Why Organic Agriculture is a Colossal Hoax

by WCE

The Colossal Hoax Of Organic Agriculture

I’ve mentioned before my concerns about organic agriculture and how it’s implemented. This article discusses some of the issues that affect consumers but it doesn’t discuss the production issues, such as lower yields, associated with organic agriculture. Organic produce is popular among my set in the Pacific Northwest but its proponents don’t seem particularly knowledgeable about its pros and cons, so I’ve learned to smile and nod. Is anything in this article (it’s short) new information for you? Do you share my skepticism about organic food from China or Mexico?

 

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103 thoughts on “Why Organic Agriculture is a Colossal Hoax

  1. In my neck of the woods, there is a large organic, non-gmo, grass-feed, non-pasturized, free-range set of folks. Many also believe that food is too cheap in that it encourages waste and doesn’t allow the small farmer, who it is assumed is organic, non-gmo, etc., to compete with the huge ag corporations.

    While we tend to avoid prepackaged foods, we balance time, taste, and preference of our family members. Personally, I like the taste of the free-range eggs I can get locally from a small producer better than the big chain non-descript eggs. However, I can’t tell the difference when they are just another ingredient in a non-egg dish, like a cake. I splurge periodically on the local eggs and use them for omelets, but as more eggs go “in other dishes”, we buy more of the chain eggs.

  2. I’m skeptical about everything from China. And I’ve been skeptical about organic food since my youth in California. Once again, it’s all about sexual purity for conservatives and food purity for liberals. I’m afraid I’m impure on almost all measures. The locavores in Silicon Valley drive me nuts because they simply refuse to understand that the growing season in Colorado is about six weeks. So I guess I’ll have nothing but beef and lamb (local, of course) for the rest of the year.

    I think it would be a good idea if sustainability and agricultural best practices were divorced from the whole organic thing.

  3. The article seems pretty spot on, except for this bit..

    USDA does not require organic products to be GMO-free.

    Most certifiers require that the farming operation not produce any GMO crops on the farm. The way around this is to create a specific entity that produces organic crops. This also vastly simplifies the paperwork. So, Farmer Brown has two separate DBAs: Farmer Brown Enterprises and Farmer Brown Wholesome Organic.

    Like lotteries are a tax on the mathematically challenged, organic food is a tax on the scientifically challenged.

  4. “I think it would be a good idea if sustainability and agricultural best practices were divorced from the whole organic thing.”

    In reality, as differentiated from perception, they are.

    For a good case study of organic ag, I would suggest the Little House books.

  5. I don’t tend to buy organic produce, but I do buy free range eggs and organic/free range/antibiotic-free meat. I try and balance cost, quality and convenience.

  6. In reality, as differentiated from perception, they are.

    Sure. I should have added “in the public mind”.

  7. Setting aside the issue of so called organic produce from China and Mexico, most of us who prefer and seek out organic produce are not as naive as OP wants to believe.

    I think that if we keep fighting the good fight, insist on organic produce and stricter oversight, the market forces will make it happen. If we just give up and accept that we will consume pesticides, status quo will never change.

    If as claimed there is indeed no such thing as truly organic, that is the failure of the elected government and not a failure on part of people who seek out organic produce.

  8. I have no issue with people using organic produce. I do have moral qualms about organic/antibiotic free meat. While I imagine that most livestock producers, for both moral and economic reasons, produce livestock in as low a stress environment as feasible, there is a strong incentive no to treat sick animals in an antibiotic free system. Animals, like people, get sick, if we raise them for meat or eat them, we have an obligation to treat them humanely, and I have some reservations about the incentives involved in antibiotic free production.

  9. “I think that if we keep fighting the good fight, insist on organic produce and stricter oversight, the market forces will make it happen.”

    This is a serious question, why do you want organic produce?

  10. I don’t understand the morality of the last.post at 10:47. We should worry about raising animals humanely enough so that we can just kill and eat them?

  11. We should worry about raising animals humanely enough so that we can just kill and eat them?

    Yes. If we eat animals, they should only have one bad day. There are 7 billion people on the planet, they require 2000+ calories per day to survive. Meat is an important component of that. However, as civilized beings, we need to produce those calories in as humane a fashion as possible.

