Saturday, March 03, 2007

Score Another Point for Technology

Remember the summer of 2006, when an E. coli outbreak made eating spinach dangerous? It turns out the source was a likely culprit: an organic farm.

Organic farms use natural fertilzers, better known as manure, which are breeding grounds for micro-organisms. Some farms even refuse to irradiate their crops, which would have killed any E. coli that called our food their home. I can't be sure if conventional farming is healthier but I bet my life that "inorganic" crops are. If you want food to be safer technology is your friend, not your enemy.

HT: Mike Mills

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh I don't know. The World Health Organization reports about 200,000 people die each year because of pesticide poisoning.

I have a question, how much of the "inorganic" crops are known to cause cancer in even small amounts?

Sort of puts the small number of people who died from e.coli in perspective doesn't it?

Jason

http://www.chem-tox.com/pesticides/
http://ohioline.osu.edu/b745/b745_4.html
http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1693668

Jacob said...

I never understood the opposition to irradiation. It's not like the radiation stays in the food. I guess the Cold War kind of ruined all things associated with it (radiation), even those that are innocuous or helpful.

But I do think the organic farm crowd is right on the money when it comes to pesticides. When I get "conventionally" farmed fruit from the store, I make sure I give it the whole soap-and-water treatment. Sure, I may just be paranoid, but if anything is worth being paranoid about, it's organophosphates.

David said...

The most critical mantra in toxicology is that the dose makes the poison. Anything--and I mean anything--can kill you in the right amounts. This is a critical point because when we hear X causes cancer or Y kills people, the conclusions are often based on studies where an organism is fed far more of a chemical than it would ever recieve in a life time. When it dies, we shouldn't be concerned.

But even if we assume the WHO is right then we must also adjust any organic deaths with the number of people who eat organic food. (I don't know the numbers on this, but it's clear that far more people eat regular food than organic food.)

But even if it turns out the deaths per consumption are lot higher, we also have to recall that pesticides (and "inorganic" fertilizers, etc) are also much better at making more food cheaply. That's not nothing to people who struggle to get by-slightly possible deadly food is better than no food at all.

But even if we assume that organic food could be as productive, we must remember that pound for pound large scale operations are more prone to mistakes-organic or inorganic. Thus it is not that pesticides are "bad," only they are bad at certain levels which are more likely to occur when you're feeding a nation of 300 million. Organic food would have the same problem (to a possibly larger level) if it was doing the same amount of work as normal methods.

But even if we assume that all of what I just said wasn't true, and pesticides really are hurting us in an unacceptable way, then I beg you to understand that if things are going to be made better, the answer does not lie in the farming methods of the Dark Ages.

jason said...

Jacob,
I think the reason for not radiating food is two fold. 1) The belief (rightly or wrongly) that it reduces the nutritional value of the food. 2) It detracts from the organic idiom. The second one is only important from an advertising standpoint, but if the first one is right then I can understand it on some level.

David,
When did you get a social conscience? You used to talk about the nigh-divine economic forces and how it's OK to get rich no matter who suffers. Now you're dissing the more profitable method of food production in favor of the one that feeds more people. Organic farming is everything you've promoted, low production costs, high profits, great advertising, self-reliance, and little regard for who is adversely affected by it.

You see according to the WHO, most of the 200+K deaths from pesticides are from accidents and misuse. Now it's easy to blame the person handling it, but who printed the instructions and made the machinery? Now the technology does make food safer, provided it's used properly. But that doesn't always happen in all parts of the world.

After all, the e.coli episode was one incident and didn't you say that an increase of one was statistically insignificant?

I wasn't so much disagreeing with what you said, just with your rush to a conclusion. It's like saying a certain game is stupid because you lost the first time. Oh and the "anything can kill you" argument leaves out how easy it is to accidentally get the toxic amount and how long it lingers inside you.

Jason