Search Farmer Goes to Market

Search Site
Saturday March 24, 2018

Anti-GMO advocates continue on.

Opponents of Biotechnology in Food Production Vow to Fight On.

California's ballot measure earlier this month that would have made California the first state to require foods raised using biotechnology to be labeled as such went down to defeat by a significant, but nail-biting, 52 percent to 48 percent. Although polls showed support for the initiative was at one point higher than 60 percent, advocates for the measure complain that a last-minute infusion of an estimated $45 million in spending by opponents, including the Grocery Manufacturers of America, turned public support against it by arguing it would increase food prices and hurt local supermarkets and other businesses.

Advocates for biotech labeling, such as Michelle Simon, a public health lawyer and author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines our Health and How to Fight Back, put a brave face on her movement's loss. "The campaign is still an important step forward in the larger political fight against Big Food, one that raised a lot of awareness about GMOs, food production, and corporate tactics, both in California and nationally," she said. "The effort to pass Proposition 37 in California demonstrates a 'bona fide movement gathering steam.'

Following the California loss, the Pacific regional director of  Food & Water Watch, an environmental group that actively campaigns against modern farm practices, said in a statement, "The incessant drumbeat of misleading and outright false industry advertising was barely able to defeat this popular measure. While disappointed in the result, we believe that this movement to label GE foods is stronger than ever and we will continue to build a robust national grassroots campaign to push for mandatory labeling across the country."

Taking the fight to your stores?

For the record, that campaign is expected to take two tacks: A series of renewed pushes at the state level to introduce legislation and increased pressure at the federal level to overturn the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's long-held position that biotech crops are not substantially different than those genetically altered by traditional breeding methods and thus do not warrant special labeling.

Off the record, grocers should prepare for increased attention on the issue at store level. Those efforts could take the form of:

  • Boycotts of the food companies who opposed the California initiative. Pepsi, Coca Cola, Nestle, Kellog, General Mills, Hershey, J.M. Smucker, Hormel and other large manufacturers provided funding support to defeat the initiative. They have therefore been targeted as potential boycott prospects.
  • Supermarket postcard, manager’s-letter and online letter-writing campaigns, designed to give the impression of emerging grassroots concern regarding biotech that demands immediate answers, from you.
  • Continued promotion of farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture and other direct-to-farm merchandising campaigns as the healther, "non-GMO" alternatives to the traditional food-delivery chain that ends at supermarkets. Expect new health messages to be coupled with price messages backed by increased lobbying to promote the use of public-assistance benefits at farmers markets.
  • Freelance labeling and other product tampering. "We, the people need to stand up for ourselves and each other, not just at the voting booth every couple of years, but in our every day lives," writes former Kansas City public interest attorney and "socially just agriculture" advocate Maria Whitaker. "Please feel free to download sticker templates...and print them out, so the next time you head to your grocery store, you can help let people know what's in their food."

Like it or not, says Kevin Murphy, president of Food-Chain Communications, a communication firm designed to increase communication within the food system, the promise of these guerilla tactics targeting food retailers will put you in the center of the controversy. You should consider this an opportunity to add value to your traditional merchandising by engaging in the debate, forcefully and directly. No one else in the chain is in a better position to do so.

"Once it became a political fight, opponents of labeling spent $45 million to prevent these burdensom regulations from becoming a reality. That’s about five times more than the advocates spent. But the question that needs to be asked is this: Could the $9.39 it cost for each ballot cast against this regulatory nightmare have been more effectively invested before this became a political issue?

"Yes, they won the day," Murphy says. "But even though I disagree with most of what Michelle Simon believes about food technology, I do agree with her one statement: This is a growing movement. The difference in the vote in California came down to only about 500,000 people. That means 4.3 million people voted to require biotech foods to be labeled. It took just 10 weeks to get the 1 million signatures needed to put it before the voters. That’s sobering. And it should awaken all of us in the food chain to the reality that if we’re not having a conversation with food consumers every day about how food is grown, produced and delivered, there will come a day when no amount spent on political lobbying will protect us from unreasonable demands imposed politically.