  12. Mr WCE started researching our fruit tree blights and spraying for mold, mildew and coddling moth. We had been a little lax. Our fruit quality has improved dramatically. I haven’t researched which sprays are considered “organic” and which aren’t, but even for the same chemical (pyrethroid), I know that synthetic vs. derived from plants makes a difference for what’s allowable. It would be possible to grow some of the same fruits we grow in climates with less mold/mildew, where the same sprays might not be necessary.

    I suppose the seeming arbitrariness of the pesticide classification process is part of what bothers me about organic agriculture.

  13. Why do I want organic produce? I am busy and typing on phone, so dont have time to write out a cogent response. To put it simplistically, I just don’t want to consume chemicals along with my food.

  14. “I suppose the seeming arbitrariness of the pesticide classification process is part of what bothers me about organic agriculture.”

    Organic corn can be sprayed with Bt. GMO corn produces its own Bt. One is okay and the other is not….hmmmm….

    I do suspect that eating organic is as much a wealth signally device and an indicator of being part of the right group as anything else.

  15. I think some people have a strong preference for “natural” vs. “synthetically derived” molecules and familiar names. You see this in the price premium for natural vs. synthetic vitamin E and concern about consuming “tocopherol.”

    I haven’t gotten good answers from people about why they think growing chrysanthemums so their roots can be processed for organic pesticides is more sustainable than using a synthetic process. And when the “organic, environmentally friendly” exterminator came to my door and tried to sell me services, I asked him questions about his chemicals and he just went away.

  16. I do suspect that eating organic is as much a wealth signally device and an indicator of being part of the right group as anything else.

    I think it’s more about a deep seated human desire for purity and cleanliness. A certain percentage of the population has a need to divide foods into good and bad. Fat is good, fat is bad, carbs are good, carbs are bad, the same logic applies to organic and non-organic items.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purity_and_Danger

  17. Murphy (and the USDA) just answered my question – does organic mean chemical free? And it doesn’t. There are approved chemicals to use as pesticides and fertilizers.

    I do worry about organic food from other countries. I worry about food from other countries. Period. I like the “eat local” idea and try to do it for fruits and veggies most of the year. It fails though because RI’s growing season is limited (unless you like leafy greens and squash). So, I do what I can. I also grow what I can as well – this year we had lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, cukes, zukes, squash, peppers, potatoes, raspberries, and blackberries.

  18. We mostly eat organic and buy our produce/meat/eggs locally. I don’t buy organic cookies or snack foods. I care more about organic/pastured meat than I do about vegetables (I’ve read that toxins settle in fat and so organic meat should be your priority over fruits/veggies) . My reasoning is less about toxins and more about nutritional content.

  19. I like local food and recently canned peaches. Right now, I’m shopping 3-4 times/week at a local farm stand. Most of the larger farm stands import some/much of their produce from California so I have to be alert. Safeway (the grocery store) also considers California produce to be “local”, since California is the state adjacent to Oregon.

    I am delighted to be able to buy and afford California produce year-round, but I don’t consider it “local”.

  20. “I am delighted to be able to buy and afford California produce year-round, but I don’t consider it “local”.”

    What metric is used to consider things “local”? Mileage, how close the state is to you (adjacent, on the other side of the country), or just “feels” local?

    I belong to a CSA style group. I pay for a box of fruits and veggies every other week. The group sources items from RI/MA/CT and rarely ME (once and it was wheat berries… still haven’t used them). I consider RI/MA/CT local.

    Mileage wise, would that be local for WCE? (for reference, adding all the lengths and widths of the states together, covers an area of 290 miles by 271 miles; Oregon is 400 x 360 miles).

  21. Toxins…”toxins” are the miasma of the 21st century. Flush your liver to get rid of TOXINS.

    In grad school, Rhett, one of my friends got into a heated argument with an overly-groovy junior prof about naturalness. He kept asking her what was supposed to be better about an apple grown on a tree and one that was molecularly identical but produced in the lab. First she argued that you couldn’t produce such a thing in a lab (leaving me wondering “Do you know what ‘by hypothesis’ means, dear?”) and then insisted that the natural apple would be better simply because of its naturalness. I was unpersuaded. Also, she didn’t get tenure.

  22. And, Texas is 790 miles by 660 miles — Many are closer to the state next door than other parts of their own state. Somewhere I read that a locavore’s goal is to eat food produced within 100 miles of where they live. A lot of yummy stuff is produced in Texas, but more than 100 miles from my residence.

