Scientists have repeatedly failed to find significant nutritional differences between food marketed as “organic” and its conventional counterpart. So it’s fitting that the term “halo effect” now describes the ability of an “organic” label to trick consumers into thinking an organic cookie or apple is magically better tasting and has less calories (or fat) than the non-organic version.
Nutritionally, of course, conventional and organic foods are identical and interchangeable. But trendy health food and grocery stores aren’t big on advertising the fact that comparatively inexpensive conventional foods are just as caloric as, and may contain higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals than, higher-priced organic alternatives.
Misconceptions about organic foods are persistent, mostly because they’re cleverly marketed. Despite the claims of some organic advocates, for example, ordinary meat and milk are likely to contain virtually the same levels of antibiotics and hormones as those sold with the “USDA Organic” label, explains Nebraska veterinarian-to-be Jake Geis:
In 99.5 percent of all meat sold in the United States, there are absolutely no synthetic hormones detectible. In the 0.5 percent where synthetic hormones are detectible, the detectible levels are negligible and do not violate the stringent FDA standards … If you look at milk, the claims made by organic food proponents become even more bogus. There is zero tolerance for antibiotic, hormone or chemical residues in milk. Period. No matter if it is organic or conventionally raised.
Geis warns that the real danger lurking in grocery stores—those that still offer a choice between organic and non-organic, anyway—comes from organic farmers who adhere to an “unrealistic ideology.” These niche growers tend to reject commonly used advancements in agricultural science and medicine, which ultimately devastates the farmland and animals about which they claim to care so deeply. These farmers are choosing to remain in the Dark Ages by requiring more land to grow the same amount of food, and by employing poor containment strategies that expose animals to a host of diseases.
The next time you’re offered an organic cookie and glass of milk, consider that what your snack lacks in artificial chemicals it more than makes up for with pointless feel-good organic rhetoric.