The great organic con trick
Organic produce is better for you? Robert Johnston explodes five myths about its benefits
Interest groups claim that organic food is healthier and better for the environment, but many of such claims are myths.
• Myth No. 1: Organic food is healthier.
Actually, scientific studies show more health risks from organic food than conventional food. This month in California, for instance, Salmonella was found in organic fertilisers which could contaminate fruit and vegetables.
In 2003, Dutch scientists established that organic chickens and conventional birds had the same rate of infection with Salmonella even though many organic farmers vaccinate their chickens against the bug. In 2006, other Dutch scientists found that as many as three-quarters of organic chickens were infected with parasites.
Organic manure can also carry the dangerous bacteria Campylobacter which causes stomach infections, vomiting and diarrhoea. The Danish National Veterinary Laboratory found Campylobacter in 100 per cent of organic chicken flocks but only 36.7 per cent of conventional chicken flocks.
Organic and free-range poultry are more likely to be exposed to bird-flu, so the government now allows organic chickens to be kept indoors.
• Myth No. 2: Organic farming is good for the environment.
In Britain, the yield of wheat from organic farms is only half that from conventional farms. If all our food was organic, we would have to grub up hedgerows and cut down forests just to produce enough food. We would use twice the water, do at least twice the ploughing and use twice the amount of petrol and diesel.
Two organically raised cows burp the same amount of methane as three conventionally fed cows and methane is 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2.
Most modern pesticides are biodegradable, but 'natural' pesticides, like copper, stay in the soil forever.
• Myth No. 3: Organic farmers don't use pesticides.
The Canadian Food Safety Agency found pesticide residues in as many organic baby foods as conventional baby food and the highest pesticide level was in an organic food.
Organic farmers spray crops with 'natural' pesticides such as the noxious microbe BT which kills bees, ladybirds and butterflies as well as pests by releasing the same toxin made by genetically modified plants. If inhaled, it can cause bronchitis and worsen asthma.
Organic farmers treat fungus with copper solutions which also poisons earthworms and friendly bacteria. They also use Derris which can cause Parkinson's disease; pyrethroids, which cause tumours in mice; and potassium permanganate which kills fish.
• Myth No 4: Organic food does not contain additives.
At least three dozen 'E' numbers are allowed as additives, preservatives, flavourings, binders, anti-caking agents, antioxidants and processing agents in 'organic' food.
For cleaning and disinfection, organic farmers use the same substances as conventional farmers, including formaldehyde, caustic soda, nitric and phosphoric acid, quicklime, alcohol and other highly toxic chemicals that can contaminate food.
Organically reared animals can have up to a quarter of their daily food from non-organic sources and all organic food can contain five per cent of conventional ingredients.
• Myth No. 5: The demand for organic food is at an all-time high.
Even with the support of TV chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall, only two per cent of the food sold in Britain is organic. At the end of the Second World War all our food was organic so, in fact, demand has actually gone down by 98 per cent over the last 60 years.
Despite the vocal campaigns by celebrity chefs, only about one per cent of the chickens sold in Britain are organic. Nor does buying organic food support British farmers since 70 per cent of it is imported.
Organic food is a fashion and lifestyle choice. It is probably no worse for you or the environment than conventional foods, but organic proponents should get their facts straight and stop using dubious claims about 'natural' meaning 'better' and stick to the facts. ·
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