    I get the point about pesticides, etc. being “naturally occuring” vs synthetic and notice that people tend not to think about it when it comes to drugs. I can take codeine, but not hydrocodone. The physician thinks it is odd, but noted that one is taken from the poppy plant and the other is synthetic. Back to pesticides, I think the real issue is what is the effect on the human body vs the cost to create. For example, if we are farming the chrysanthemums to turn into a “natural” pesticide – you have the cost of growing the plant, which I assume using organic methods is preferred – vs. the chemical equivalent. If there is a significant negative effect on human health from the synthetic that is not present in the natural one, then as a society we should reconsider its use.

  23. Austinmom, in the case of pyrethroids (I’m not an expert), my understanding is that both natural and synthetic pyrethroids may contribute to developing Parkinson’s but you need to use the naturally available pyrethroids at ~5x the dose of synthetic because the synthetic pyrethroid is a single molecule that has been designed and manufactured to be optimally effective.

    My understanding could be wrong, the general science understanding could be wrong and plants will evolve to become more resistant to the single synthetic pyrethroid molecule, which is what makes these choices so complicated.

  24. I can’t see the milk information referred to, but I would be interested to see if the omega 3/6 difference is because the milk is organic or because of what the cows eat. Locally, certain brands of milk are almost certainly from grass-fed cows year-round. (Tillamook can’t grow vegetables, just grass due to its year-round cool climate so it’s been a dairy powerhouse since Oregon was settled.) It would take a significant sample size to show that it’s the fact that the milk is organic (vs. not) rather than what the cows are eating, which will vary in much of the country based on the weather.

    The antioxidant point is a good one, and to me potentially distinguishes between “local” and “organic” because antioxidant levels decline fast. Did the researchers carefully control for the time between when the organic vs. conventional produce was picked and when antioxidant levels were measured?

    I personally suspect that micronutrients (what the government doesn’t monitor) are better from organic or local farm produce, because the soil isn’t so depleted by intensive farming methods.

  25. I personally suspect that micronutrients (what the government doesn’t monitor) are better from organic or local farm produce, because the soil isn’t so depleted by intensive farming methods.

    Um, cite? This just seems like wishful thinking. How do you know that the local and/or organic farm soils are more replete?

  26. WCE and Atlanta,

    What do you think the impact will be in terms of Quality Adjusted Life Year? Drinking organic milk vs. conventional milk will make you 0.2% healthier and extend your lifespan by 3.8 months. 1% 0.001%… etc?

  27. RMS, I think potassium, magnesium and calcium are all commonly added by conventional fertilizers/pH adjustment which conventional farmers do. I was thinking of micronutrients like iodine and selenium.
    http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.org/landingpage.cfm?article=ca.v054n02p49&fulltext=yes

    My main thought is that by having produce trucked in from a variety of soils, I’m unlikely to become horribly deficient in anything.

    Rhett, I don’t think organic makes any difference in terms of QALY for most people, but I have no food sensitivities or dietary issues. If I could get sufficient sleep, I’d almost never be sick. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” was a motto long before I came onto the global scene.

  28. I care most about taste and quality than anything else. I don’t buy organic/natural/local food to “signal” anything – I buy it because in many cases it tastes better. And yes, I can afford it. Local food from the farmer’s market is generally miles better in taste in the short months of the year when you can get it here in the Great Lakes region. I don’t think HFCS is evil, but I do think a lot of the “natural” products made with cane sugar taste better. I don’t particularly care for my food to have dyes in it because it’s simply not necessary & doesn’t add any taste. Same for the fresher, pastured eggs, grass-fed beef, and organic chicken.

    Most of our “local” food is from neighboring states, but I can be in 3 neighboring states in less than 60 miles.

  29. I agree with you, Ivy (and I thought of you when I was canning peaches, an admittedly irrational activity. :)
    The people I know conflate “organic” with “local” and “in-season”. The peaches I picked (not organic) taste far better than the organic peaches I can buy in the store. It’s almost impossible to grow peaches organically here due to our mold/mildew issues.

  30. I actually do buy grass fed milk/dairy (and would prioritize grass fed over the organic) and it happens to be that the brand I buy is organic as well. I think that many diets contain way too many Omega 6s and the ratio of Omega 6/Omega 3s is out of whack. which probably promotes inflammation. I think most of the imbalance stems from over-consumption of vegetable oils but I would put the grass fed dairy in the couldn’t hurt category.

    https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega6-fatty-acids

  31. Whoever it was that was asking about a kid tablet recently — Amazon has the 6 inch Fire tablet on sale for $69 today.

