Are Organic Foods Really Better For You?

Dave Juday

Natural-Grown Killers in Organic Food Make It No Safer Than Produce Grown With Pesticide

LEESBURG, Va.-Stop the presses: America’s top organic food executive has admitted organic foods are neither safer nor more nutritious than mainstream foods.

Meanwhile, food safety tests commissioned by ABC News found no pesticide residues on either the organic or mainstream produce and up to 100 times as many dangerous pathogens on the organic vegetables.

On the Feb. 4 edition of the ABC newsmagazine “20/20,” John Stossel questioned Katherine DiMatteo, director of the Organic Trade Association, which represents organic farmers and retailers.

Also interviewed was Les Crawford, former director of food safety for the Food and Drug Administration, and Dennis Avery, my colleague at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues and a leading critic of organic food production.

He also spoke to Rita Bernstein, whose young daughter, Hayley, was attacked by E. coli O157:H7 after eating contaminated organic lettuce. Hayley nearly died and remained on a respirator for months. She suffers from impaired vision.

Here’s an instructive excerpt of Stossel’s interview with DiMatteo:

Stossel: “Is (organic food) more nutritious?”

DiMatteo: “It’s as nutritious as any other product.”

Stossel: “Is it more nutritious?”

DiMatteo: “It is as nutritious as any other product on the market.”

Stossel: “There’s a sales campaign to dream about. The organic industry admits organics are no more nutritious than other food, but the customers think it is.”

DiMatteo: “Organic agriculture is not particularly a food safety claim. That’s not what our standards are about.”

Stossel: “But your customers think it’s better for you.”

DiMatteo: “I don’t know that that’s true.”

Stossel: “Sure it is. (We) did a poll on organic foods and found 45 percent of the public think organics are more nutritious. Half the people said healthier, and they’re not.”

Avery told Stossel organic food is potentially more dangerous because much of it is fertilized with manure, a known reservoir of bacteria dangerous to humans.

Crawford, now of Georgetown University, warned viewers that 76 million Americans get sick from food-borne bacteria every year. Health authorities are especially concerned about the new strain of E. coli, O157, which is deadly enough to kill even healthy people and leaves many of its survivors with internal organ damage.

This new E. coli is heat-resistant microbe, making it uncertain whether routine composting done by organic farmers will consistently kill it.

Stossel found no comparative tests had been done on the safety of organic food compared with mainstream food, and commissioned the University of Georgia to test samples of both.

The Georgia tests found no pesticide residues in either the organic or mainstream produce. Mainstreams farmers avoid using pesticides when the residues would persist after harvest.

The most dramatic finding, however, was that the organic produce had 100 times as many pathogens as their mainstream counterparts. Most of these bacteria were strains of E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination.

ABC didn’t ask the laboratory to do the additional expensive tests to find out if the E. coli were of the vicious strain, widely found on farms but fortunately still rare in foods.

Avery told Stossel, “If we have no (consumer) deaths from pesticides and 5,000 deaths from bacteria, it’s pretty clear to me that we should be worrying now primarily about the nasty new bacteria.” Avery said, “People have been told (organic is) healthier-by organic farmers who have a vested interest in telling them that.”

DiMatteo responded, “I think that organic agriculture and its products are healthier for the environment.”

“Okay, that’s another argument,” Stossel rejoined. “Organics are no healthier, but they’re better for the planet, all because they don’t use chemicals. But does that really mean that organics are better for the earth? Avery says no, because organic farmers waste so much land.”

Avery contends organic yields are about half as high as modern mainstream farmers’ yields and that an organic mandate would thus force the world to convert many millions of additional square miles of land from wildlife to crops. He warns society is already farming 37 percent of the earth’s land surface.

Avery noted, “It’s today’s conventional farmers, the nonorganic ones, who have performed an environment-saving miracle by taking nitrogen from the air to make chemical fertilizer, and by using the often-criticized pesticides and genetically engineered seeds.

When Stossel questioned the higher prices paid for organic food, DiMatteo replied, “I think that people pay more for food all the time, because of their individual personal choices.

Avery rejoined, “Sometimes people will pay several dollars for a cup of coffee. They’re all wrong. My daughter-in-law cried when I told her this information. She still won’t tell her neighbors why she doesn’t go with them to the organic store any longer.”

Anchor-women Barbara Walters told Stossel as the segment closed, “I may cry too, because I’ve been buying organic food.”

DAVE JUDAY, an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues, was former Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief agricultural adviser. His views are not necessarily those of Bridge News, whose ventures include the Internet site www.bridge.com.

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