"That old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure was never more true than it was in the California. Let's pretend we had the same situation in Nebraska. Nebraska's voter turnout of 69 percent of registered voters represents about 43 percent of the overall population. If you apply the same percentage that voted in favor of biotech labeling in California, you'd be talking about roughly 20 percent of the people here. Coincidentally, that's about the same percentage who visit a grocery store regularly. The food chain obviously can't walk away from engaging when it's pressed with political issues. But I believe the fight will be won--or lost--at the point where the consumer comes in contact with their food and issues like biotechnology--at the grocery store, where 52 percent of food sales still pass through. The amount of money and effort it would take to strengthen the relationship between product manufacturers and grocers there, to inform and equip grocers who can in turn inform and equip their consumers, would pay off much greater than the heroic efforts necessary to turn the tide once it reaches the stage of political action. You’re actually taking a proactive measure all along, so when something like this comes up, the nonsense is clearly and immediately recognized."

Should the government be dictating candy placement to control obesity?

Photo: Anthony Easton/Flickr

New England Journal of Medicine’s call to ban product placement that spurs impulse buying has opened debate about everything but the root question

A duo of public health researchers, who share a history of examining how questions of nutrition, public health and "social justice" intersect, penned an Oct. 11 New England Journal of Medicine article laying out the case for government regulation of how and where you slot candy and other high-fat, high-sugar foods. The two authors of the commentary, Rand Corp.'s Deborah Cohen and University of California Los Angeles researcher Susan Babey, argued that placement designed to spur impulse buying puts food decisions beyond the average person’s control, and thus contributes to obesity and related health problems.

Who can control their own obesity? Nobody, apparently“[Society’s] reluctance to interfere with or regulate the food environment is a direct consequence of the belief that people's food choices reflect their true desires," Cohen and Babey wrote in "Candy at the Cash Register — A Risk Factor for Obesity and Chronic Disease." "However, given the large proportion of people who claim that they want to lose weight and the small proportion who are actually able to do so, we must concede that human behavior doesn't always conform with professed goals."

“…many people…think that those who respond to impulse marketing simply lack self-control and should learn how to resist such marketing strategies,” they write. They dismiss that call for self-control. For a variety of reasons, they argue, “promotional displays of low-nutrient foods are both particularly influential and difficult to resist.” Because such promotional displays, particularly on high-value endcaps and checkout lanes, also tend to target shoppers when they’re “distracted, stressed or have made decisions that ‘deplete their cognitive capacity,’ (read: done so much exhausting thinking in the rest of the store that they’ve simply worn out their ability to be rational by the time they reach the cash register)," the combination of flashy presentation and convenience often overwhelms even the most resolute shopper’s ability to resist.

Should be regulated like carcinogens in water?

Because placement puts such a burden on the consumer’s ability to eat healthy, the researchers argue, it deserves to be regulated like other food-borne risk factors.

New England Journal of Medicine compares candy placement to carcinogens in water'We should treat it like carcinogens in water, because placement influences food choice largely automatically and out of our control'

- Cohen and Babey, NEJM

“…we should consider treating it as a hidden risk factor, like carcinogens in water, because placement influences our food choices in a way that is largely automatic and out of our conscious control and that subsequently affects our risk of diet-related chronic diseases,” Cohen and Babey say. “We need to test new approaches to risk reduction that do not place additional cognitive demands on the population, such as limiting the types of foods that can be displayed in prominent end-of-aisle locations and restricting foods associated with chronic diseases to locations that require a deliberate search to find.”

And lest you believe the article is simply a two-page thought exercise, it’s important to note an additional point that escaped attention of the news reports regarding the Cohen and Babey article. The Journal--which has not been shy in the past about leading crusades against other perceived unacceptable health risks like antibiotics in farm animals, direct-to-consumer drug advertising and tobacco products--follows up its Oct. 11 commentary on product placement with another two-page article carefully outlining step-by-step the legal arguments for why government has the authority to do precisely what the Cohen and Babey article suggested—control what can and can’t be placed where and when in a supermarket.

The follow up article, “Portion Sizes and Beyond — Government’s Legal Authority to Regulate Food-Industry Practices,” argues government has a legal right to impose food retailing restrictions, from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent ban on large soft drinks to placement of items in supermarkets, to limiting sale of soft drinks in schools to banning products it considers harmful like caffeinated alcohol drinks. It argues that “industry’s” laundry list of objections to such heavy regulation—that government does not hold jurisdiction, that such regulations impinge on free speech rights, that they violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, that they violate the Equal Protection Clause by arbitrarily attacking one food or food group over another, or that they deprive consumers of due-process because they’re arbitrary—do not hold water from a purely legal standpoint.