  32. WCE – fresh local peaches are the nectar of the Gods. Canning them is irrational, but then also very deliciously rational. I am eating them like they are going out of style (which they kind of are – to be replaced by apples in a month or so). I will freeze some to throw into yogurt over the winter. Yum!

  33. I need to reserve my freezer space for the possibility of both a deer and an elk this year, neither of which will be certified organic.

  34. We get great peaches here. We have a choice of farmers market or the local grocery store which has produce from local farms featured. At the grocery store there are signs mentioning if the local produce is organic or not. At the farmers market there are no signs really except for “grass fed”, “local honey” etc. etc. The emphasis is on locally grown food which is in season. We tend to favor in season, local produce so most of the time we are not eating “certified organic”. We are big seafood fans. A lot of our relatives have stopped eating seafood for fear of mercury. I have wondered about this. How much of a particular type of fish must you eat to be poisoned by mercury. Then there is the whole wild caught/farm raised seafood issue. I will not go on and open another can of worms (or tuna… no shouldn’t that be chicken of the sea).

  35. Devotion to organic and non-GMO is definitely a class signaling/parental devotion-signaling mechanism here.

    Occasionally I wind up sitting next to an organic advocate mom when I am feeding my children something that is blatantly not organic, like McNuggets. (Since this is DS1’s only form of protein other than milk after months of OT, we have decided not to fight it right now.)

    I have had a few moms look at his food and start in on how important it is to them that their precious infant eat only the organic free range local fare, hoping to convert me to the cause and save my weedy and pallid child.

    My response is either (a) I’m happy to send him to your house for meals, where do you live and what time is dinner; or (b) it’s probably more important that you never buy food produced in China. Once I start grossing them out with details of fish farms I’m home free!

    Murphy, I had never thought about the disincentive for treating sick animals in an antibiotic free environment. I had thought it meant that low dose antibiotics weren’t put in the feed, not that sick animals weren’t given them.

  36. Rhett – I’d love that sensor if it could be developed with an early detection system… such as “based on these gas readings, you have X days until the food spoils, on X day it will be perfectly ripe, on X day it will be great in a smoothie” This way I can plan if I want to indulge now or later!

    Louise -http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/fishshellfish/outreach/advice_index.cfm; for NC: http://epi.publichealth.nc.gov/oee/fish/advisories.html

    The information is about 11 years old, but I’m sure it’s still mostly the same. Since mercury builds in the system over time, the poisoning would occur well after after consumption (and it looks like a lot – i.e. 2 meals a week isn’t that much, but 3-4 meals a week may cause problems). There are “safe” fish to eat and most people stick to those.

    For fin fish (tuna, salmon, etc) – wild caught is your best bet environmentally. For shellfish (clams, oysters) – it could go either way, all depends on the type of bivalve. In RI, farmed shellfish is a big industry that is, so far, environmentally OK because of where the farms are allowed. Farming fin fish requires a lot of energy – pens, feeds, etc – and the carbon footprint is much larger than the wild caught. However, then you enter the problem of over fishing. That’s another can of tuna.

  37. In regards to the Stanford meta-analysis – they did conclude “Conventional fruits and vegetables did have more pesticide residue, but the levels were almost always under the allowed safety limits, the scientists said. ” I would prefer always.

    Additionaly, “two studies reported significantly lower urinary pesticide levels among children consuming organic versus conventional diets, but studies of biomarker and nutrient levels in serum, urine, breast milk, and semen in adults did not identify clinically meaningful differences.” So, if I feed my children organic produce, they will have less pesticide in their urine. Seems like what we would want and pay extra for.

    Anyway – that Stanford analysis was widely criticized – out of the 240 studies they looked at 3 looked at outcomes in humans – one about allergic/autoimmune processes (eczema, asthma) and one about a type of food-borne illness. It is really hard to measure these kind of outcomes – it may take years of expensive interviews/questionnaires to really notice a difference.

    One of the ways I think about this is, “What would a study look like that said consuming 50% less pesticide residue would significantly decrease your chance of [insert bad outcome, cancer, lupus, alzheimers, etc].” I can’t think of a way to design and power a study that would draw that conclusion in our lifetimes. Looking for these multivariate bad outcomes is hard – there are some correlations – most of which are affected by all kind of recall bias.

