Monday, February 21, 2005

Organic Food Can Kill You

When I wandered into the Health Section of a local grocery store, I discovered something curious: nearly all the food proudly displayed an “organic” label. Cereals, peanut butter, pasta, milk, cheese, potato chips, nuts—the list goes on and on. Celebrities and commentators often remark their wish to eat “organically” for health reasons. The association of “healthy” with “organic” even affects to our nation’s children: some Wisconsin and Minnesota schools are substituting conventional meals with organic ones.

The idea that “natural” is “better for you” is one of the leading myths of our time: organic food can actually be harmful. For example, organic farmers don’t use nitrogen enriching fertilizer—it’s a man-made chemical—they cover their crops with cow manure instead. The manure passes on various strains of bacteria to the food that grows in it, including E. coli O157:H7 which can get in the tissue of plants so it can’t be washed off.

Supporters downplay that very real danger (which kills hundreds of Americans each year) and emphasize unfounded concerns. They say the real point is that organic foods don’t have artificially created pesticides, which is true for the most part. But they don’t tell you that doesn’t matter. There is not one documented case of a person getting sick from pesticides. The farmers, who are exposed to huge quantities of the chemicals everyday, don’t get sick either. If what supporters of organic foods were saying was true, millions of farmers would have died a long time ago.

Pesticide fear mongering becomes even more ridiculous when you understand biology. Plants excrete natural pesticides called Halogenated Dimethyl BiPyrroles (HDBPs). We ingest about 10,000 times more of these pesticides than man made ones and we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Yet people are living longer and longer.

The six billion dollar organic food industry loves touting junk science to support their smear campaign against technology. now touts a recent study by the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences. According to the article, “rats [who] fed on organic food were slimmer, slept better and had stronger immune systems than others fed on conventionally-grown produce.” But slimmer doesn’t mean healthier, “sleeping better” is subjective and their immune system was probably enhanced because it was busy fighting off bacterial infections. The sample size wasn’t even large—there were only twelve rats per group. To make it statistically significant, each group needed at least 30.

It just shows that with sloppy science and unfounded claims, you can convince people of anything. You can even get them to think that chemicals are bad despite that people are nothing but leather bags filled with chemicals.

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