fresh fruit and produce. If we were all to adopt a truly healthy diet for ourselves, then those who produce the junk food would either be out of business, or would have to completely realign their production to give us what we demanded.

    I’m guessing processed foods/junk foods/foods that are not in our best interest to eat for optimum health, will continue to be patronized by a fast number of consumers, so there will still be ‘room’ for all in this on-going discussion about diet, food, and how it relates to our health.

    Just remember, the body doesn’t see the words ‘organic’, and it will process the food without discrimination. Amazingly, our life expectancy continues to climb, and that certainly is a clue that nothing is critically ‘wrong’ or it would show up in those statistics.

  5. Anonymous says:

    While I have not had time to read all of the links here, Roger brings up a topic that has long disturbed me. Basically, as I understand it, organic food is food that is basically gown as was grown 200+ years ago, before chemicals and pesticides were used. If this interpretation is true, then how is it we have ended up with the “organic food industry” having to do the expensive and inhibiting record keeping to prove the food organic and get the label; while the non-organics can basically spray any pesticide on food they choose and do not have to keep the records or label the produce? This is upside down and only benefits the corporate agribusiness… IMHO. Peace, Terry

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