The Crumbling All-Organic Façade

When it comes to organic food, perception seldom matches up with reality. Despite the belief by many Americans that “organic” equals “healthier,” Britain’s Food Standards Agency and other health authorities have found that there’s no evidence that organic food is nutritionally superior to regular, conventionally grown food. And now a study presented last week at the Experimental Biology conference by Cornell University researchers found that the “health halo” from organic-labeled food could actually lead to overeating.

Why? Because that “halo” is such a distortion that people who ate “organic”-labeled foods underestimated the amount of calories they were eating by 40 percent. And calories are calories, whether they come from organic avocados or the more affordable variety.

That’s not all: Instead of that $6 heirloom tomato being a salve to one’s conscience, it might require a reprimand some day. In Foreign Policy magazine, Wellesley College professor Robert Paarlberg writes that so-called “sustainable” foodie trends like organic are actually eco-unfriendly, and hamper the battle against world hunger:

In Europe and the United States, a new line of thinking has emerged in elite circles that opposes bringing improved seeds and fertilizers to traditional farmers and opposes linking those farmers more closely to international markets. Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that "sustainable food" in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn't work….

When it comes to protecting the environment, assessments of organic farming become more complex…halting synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use entirely (as farmers must do in the United States to get organic certification from the Agriculture Department) would cause environmental problems far worse.

Here's why: Less than 1 percent of American cropland is under certified organic production. If the other 99 percent were to switch to organic and had to fertilize crops without any synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, that would require a lot more composted animal manure. To supply enough organic fertilizer, the U.S. cattle population would have to increase roughly fivefold. And because those animals would have to be raised organically on forage crops, much of the land in the lower 48 states would need to be converted to pasture. Organic field crops also have lower yields per hectare. If Europe tried to feed itself organically, it would need an additional 28 million hectares of cropland, equal to all of the remaining forest cover in France, Germany, Britain, and Denmark combined.

Read the whole piece here.

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