Why organic produce propaganda makes me cranky

Actually it was Facebook that made me cranky today.  Why?  Because of posts like this:

Posted by Mark Hayman and then a whole bunch of other people.

Posted by Mark Hyman and then a whole bunch of other people.

Let me start by saying, I have nothing against organic produce.  But organic produce propaganda purporting that organic produce = no pesticides irritates me.  I hate to break it to my organic spruking Facebook friends, but this is false advertising.

Yes, you read that right.  I’m saying that this organic strawberry has most likely been sprayed with pesticides and fungicides.  It gets its certified organic badge because the applied chemicals would have been derived from natural sources.  There is twisted logic in the argument that if it is natural, then it is safe.  Rotenone, a certified organic pesticide used in the US, for example, is squeezed from the roots of a tropical plant.  It’s natural.  And it’s poisonous.  It’s what the fisheries use to kill unwanted fish.  It’s failed EU safety testing and for a while was even banned in the US (although it did get reinstated).

Another problem with organic sprays, is they aren’t as effective as their synthetic, conventionally used counterparts and so they are often applied more liberally.  Just to pick on rotenone again, a study has compared the effectiveness of a common organic mixture, rotenone-pyrethrin against a soft synthetic pesticide, imidan.  It was found that up to seven applications of the rotenone-pyrethrin mixture were required to obtain the level of protection provided by two applications of imidan.  To exacerbate the situation, the use of organic pesticides are not nearly as well monitored as synthetic sprays.

Whilst organic produce, in general, has lower pesticide residue detected, some conventional farmers use very little in the way of sprays and it isn’t impossible for their product to be “cleaner” than food from a heavy handed organic farmer.  The level of use on both sides vary enormously.  We can’t know unless we know the farmer.  I can assure you though that the perceived divide between the “dirty product” churned out by conventional farmers to the safe and healthy, chemical free organically labelled product is just not as wide (if at all) as the organic industry has lead consumers to believe.

Of course, the debate is much wider than just pesticide use.  Some believe that organic produce is healthier (in fact research has shown this not to be true), and more environmentally friendly (which again, is debatable).  I can’t cover the whole story in one post so I’ll leave these discussions for another day.

I’m not discouraging the consumption of organic produce, I just get irritated by posts like this.  Whilst it’s important to debate chemical usage in our supply chain (both natural and synthetic) I’d like to see the debate happen in a more transparent way.

The good news is, organic or conventional, the detectable pesticide levels on the fruits and vegetables are very small.  (To be fair, the organic sprays, in general, break down faster than the synthetic ones, but because of this, they are allowed to be used closer to harvest too).  I’m sure there is room for improvement, I don’t want the research and debate to stop, just the poorly informed hysteria.  We should still all eat a wide range of fruits and vegetables and not get so hung up on if it is conventional or not (personally, I look for freshness).  Either way wash all your produce before you eat it.

None of this information is new.  The industry has known it for decades.  But who is going to spread the truth?  Organic farmers don’t want to dispel their clean and green image.  Conventional farmers can’t throw stones in glasshouses.  Pesticide companies and retailers won’t get into the debate, they’ll sell both options, as long as there’s demand.  Perhaps you could share this post on Facebook?

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4 Responses to Why organic produce propaganda makes me cranky

  1. Richard says:

    not seen you for a while, nice to hear more of your common sense, again you are so right, as a farmer and horticulturalist i would like to say that chemicals are very expensive so they are only used when necessary and we eat the food we grow,
    i do enjoy your posts
    kind regards Richard

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks for your comment Richard, and sorry I’ve been absent for a little while. I’m doing my PhD in collaborative innovation in agribusiness so I have been busy interviewing some awesome companies doing some really interesting things in the industry.

      I totally agree with what you are saying. Pesticides and fungicides are expensive inputs in a low margin business and most of the growers I know have to keep a close check on costs. They also don’t want to destroy their soil, or poison their families so I get a bit frustrated at the messages out there that basically accuse conventional farmers of doing so!

  2. Good to eat as much as we can from our own garden! Though Iggy was beginning to wonder when he was going to get a night off runner beans.

    • Sarah says:

      Absolutely!! The cherries on our cherry tree are just starting to turn red now. A few more weeks. I can’t wait! Good luck with your runner bean harvest!

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