Growing disillusioned with organic

Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower

After I finished writing Irrational Chemical Fears, I realized something: this is why I’ve been growing increasingly disillusioned with organic products. There are other reasons why, such as the high price premium I can no longer afford due to barely being able to buy food at all, but this one is a biggie.

A caveat: I’ve never really been closely associated with conventional agriculture. I’ve grown my own food, yes (in quantity, even), but I’ve never worked with or seen in detail large crop operations. I’ve heard a few things about them, but the details are fuzzy. I’m much more familiar with Confined Animal Feeding Operations than I am with the crops that go to feed them.

I don’t really agree with organic in theory. Throwing out all “artificial” pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers seems a little counter-productive. This is especially true when there are methods such as Integrated Pest Management available…methods that are, from what I understood from one of my old professors, becoming increasingly under fire from corporations like Monsanto. Yes, by all means use the herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer…when necessary and only in the doses required. No need to use more, no need to throw it out altogether.

Now, my professor may have been wrong, and I may have a pessimistic view of large crop operations, and if so, whoohoo! But I doubt it. I don’t think we’d have the massive amounts of chemical run-off from farms if IPM-like strategies were common in agriculture. I’ve also heard rumors that farmers tend to use fertilizer with a “more is more” strategy. Considering the volatile nature of some fertilizers, I don’t think this is quite as true as “more is more” would imply, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see fertilizer applied at levels over what is recommended.

Probably one of the bigger hurdles with this kind of thing is that it can’t be regulated. It’s easier to regulate “no” than it is to regulate “only when necessary.” How do you know that the application of a pesticide to that particular area was necessary or if it was just a broad application without other methods being tried first? It’s easier just to ban it all across the board. And again, everyone always takes the quick route out.

Public perception would be a different hurdle. People are becoming convinced that organic is significantly healthier than conventional, when it may or may not be true. There are a lot of people unwilling to accept any form of scary chemicals on their food. There’s a video clip in my head playing of a guy who buys only organic food for his son because of scary chemicals, but I can’t remember where I saw it or what it was contained in.

And then there’s the issue of price. Organic food is sold at a premium. That’s a red flag. Premium equals luxury, luxury equals the Joneses, therefore people will continue to buy organic food at these inflated prices simply because it’s a mark of affluence. Even should organic food prices drop to effectively the same as conventional, I doubt anyone is going to give up that nice profit margin. And if it does and they do, organic will lose that mark of affluence…it would be interesting to see if it would sell as well, better, or worse.

And with that nice little niche organic food has for it, those large corporations pumping out most of the organic food sold in stores have quite a say in the standards that are required to meet the organic label. There have already been massive fights about what is or is not organic, with a huge disparity between what the public thinks organic should be, and what organic is defined as by the USDA. Who do you think the USDA listens to? Certainly not me, but I’ll give you a hint. Add in to that the fact that a lot of small farmers can’t afford to get the certification necessary to claim their food is organically grown. Organic is about money…who has money, who doesn’t have money. If you have money, you can have organic, be it organic food or organic labeling. No money, no organic for you.

If I had the money would I buy organic now? Yes, I would, because while it’s not great it’s at least better than conventional agriculture, at least in some respects. But I do think that what we need isn’t organic. Nor what most people think organic should be. There are enough food issues on this planet as it is, we don’t need to add more. Although if corn crop yields dropped, that might actually be helpful. Huh. Everyone go buy organic corn. And bananas. Organic bananas just fucking taste better.


9 Responses to “Growing disillusioned with organic”

  1. Dargon Says:

    Brian Dunning of Skeptoid has a couple episodes on this topic that are rather interesting (plus sources at the bottom).

  2. maloyo Says:

    I’ve switched to an effort to buy more locally. Since I live in a four season part of the country, fresh produce is only available at local farmers’ markets during the warm weather months. Other items, like some cheeses, honey, eggs, meat I can get year round at a locally owned natural grocer who buys as much as it can from area farms.

    I’ve heard that in some places, farmers’ market prices are higher than grocery stores—not the case here. And some of what is sold is in fact organic, but is not certified. As you mentioned, the farmers can’t afford it.

    Eating locally to the extent possible seemed like the most common sense thing to do, at least for me.

    • Dargon Says:

      Local can have other problems, particularly for crops poorly suited for the area. Sometimes such crops are actually more environmentally friendly to grow in areas better suited for their growth and ship out that to try to grow them locally. That being said, if local farmers markets are actually cheaper than the grocers, that is a good sign that the locally grown produce can be grown efficiently enough to warrant the low price, and is probably quite environmentally friendly, not to mention it keeps the money in the local economy and probably tastes better as well.

    • Local is awesome. I need to buy local produce…

    • Megan Says:

      Oh, and the other thing I was going to mention is that there is a LOT more variety to the foods than the supermarkets would have you think. There are a lot of different types of foods that are great to eat that they simply don’t sell, which would be easy to grow and harvest locally (perhaps easier than your typical “foods” …) I looked at a wilderness survival guide actually, to find out native plants which were edible. Some of them actually sounded amazing. Imagine instead of weeding your garden for dandelions, you just kept them in your garden! What a plentiful resource! The leaves and flowers are edible and nutritious.

      • Dargon Says:

        While this is true, a good number of native or naturally occurring foods really aren’t that tasty. Many of the supermarket foods have been selectively bred and cross bred to produce produce some of the more desirable traits. Wild and local foods, having not been bred for these traits, are often less palatable. That being said, there are exceptions.

        And dandelions, in my opinion, are not tasty. I know, I have tried them.

  3. Yeah, I agree… I’m pretty disillusioned with it also… it helps that my priest is really into the whole ecology sustainability thing, and he keeps telling us about all these things… small farmers really can’t afford the certification, and they can’t afford to abide by the regulations all the time, but they do what’s smart. Something that tipped me off was when I read my milk carton (organic) and it explained what that meant. I thought “wait… cows that get sick and require antibiotics have to go somewhere else permanently (to the bad people) or they’re not allowed to be “organic”? That’s not a sustainable system!”

    I believe in treating things fairly and at the right time, as you said… as needed. Unfortunately it’s easier for the companies to just say “just in case, we’ll use it all the time” whether it’s antibiotics or pesticides or whatever, without regard to the actual health of the creature.

    I can’t wait until I have a backyard and I can grow some of the stuff myself.

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