    So, I figure that I have to reason my way to the best answer I can. I think less pesticide residue is likely better. I think organic methods are correlated with better stewardship of the soil, and thus more nutrient rich product (varies greatly, I understand – I am with the many who doubt the utility of the organic label on things grown abroad). I think organic methods are likely better for the farmers and the people who work the farms. So, when convenient and not crazy expensive, I but organic. I do usually buy organic milk – I worry about the concentration of hormones and other thinks with o-rings in products with fat in them.

  38. Sky, when those moms post about their families being sick, I’m always tempted to post about how my children are RARELY sick, thanks to the time I spend with them at the McDonalds Playplace building their immune systems.

  39. Sky, WCE, Tulip – ah yes… the “my way is best!”… The Early Intervention people love to tell me how my son will potentially miss important milestones because he hates tummy time. That if he doesn’t crawl, he will be doomed for life. I’m so tempted to tell them that I scooted, walked and then crawled only when necessary. I turned out fine.

    Yet they don’t seem to care what kind of food he’s eating – just that he’s eating. I think I could give him french fries, and they wouldn’t care.

  40. Sheesh. How much tummy time do you suppose Einstein had? People need to get a grip.

  41. Organic – I try to buy whenever possible. Only organic milk. I have fallen down on the meat front (lazy) but at least try to do the non-antibiotic kind since I don’t want the kids to go through puberty early. Other than that, I find that the fresher things are, the better they taste, so when I can hit up the farmer’s market near work, I do. (Downside is SUPER heavy bag to carry home in addition to my regular work files.)

  42. On the yields, Google john Oliver’s piece on food waste. The yields are just fine if they are willing to take imperfectly shaped fruit to market.

  43. Rhode – both my kids walked at 15 months, basically the last in their age group. Same with the teeth, came in late, no teething issues at all. Lost baby teeth way later than everyone else. They seem to be late bloomers.
    As for tummy time DS managed to turn only on one side. When the kids were little all these milestones assumed so much importance…..

  44. DD, can you link to it? I use lots of imperfect fruit (apples and pears with bad spots from our trees) in salads and my favorite, pear frittata, but that’s because I can harvest and use it right away. Once the fruit has a bad spot, it doesn’t keep.

  45. RMS – as a newborn I bet Einstein had 20+ hours of tummy time a day. Until the last two decades, it was rare for kids to spend significant time on their back before they could turn over.

  46. Rhode,

    My kids never babbled, walked at varying rates, lost baby teeth later than anyone else…..one child lost baby teeth as a freshman in high school. So far, no axe murderers yet, so I think we’re doing ok.

  47. ” I think organic methods are likely better for the farmers and the people who work the farms.”

    Why? This is a real question. One of the reasons I hang out here is to understand urban/suburban/east coast perspective. I would really like to know why you think organic methods would be better for farmers and/or farm workers.

    If they were better, why wouldn’t more farmers go organic?

    From my standpoint, GMO crops, if we can sell them, are safer, easier, and use fewer resources. I would much rather plant a roundup ready crop, use roundup to kill the weeds instead of A) losing yield to competing weeds, or B) using a much more toxic chemical. However, the organic certification process for Europe specifically prohibits the use of GMO crops on any part of the farm, not just the part growing organic crops. I don’t understand how this is better for farmers.

    Crop production basically involves feeding and watering plants and preventing other organisms from eating too much of the plant or the plant food. The other organisms (aka pests) can be dealt with mechanically (aka hand or mechanical hoeing, or by use of water to drown them) or chemically. Organic productions limits both the techniques to deal with pests and the technology to feed plants. I don’t understand why limiting technology is better for farmers or farm workers.

  48. There is actually a fringe science-ish idea that putting babies on their backs to sleep leads to Autism/ADD in vulnerable children. They take this from the fact that sleep tends to be less deep on the back (likely why there is less SIDS). They think there is a lack in brain organization that occurs in certain kids because of this.

    Not to stress out those people in the scary SIDS months – interesting, I think, and not much more.

  49. Murphy,

    When the average person thinks pesticides it thinks of a crop dusting plane spraying a field full of itinerant farm workers with powerful carcinogens.

  50. “When the average person thinks pesticides it thinks of a crop dusting plane spraying a field full of itinerant farm workers with powerful carcinogens.”

