Jun 19, 2006

The health benefits of organic food [LINK]

A letter I sent to Drake Bennett, author of the article:

I appreciated your recent article on the supposed health benefits of organic food, but wished the scope been widened to include broader societal benefits. While by no means an anti-organic "activist," I'm aware of a few reasons it should regain its fringe status and not become favored over "inorganic" food.

Organic farming requires much more arable land, entailing loss of habitat and possibly offsetting the environmental benefits of less soil erosion and cleaner rivers. Also, the major benefit to using pesticides is the enhanced ability to deliver fruits and vegetables to consumers. Anything that increases their cost tends to drive people to alternatives such as preprocessed junk food, decreasing the overall health benefit.

Even then, there's another angle to the health aspect of the story that doesn't receive much attention: it's not as if "natural" foods are free of potentially dangerous chemicals. As the toxicologist Bruce Ames demonstrated years ago, if you subject naturally occurring toxins to the same maximum-threshold rodent tests required of synthetics, their supposed risk is about a thousand times greater by volume. (Despite popular misconceptions, your body would not know the difference.)

The public should by no means be alarmed at this revelation. The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables far outweigh the supposed risks of consuming these trace chemicals, but it should be a lesson that environmental risks are not presented to them in a sane manner.

As you alluded to in the article, organic farming implies a tendency to favor strains of plants that can produce their own natural pesticides, either through the modern "genetic engineering" techniques organic proponents oppose, or through traditional genetic modifiction methods they consider benign.

To which I may I add that I've heard of strains of organic crops having been developed that were so toxic overall as to be inedible, e.g., celery that burned your lips like too many kiwi fruits.

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