According to Alex Avery, it is scientifically proven that organic foods are not safer than non-organic. Organic food is not more nutritious, overall. Non-organic milk has almost zero chance of containing hormones and is by far the safest food item on the market today. Even if hormones made it into the milk supply, the are the exact same hormones that humans have, and the levels in milk would be so low as to pose no risk whatsoever. The pesticides that organic farmers use (yes, they do use them–and often shield that fact with euphemisms) are less powerful and less efficient than modern non-organic pesticides, which means that they are applied much more frequently and crop yields are often lower.
These are just a few of the claims Avery makes. I am an equal opportunity skeptic, which is why this book appealed to me. I like things that challenge the conventional wisdom. I recognize that I have no easy way to confirm much of what Avery writes; he cites a LOT of studies from a variety of research bodies (collegiate science departments, the FDA, European research bodies, etc), but I don’t have the expertise to know if (or how much) he’s spinning. Sometimes the biased tone gets a bit obnoxious, but that doesn’t (necessarily) mean he’s not telling the truth.
Some of the most interesting parts were when he dug into specific claims and “scientific” supports for some sacred cows in the organic
cult community. The crackpot philosophical underpinnings of the organic movement, which started to take off in the 1800s, are useful to consider when evaluating the claims and motives of some of the more hardcore contemporary proponents of organics.
Totally separate from the ideas about organic foods being healthier and safer (which Avery disputes), Avery shows how the entire approach to organic farming is entirely unsustainable to meet global food needs. If everyone adopted tomorrow the methods proposed by organic activists, the global food market would collapse. This section was by far the most damning element to the organic cause.
Avery ultimately argues for a “live and let live” approach to food. If people want to grow or eat organic foods, more power to them. But they the organic proselytizers shouldn’t try to hamstring the efforts of non-organic techniques that (he argues) make food safer and better. Indeed, he devotes a chapter to discussing his own family’s food habits and why they do buy some organic products. But the reason is not due to some ideological commitment supported by dubious science. Rather, it’s that in some cases a particular product is higher quality, or because it’s local, or because the recipe is better than the non-organic competitor, or because fresh vine-ripened tomatoes are more desirable than those picked early and transported 10,000 miles.
The tone is occasionally off-putting, but the content was very informative and disruptive to the mainstream perspective.
The Truth About Organic Foods Purchase Links: Paperback