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The Argument Against Organic Food

1. Organic foods won't solve the hunger problem.

This is the one that the pro-organics often seem to gloss over. Chemical-based farming methods vastly increased crop yields and made it possible to feed far more people than ever before. So much so that it could be argued that the recent food crisis isn't so much about our food system failing so much as it is about the slowdown of an unprecedented food boom that came about thanks to the methods the organic movement decries.

A typical pro-organic response seems to be some variation of, "The world lived by organic farming for millennia before chemical farming," or "History shows that nature always finds a balance, if it's allowed to." The obvious counterargument is: "The world's never had to feed this many mouths before." I haven't seen a satisfactory answer for how an entirely organic food system would manage to feed 6.7 billion people even with an efficient distribution system, but I'd like to hear it.

Some other questions that pop up are: Is the organic movement merely a way for the wealthy people of First World nations to assuage their "middle-class guilt" at the expense of the Earth's nearly 1 billion starving, who have far more immediate concerns than their legacies? If the end goal of the organic movement is to convert a majority or all of the world to organic farming methods, how would it do so practically without putting potentially harmful strain on the environment and current food-delivery systems? And if the goal isn't to bring healthier, organic food to everyone in the world, does it mean there's going to be even more of a widening health/food gap between the people who can pay for the luxury and those who are going to subsist on chemically farmed foods?

2. It's questionable whether organic foods are healthier for you.

This is one that's going to debated back and forth for a long, long time. As points out, cancer rates dropped by 15 percent since the advent of chemical farming, and the average life expectancy went up nearly 10 years from 1950 to 2000, according to the CDC.

But the article conveniently neglects to mention that a hell of a lot of other factors other than how your food was farmed go into deciding how long you live. And I'm sure we've all learned that scientists are still kind of foggy on what does and doesn't cause cancer short of playing handball with a nugget of uranium.

Now excuse me while I scarf down a handful of Red No. 5 M&Ms with some saccharine while speaking on my cell phone by a radio tower.

3. It's questionable whether organic foods are safer.

It'll be hard to argue that organics do or don't make you live longer for at least another generation, but you can get a quicker sense of food-safety issues surrounding organics. According to the Center for Global Food Issues (which supplies the the numbers for an article refers to twice), organic foods account for only 1 percent of the U.S.'s food supply, but eight percent of its e. coli cases. doesn't note, however, that the CGFI is part of the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank with a definite agenda when it comes to agriculture, and has come under criticism from various scientists' groups.

4. Organic farming may not help the environment.

There's something to be said about this. If you're buying produce from an organic farm in, say, St. Louis, you're really not doing much to reduce your carbon footprint by paying to have it shipped to you in, say, Miami Beach, Fla. And, since organic farming is less efficient than what's now considered conventional farming, it requires more land, spelling disaster for certain dwindling ecosystems.

That said, the article doesn't delve into the fact that a growing number of people in the U.S. have the option of buying from local farms that use organic methods. But the whole eat locavore vs. organic thing is a whole 'nother issue.

5. You're not sticking it to the man by buying organic.

Here's something most of us can agree on. Corporations are nothing if not good at sniffing out new ways to make money, and the fact that organic food grew into a $40 billion worldwide industry by 2006 wasn't because mom-and-pop organic farms everywhere started suddenly thriving.

Using old-fashioned-sounding brand names, their powerful established distribution networks and billions of dollars of corporate muscle, Big Ag has taken over the organics section of your supermarket, invaded your pantry, and even had a hand in helping the government define what "organic" means.

If you think you're living off the grid by buying Muir Glen, Naked Juice or Boca, think again. (General Mills, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods.)

6. Organic food doesn't necessarily taste better.

This wasn't one of the article's arguments, but it's one worth mentioning. In the new, revised edition of Mark Bittman's all-important book "How to Cook Everything," he adds a section that sums up the philosophy he and many other at-home chefs take toward the organics issue: "This is a political question, not a cooking question."

When it comes to preparing food for yourself and your family, let taste be your guide: "Buy local when you can. Buy the best food you can when you can't find local."

Before I get lambasted as either a corporate stooge or a hacky-sack-playing hippie, let me note that I, like a lot of people, haven't decided either way about organic foods yet, though I am fairly disturbed by the straight-out propaganda coming from both sides. But I am willing to hear the arguments from both sides, and do so with an open, if naturally skeptical, mind. More so if they don't involve the words "Nazi" or "sheep," and don't devolve into shrill demonizing.

Now convince me.

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