That commentary’s authors, Jennifer Pomeranz and Kelly Brownell, from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, may not be recognizable by name, but they likely will be recognizable by message. Brownell, a professor of both psychology and public health epidemiology , authored the 2004 book, Food Fight. In it, he argued individuals will never be able to beat the combined force of politics and industry that now controls their eating decisions. Instead, he argues, they require a unified movement “of Ghandian proportions,” as one reviewer characterized it, to push back against the forces controlling them through legal means.

As to personal responsibility, Brownell summarily dismisses it. “Personal responsibility,” Brownell first wrote in Food Fight, is simply a matter of rare individual skill or “biological fortune.”

“Choices people make are important,” Brownell reluctantly concedes, “but the nation has played the willpower and restraint cards for years and finds itself trumped again and again by an environment that overwhelms the resources of most people.”

Public good outweighs individual rights, Brownell argues'The overall welfare of the citizenry trumps certain individual or industry freedoms'

- Kelly Brownell, Yale


By 2009, writing in an essay for the Milbank Quarterly, “The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food?” Brownell was even more blunt about where accountability rightly lies. “These points play well in America—personal responsibility and freedom are central values—but they obscure the reality that some of the most significant health advances have been made by population-based public health approaches in which the overall welfare of the citizenry trumps certain individual or industry freedoms.” In Brownell’s vision, personal responsibility is to be replaced with a heavy paternalism under the guise of corporate social responsibility. In fact, Brownell believes, any talk of personal responsibility, whether posed by tobacco companies or food retailers, is not a virtue, but simply a “PR script” designed to deflect responsibility and raise fears that government action usurps personal freedom. “Can one reasonably defend half a million deaths per year from cigarettes by provoking fears that freedom and choice are threatened...?”

Let freedom sting?

Legal scholars who disagree with Brownell's position have laid out a long list of objections to comparing tobacco to food from a legal standpoint. According to a lengthy legal review by attorney, doctor and Medical College of Virginia in Richmond Associate Professor Joseph McMenamin and Virginia attorney and medical doctor of philosophy Andrea Tiglio, those counterarguments run the gamut from the reality that obesity is caused by a host of factors--many beyond the control of farmers and food retailers--to the fact that food, unlike tobacco, is not addictive. Lawsuits against food-system participants for causing obesity, McMenamin and Tiglio write, not only have no reasonable basis in the law, but also risk causing damage beyond financial losses by eroding that individual freedom Brownell dismisses.

"Harm will be particularly likely if plaintiffs’ counsel succeed in persuading the public that overeating is an addiction, a disease," they argue. "This model denies autonomy to the obese, and teaches them that they are powerless over their own behavior. This sends the wrong message.The disease model excuses behavior that ought not be excused and disables the overeater from helping himself." That rush to excuse individuals from feeling the sting of their own actions not only has the practical consequence of trivializing obesity control and thus actually undermining the supposed public-health aims of those like Brownell and the New England Journal of Medicine, but it also has the pernicious effect of "[eroding] the philosophical pillars on which American freedom and democracy stand."

And that effect, ultimately, may be the highest price to pay for the increasing willingness to regulate freedom in food, says lawyer Baylen Linnekin. As executive director of the Washington, D.C. nonprofit Keep Food Legal, which advocates for the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of our own choosing, Linnekin has written extensively on the question of personal responsibility and government’s moral--if not legal--right to intervene.

Public good outweighs individual rights, Brownell argues'As America inches toward the misguided idea that smart people in government who think for us can solve our problems, we move further away from America's founding values'

- Baylen Linnekin,
Keep Food Legal


Despite what Linnekin sees as a troubling willingness by the legal system to entertain the idea that free choice in food is not a legally recognized right--New York Mayor Bloomberg, for instance, dismissed freedom of choice arguments against his soda ban by claiming it was not one of the “freedoms.... that the Founding Fathers fought for”--he argues food choice and the wider question of individual rights intersect intellectually, historically, philosophically and factually. Today's arguments over freedom to eat, whether raw milk or supermarket Snickers bars, enjoy a long heritage in this country. British economic aggression against the colonies like the Sugar Act, which often taxed and restricted the colonists food choices, are precisely the petty tyranny that finally drove those Founding Fathers to revolt. And although the  Supreme Court has yet to uphold a fundamental right to food choice, several justices have recognized the right, including liberal Justice William O. Douglas, who argued the Ninth Amendment’s unenumerated fundamental rights includes “one’s taste for food... [which] is certainly fundamental in our constitutional scheme—a scheme designed to keep government off the backs of people.” Justice Stephen Field likewise recognized food procurement is an “integral fundamental right of all Americans, an essential element of liberty.”