    And these farm workers are illegals that we pay in cash and make live in cardboard boxes?

  51. And these farm workers are illegals that we pay in cash and make live in cardboard boxes?

    You give them a box? Mighty white of you.

    We won’t even start on those on the left and right who lump Monsanto in with the vaccine manufactures.

  52. Rhode, I’m thinking of modifying the Lord’s Prayer to add “and forgive us our hobbyhorses, as we forgive others’.”

    All three of my kids hated tummy time with a passion, but learned to walk eventually (12, 12, and 15 months). Baby Rhode will be fine.

    If you are feeling guilty, put the baby on your tummy for tummy time and make faces. Usually that was the only way mine would do it.

  53. I tried organic cigarettes once. They don’t seem to have caught on, but it made me feel very virtuous for the day.

  54. Ada – I’ve had that same thought about back sleeping and rise of autism (although clearly no where near a scientist, just a passing thought). Just seemed to happen at about the same time. My kids rolled pretty early and slept on their tummies as soon as they could – it seems like that is a more natural sleep position.

  55. Murphy,

    I really was trying to side with you but Ada’s post has given me pause… Thoughts?

  56. rise of autism

    For obvious reasons I’m not sold on the idea that there has been a rise. Rise in diagnosis? Certainly. Rise in incidence? I have my doubts,

  57. Rhett,

    Thoughts….the pear orchard guys shouldn’t have sprayed the cherry guys. It is illegal. Common law states that you are responsible for anything you spray, no matter where it goes. My guess is that the bulletin only shows part of the story, the same way if someone ran a stop sign and t-boned another car and we saw the accident report. That report wouldn’t necessarily detail all the repercussions. The rest of the story is the insurance/legal settlement that the workers received for their injuries, the OSHA investigation, etc.

    When people use pesticides/tools/tractors sometimes they use them in a reckless, dangerous, criminal fashion. Sometimes they are just dumb.

    The penalties for that sort of behavior are severe, and can result in capital punishment for the business. At minimum, the owner of the pear orchard will have some explaining to his insurance agent to keep his coverage.

    That sort of behavior is not the norm. No more than Bernie Madoff is the norm.

    However, accidents, let alone criminal stupidity, happen, which is one reason I keep banging the GMO drum. GMO crops an let us reduce chemical use and feed the 9 billion people that will be here by 2050. Organic production just can’t. The yields just aren’t there.

    Going back to using horse and buggies would keep people from running stop signs and tboning other cars. But we no longer have the type of society that supports horse and buggy transportation.

    There are laws in place to prevent the sort of shennigans detailed in the bulletin. California tends to have stricter regs than most anywhere else, still accidents happen.

    The choice isn’t between conventional ag and clean organic ag. The choice is between risks of chemicals and mayhap a sufficient food supply or organic ag and hungry people. Most of the wars over the past couple milenia have been been fought to secure land to grow crops to feed people. There isn’t much more land coming into production, and any land coming into production means that ground is not available for wildlife.

    Conventional ag lets us use the ground we have more intensively, more efficiently to generate the calories to feed a hungry world.

  58. It is illegal

    AKA it violates an onerous government regulation that is stifling our nation’s job creators.

    I actually agree with you. I think you just underweight how often this would happen without onerous regulation.

  59. It is illegal

    AKA it violates an onerous government regulation that is stifling our nation’s job creators.

    No, it is illegal like assault and battery is illegal.

  60. You can’t fling chemicals around and hurt people anymore than you can fling fists around and hurt people.

  61. So you oppose tort reform?

    I don’t know. I haven’t paid enough attention to have an opinion.

  62. California tends to have stricter regs than most anywhere else, still accidents happen.

    And you oppose those regs, no?

  63. Murphy,

    I am hoping for autonomous farming to cultivate and harvest my yard. I would much rather have corn and beans than stupid grass. A roomba harvester/tractor would be splendid.

  64. Hiya from the high Cascades….
    I am skeptical about all agriculture. I think factory farming practices are deplorable, especially with chickens. I don’t believe organic buys us much of anything, and our wonderful locavore farmers market produce is all picked by illegal Hispanics who are paid next to nothing. That being said, the one factory farming practice that I think is a real threat is the use of antibiotics in poultry production. That really scares me.

