I'm not necessarily against the idea of organic farming, but if you think you're being extra healthy by dishing out the big bucks for organic produce, you'd better think again. Organic produce may be the new popular kid on the nutrition block, but there are a few dirty little secrets that might just make you rethink the whole operation.
Back in 2004, the Journal of Food Protection reported on a study showing that organic produce was six times more likely to be contaminated with E.coli than nonorganic produce. That news didn't make headlines, but once people started dying from E.coli-contaminated bags of organic spinach, the world took notice.
The REAL culprit behind deadly E.coli outbreaks
It didn't take long to find out where the contaminated spinach came from. The search led investigators right to Natural Selections Foods, LLC, a supplier of packaged organic salads to retailers all over the country. But finding the cause of the contamination was another story altogether.
Testing determined that the cattle, streams, and even wild boar near the doomed spinach crops all had the same strain of E.coli-- O157:H7--that was found in the supermarket bags. Organic activists love to claim that the deadly O157:H7 strain of E. coli is caused by "factory farming." But the truth is, the USDA has found O157:H7 in every cattle herd it's tested for it--organic or not. And last year, a Swiss study found "no significant differences" in O157:H7 prevalence between organic and conventional dairy farms.
Once scientists knew the source of the E.coli, the question became how it could have spread to the crops. Speculation began in earnest, with some people even blaming the outbreak on wild boars that had trampled a fence surrounding the spinach field. Maybe their dirty little hooves spread contaminated manure from the cows to the crops, so the thought went. Hmmmanure on crops. Now THAT sounds familiar
Unlike their latest unwitting accomplices, the farmers intentionally spread dung on their fields--it's called fertilization. According to the rules that govern organic farming, the farmers are not permitted to use manufactured fertilizer on their crops. Instead, they use composted manure. Composting is a time-honored method. You could call composting "curing" as in cheese, or "fermenting" as in wine. Like these two processes, composting takes time. But composting isn't what it used to be.
With the old fashioned way, manure was composted for over a year before it was used as fertilizer. Not anymore. Current organic manure-handling regulations allow farmers to use manure that has been composted for as little as three days!
According to a report issued by the Hudson Institute, a highly respected and independent think tank, "Research determined that fruits and vegetables were 19 times more likely to be contaminated with E. coli if the manure was composted six to 12 months compared to produce fertilized with manure aged more than one year." (The report is from the institute's Center for Global Food Issues.) Imagine what the statistics would be for manure that had only been composted for three days!
Don't be fooled into thinking that you'll be safe if you thoroughly wash contaminated food, either. Rutgers University has shown that lettuce (and likely spinach) can take up O157:H7 via its roots and harbor the pathogens inside the leaves. In short, there is no practical way to ensure full safety in the food crops fertilized with manure unless it is composted for over a year.
Organic farmers are only human, so there's always the temptation to cut corners for a profit. I'm sure some of them believe they're going to save the world from industrial farming and the dreaded genetically modified (GMO) foods, but there isn't any hard evidence that organically grown food is any more nutritious than industrially grown food. And soon, the pesticide issue will be moot as GMO foods will make pesticides unnecessary.
Strike it rich in the booming world of "natural" products
Once again, so many of the investment advisors whose publications I subscribe to have their fingers right on the pulse of the current trends. One glance at the stock performance of Whole Foods Market will show you that the "natural" movement is a big one and that plenty of organizations are riding the wave of success.
On October 15, the Oxford Club Communique reprinted an interview with John Stossel, the best critic in the U.S. in the fields of economics, "governomics," and propaganda by all and sundry to protect their passions--whether it's anti-smokers, anti-nukers, global warmers, or just plain farmers protecting their organic farming niche.
In an interview with Mark Skousen, chairman and editor of Investment U (a superb and free investment advisory), Stossel had plenty to say about the difference between organic and chemically produced foods: "Our studies showed that in terms of health, there's no evidence that organic foods are better for you, cleaner, or less likely to have bacteria [than nonorganic foods]. But I'm a libertarian, and I don't see the natural foods industry as a threat and I'm perfectly happy to see them earn zillions of dollars. Whole Foods Market has a wonderful store here in New York, and it's a delight to visit. If people want to pay more for organic food, God bless them, but it makes me feel sad when mothers think they are cheating their kids because they can't afford to pay the higher prices for natural foods.
"And it's sad the way the organic industry has smeared the real heroes, the conventional farmers who use small amounts of pesticides and have performed a miracle in feeding people more cheaply than ever."
Luckily for the public, genetically modified foods will make organic farming superfluous. A good example of this is a recent momentous discovery in the GMO world. This is the headline I came across: "Root-knot nematodes defeated by GMO research." I thought it sounded important, so I looked it up.
Here's a summary: The microscopic worm-shaped parasites called root-knot nematodes are the world's most destructive group of plant pathogens. They attack at the roots of over 2,000 plant species, and although they don't necessarily destroy the crops outright, they do dramatically reduce the produce yield.
After 20 years of research, Dr. Richard Hussey of the University of Georgia and his colleagues succeeded in inserting into susceptible plants a gene that blocks the nematode. Dr. Hussey is certain to get a Nobel Prize for his work. It is a scientific revolution comparable in importance to the Gorgas' discovery of the cause of yellow fever in Panama, the discovery of DDT that saved tens of millions of lives, and Fleming's discovery of penicillin.
I'm bringing this up because people passionate about organic farming are, in general, opposed to GMO food production. But, sincere as they may be, they have been badly advised by the same environmental cuckoos who managed to ban DDT and nuclear power.
Some people have accused me of being "anti-organic farming" because I am pro GMO. Far from it. I am all for organic farming when it is practicable and useful for health. All I'm saying is that if you want to call your product healthy, it should be free of dangerous contaminants.
You can't prosecute the organic farmers since they're within the law. These irresponsible farmers will beat the rap, but I can't help but think they're shooting themselves in the foot. By the time all is said and done, practices such as these will be the death of organic farming.
Besides, the industry simply cannot deliver what the world needs--cheap, nutritious food. (I hope they don't shoot the messenger.) Like the drug industry, their products are expensive and have not lived up to the expectation of better health.
But that doesn't mean I'm against organic practices altogether. There are plenty of organic practices that I do support. For example, there's no substitute for raw milk--when it comes to both nutrition and safety. Also, beef from grass-fed cows is clearly superior to that from grain-fed cows simply because it contains as much as four times more essential omega-3 fatty acids.
Please don't misunderstand me. Organic farming should not be restricted by the government. It sets a standard--and a good one at that--for reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides, herbicides, coloring matter, and the heating and pasteurizing of fresh foods. It serves a purpose, and I hope the industry prospers. But unless they sanitize and conduct strict self-regulation, they will surely be destroyed.