No less than Thomas Jefferson, Linnekin says, argued that banning food had no place in America. Such bans simply substituted the individual judgement of free people with the blanket coercion of  “[f]allible men” with their own set of prejudices and preferences. It’s a threat to the spirit of individual liberty that founds the soul of American governance, as pertinent today as it was two centuries ago.

“As America inches more and more toward technocracy,” Linnekin writes, “—the misguided idea that ‘smart’ people in the ‘right’ places in government who think for us can and should identify and solve all our problems— we move further away from America’s founding values.”

What’s the answer, then, to save the “preventably lost lives” Brownell believes will be the the price of not regulating freedom to be fat?

"Obesity litigation will further erode the sense of personal responsibility on which the nation was founded," say McMenamin and Tiglio. "...the obese should seek help not from lawyers but from doctors and, more important, from themselves."

Linnekin adds, “Rather than subjecting opinion to coercion, we should subject it to debate within the marketplace of ideas. …coercion has no role to play in our decisionmaking. We may render to God and/or Caesar certain limited powers, but individuals retain the rest. In short, it’s up to us to pick and choose which information we follow.”


It's grown so repetitious across the Internet as to become conventional wisdom: Grilling red meat over hot coals is the fast track to the cancer clinic. But is it really true? Here are six good tips you can use to help reassure shoppers a Fourth of July cookout can and should be in their plans.

1. Keep the risk in perspective. When scientific studies speak of an increased "risk" of cancer associated with eating grilled red meat (or anything else, for that matter), it's important to remember "risk" does not mean "certainty." That identified risk is always relative, often very small, and seldom applicable across the board. Although the scientific literature over the last quarter century has associated the high intake of meat, especially red meat and processed meat, with an increased risk of cancers like colorectal cancer, even most advocates for a reduced-meat diet concede the studies are not conclusive. The same is true of the 35-year-old theory that says the process of grilling and frying cause beef to form cancer-causing compounds in the fat and meat. Although at first glance the theory is attractive, says Nobel Prize winner for medicine and the director of Germany's national Cancer Research Center Harald zur Hausen, we know the same process forms the same carcinogens when white meat and fish are grilled, yet no studies have identified any associated increase in cancer risk when those grilled items are eaten.


So it's important consumers understand the risks they see reported in the media about grilling red meat are not well understood, and they likely are not an imminent danger. They face much higher risk, and more certain risk, driving to the store to buy the meat than they do grilling and eating it, for instance. The bottom line is this, wrote Peter Boyle, Director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2008, "After decades of research activity, we still do not know how we need to change what we eat to reduce our cancer risk.... The media and the general public need to be told clearly what are the facts and how important they are in the broad scheme of things."

2. Grill meats at a medium temperature, to prevent the charring that can produce higher levels of those carcinogens, even if it means cooking them for a longer time. When charcoal grilling, you have achieved medium heat when coals are no longer flaming, are ash-covered and spread in a single layer. Gas grills often vary widely in heat output, so check your owner's manual, or hold the palm of your hand above the heat source at cooking height. If you can keep it there for about four seconds, you've achieved medium heat.

3. Add some fruits and vegetables. Eating plant-based foods may be associated with lower cancer risk. Mixing meat and vegetables to make kabobs is a great way to have the best of both worlds.

4. Trim, if necessary. Trimming any excess fat from meat and poultry and selecting leaner cuts can both limit the drippings that can cause flare-ups and deposit potential carcinogens on meat.

5. Offer shoppers marinades. Marinating meat before grilling with marinades containing little or no sugar can decrease the formation of some grilling-associated carcinogenic compounds by as much as 96 percent, according to one study. In addition to adding flavor and tenderness to meat and poultry, marinade can also help protect meat from charring. Sugary sauces and glazes can be used, but they require basting during the last few minutes of grilling to prevent charring.

6. Trust the thermometer. An instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into the side of burgers, steaks and chops is every grilling customer's friend. Owning--and using one--is an important contributor not only to preventing unnecessary charring, but also to preventing overcooking that can lead to consumer disappointment.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research, National Cattlemen's Beef Association

My organic's more-ganic than your organic?

After the widely reported Stanford meta-analysis of 200 previous scientific studies shed official doubt on the conventional wisdom that organic food is more nutritious and safer than non-organic, organic defenders among the new food movement leapt into the debate to try to convince consumers the organic foods industry never really said they were.