    On another topic – just did a pretty much vertical hike today up to a glacier, and am now esconsed in a cabin with a dramatic view of the Tatoosh range. We would be able to see Mt Rainier from our deck but the neighbors have big trees.

  65. I love vegetables, and I especially love beautiful fresh vegetables in the summer. I can’t see any difference between supermarket organic and non organic – both look crappy and are often wrapped in too much plastic. But the farmers market produce always looks and tastes wonderful, so even though they probably use illegal slave labor, I buy it anyway. Of course the best comes from my garden, when the bugs don’t eat it…

  66. I had two that *hated* tummy time but loved to sleep on their stomachs and did so fairly early, and one that loved tummy time, and rolled and scooted ridiculously early. I suppose they’re too young to pass permanent judgment, but they all seem ok!

    I hate the tone of nearly everything I read on the topic of organic/GMO. Everything reads like “GMOs are *evil*!!!” Or “Anyone who opposes GMO is an idiot!!” None of it seems geared to educate. We buy a lot of conventional produce due to cost, but where it’s reasonable we buy organic because my understanding is that it ends up better for the folks working it, and the soil that’s producing the food. I don’t sweat it when we buy conventional. We buy organic milk partially due to preferring the taste, and partially because my kids drink a lot of it, so the impact on their diet seems fairly large. I buy organic meat often, though not always. I’m not a fan of the amount of antibiotics in the meat simply because I think we’re making the antibiotics less effective for the human illnesses. But I’m well aware that absent a ton of research– that I have no inclination to do– a lot of that is hunch and rumor, and isn’t exactly supported by detailed footnotes.

  67. I like Ada’s description of unknown risk from pesticide residue. I think pesticide residue is like any other unknown risk we have to assess- radon, living near an interstate, pharmaceutical residue in the water supply, etc.

    It’s helpful to distinguish between herbicide residue (stuff that interferes with plant growth) and insecticide residue (stuff that interferes with animal growth) because plants are metabolically so different from animals. I think insecticide residue probably carries more risk.

    One pollutant humans have dealt with for a long time is wood smoke, which has both chemicals and particulate matter. I think pesticide residue is like sitting by a campfire occasionally. Some people think pesticide residue is more like spending a few days near a forest fire. A few people think pesticide residue is like spending your winters in a smoke-filled, chimney-less hut.

  68. The locally grown farm produce is sold in the grocery stores here is small quantities. The produce is fresh but not perfect looking. It would have been rejected if there hadn’t been a sign saying it was local produce. (I watched the Food Waste clip Denver Dad posted). The signs have a few details about the farm, details about which crops they grow, picture of the farmer (always interesting). In fact one of the meat suppliers at the farmers market stopped attending because they now supply to WF.There is quite a strong farm to table movement (I have been very surprised but then not since there is a campus of the Johnson & Wales University in the city).

  69. No surprise. The linked NYT article seems to perpetuate the myth that organic = no pesticides.

    “The Environmental Working Group’s so-called Dirty Dozen and the Consumer Reports Always Buy Organic list, both of which are based on data from the federal Department of Agriculture, which tests fruits and vegetables after they have been washed, include items deemed to have relatively higher pesticide loads. Both lists include strawberries, nectarines and American-grown apples. If you’re considering buying organic, you might put these items at the top of your list.”

  70. My mom loves to tell me all the time how synthetic chemicals are ruining our food, probably causing an increase in genetic and developmental disorders (maybe it’s not sleeping on the back that’s the sole cause…). Yet she does nothing about it. She gardens as organically as she can, but doesn’t buy organic vegetables or milk. I think what’s stopping her is cost.

    Given the praise everyone is giving organic milk, I may have to pick up a half gallon to see all the fuss.

  71. Great topic. I was busy yesterday and bummed I missed the discussion. This summer we have a CSA from a group of Amish farms. I definitely notice the difference in tastes, but I think that is due to the freshness (picked the day before box pickup) than the lack of chemicals or even mechanical machines. I enjoy the weekly letter which involves descriptions of horse drawn hoeing of the fields. So we eat our chemical-free local produce alongside our non-organic, non-free range, non-grassfed meat. The other day my 6 year old picked out a tomato out of the CSA box and ate it like it was an apple. I was filed with Totebagger pride.

  72. ” hate the tone of nearly everything I read on the topic of organic/GMO. Everything reads like “GMOs are *evil*!!!” Or “Anyone who opposes GMO is an idiot!!” None of it seems geared to educate. ”

    I totally agree. And I think a lot of semi-unrelated issues are getting mixed up together in the crunchy/liberal food movement.

    I am very skeptical of the EWG for some reason. I have done no research, but the way certain people I encounter take them as gospel and recoil in horror at my use of non-mineral sunscreen makes me suspicious. I just wonder what their agenda is and who is funding them.

  73. Lemon – I am laughing at the tomato eating. Proud Totebag moment! Garden tomatoes really are a whole different world from supermarket tomatoes. (although I will never go so far as to call them dessert)

  74. Best thing about organic milk….its expiration date is ~1 month out (current carton in my fridge is good until late September). Goes against what one would think. Since I don’t use a lot of milk, I’m probably saving money in the long run by not tossing a nearly full carton.

  75. RMS – I’m sure it is. Everything will kill you. The question is – do we all frolic in the sun without protection or just stay inside all the time? I’ve seen both suggestions. I am too pasty to spend too much time outside without something – I burn very easily. But I’m not staying inside on a nice summer day either.

  76. The really good, worth paying extra for the flavor, organic milk does not have an expiration date of one month out. Some of the big national producers of organic milk make ultra pasteurized milk, due to the distance it needs to be shipped, giving it a prolonged shelf life. I haven’t yet been convinced of the evils of Pasteurized milk (though I read some articles). However, if you’re going to buy organic milk for the freshness and flavor, make sure it doesn’t have an expiration date substantially different than the other milk in the cooler.

  77. My kids won’t touch organic milk! We have tried several brands, including Trader Joes and Fresh Market. They say it tastes weird and spoiled

  78. tummy time- he didn’t get much tummy time, but rolled early on, I remember when he first started to be able to roll from back to front, I would go in and roll him back on his back because I was scared of SIDS. I didn’t keep that up for long.

  79. pesticides/etc – for the grapes DH had to spray a bunch of different stuff or the grapes would get downy mildew etc. He wore a protective suit while doing this and mask over his mouth. I saw a meme on fb that showed a picture of someone similarily dressed and said “do you want to EAT this food if they need to be protected from the chemicals? ” I chuckled and thought, well there is a difference between being exposed to a tank of the stuff versus the remnants on our food before washing.

  80. Mooshi – we can only get Wegman’s or Whole Foods for organic milk. The milk from TJ’s and Costco always tastes weird to me.

  81. “I totally agree. And I think a lot of semi-unrelated issues are getting mixed up together in the crunchy/liberal food movement. ”

    Yes. This. But it happens on all sides of the block. People find an issue and then find a semi-related issue that’s s3xy and newsworthy and poof! All sorts of havoc.

    Without added another log onto the fire, there’s a nationwide debate going on about a certain organization and certain videos. One semi-related issue is being used as a way to get people to be against another issue. Both are completely separate issues.

    Ivy – I agree with your skepticism. (disclosure, I’m skeptical about everyone). The “my way is best, you are stupid” stance drives me insane. And some of the EWG people are downright militant. But EWG may be a very good non-profit who just has some crazy, vociferous followers.

  82. “But EWG may be a very good non-profit who just has some crazy, vociferous followers.”

    I’ve met with enough of its staff members who are perfectly happy to push as many farmers out of business as they can while sounding perfectly reasonable to lay people to dispute this.

  83. Murphy – and that’s why I love this blog.

    So many different walks of life in different fields and different places means that I can get actual, honest answers.

  84. “do we all frolic in the sun without protection or just stay inside all the time?”

    You could use clothing and hats, rather than sunscreen, as your primary protection from the sun.

  85. “The yields are just fine if they are willing to take imperfectly shaped fruit to market.”

    The non-organic frozen strawberries we’ve bought from Costco are pretty uniformly huge and and well-shaped. OTOH, they’ve more recently begun carrying organic frozen strawberries, which are much smaller, with a lot of variation in size and shape.

    Since we use them mostly for smoothies, I like the organic ones better. The huge non-organic ones take longer in the blender.

  86. MooshiMooshi, we had to stop getting the Costco organic milk because it started setting off one kid’s allergies (the fish one, probably) and tasting fishy to the other kids. They must have tweaked something in how they were adding the Omega3. So we’re back to the jug of inorganic whole milk. (Finn, I am using inorganic in a joking manner so no need to post that the milk still contains carbon-based molecules.)

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