“That we needed a study to understand how nutritionally similar organic foods are to non-organics is a perfect example of the way we've lost sight of what the term really means,” wrote Atlantic associate editor and organics advocate Brian Fung.

"It's a red herring," Molly Anderson, chair of Food and Sustainable Agriculture Systems at College of the Atlantic told Maine Today. "It's asking the wrong question. The nutritional reasons are not the reasons why I think people are buying organic.” Instead, Anderson argued, echoing the objections raised by other organic defenders, consumers choose organic because they want to avoid residues of pesticides used by crop farmers and traces of antibiotics used by livestock farmers.

Yet the Stanford researchers themselves recognized the weakness of at least half that claim. Although it's true organic products tended to have significantly less pesticide residues than conventionally raised products, the residues in both types were well below the levels U.S. regulators consider a safety or health concern. And even though conventional meats do tend to show higher levels of antibiotic resistant germs than organic ones, that's not to say organic products are free of those organisms (they're not), nor that the level in either presents any significant risk to human health. (Some respected scientists argue they don't.)

So what's left to promote? If organic food turns out to present no meaningful health benefits, even as the majority of consumer surveys show consumers buy them based on precisely that notion, it's understandable that organic advocates are suddenly rushing to defend them on other grounds. They argue there are other, "more important" reasons to buy.

Undermining 'the ethos' of organics

That contradiction between what shoppers think they're getting and what sellers believe they're selling reveals a looming identity crisis in the organics movement, one that could prove its downfall. The argument over the true meaning of organic was never so obvious as it was in 2006, when no less than Wal-Mart announced a plan to stock a complete organic foods section in its 4,000 stores nationwide. Although Wal-Mart's move was hailed as the mainstreaming—at long last—of organic food, which had the potential to price organics within reach of the mass market and finally dispel the myth that organic food was reserved only for the rich, critics attacked the retail giant for co-opting the meaning of "organic."

The executive director of the Organic Consumers Association kicked off a national protest by saying he found Wal-Mart’s reputation for driving down vendor prices troubling news for organic lovers. By late 2006, the Cornucopia Institute, another activist group promoting low-intensity, organic farming, had filed complaints with USDA. Both these organic-support groups’ accusations against the retail giant included complaints about low wages, lack of a labor union, resistance to buying employees health insurance, wage inequity by gender and impact on mom-and-pop stores. The groups complained Wal-Mart, whether living by USDA's letter of law in selling organic or not, was nevertheless threatening to “undermine the ethos of the organics movement.”

“Food shipped around the world, burning fossil fuels and undercutting our domestic farmers does not meet the consumer’s traditional definition of what is truly organic,” a Cornucopia spokesman said. Ditto, the OCA: “We are asking consumers to...demand that the stores they frequent carry organic, local, and Fair Trade or Fair Made alternatives,” said the spokesman.

Infighting begins

That very public dispute with Wal-Mart unveiled publicly a long-standing rift within the organics community about what it really means to "be organic enough." USDA recognizes organic as simply a process—not a claim to better food--and regularly warns purveyors not to make claims that promote organic as safer or healthier. England’s counterpart, the Food Standards Agency, since late 2006 has likewise forbidden that country’s organic producers from promoting the health advantage of their products, saying the science doesn't support it. Most organic companies and advocates, like the Organic Trade Association, have acquiesed to that regulatory stipulation, even as they have regularly pushed for increased funding to find the provable advantages in nutritional profiles of organically produced food, especially for the current big ticket foodstuffs.

Meanwhile, many of the organic purists resist even USDA’s current standards which OTA supports, arguing they need to be “more organic" by officially recognizing many of the social and cultural standards that have, to them, always defined the real reasons consumers should look for the organic seal.

"For many consumers, an organic apple tastes sweeter not only because it’s healthier,” author Felicia Mello wrote in the liberal magazine The Nation, “but because it conjures up a vision of a simpler, more pure world, where we produce our food without wreaking havoc on the environment and our relationship to it is unmediated by fear, guilt or the drive for excessive profits.”

Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst with the Cornucopia Institute, wrote in response to the recent Stanford study,  "I will stick with the diet that concentrates on fresh, local, more flavorful food that’s produced without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and genetically modified organisms. And I for one think I’m getting a good value for my own health, while at the same time supporting good environmental stewardship and economic justice...."

Although it may be too early to brand this as a fight for the soul of the organic movement, the infighting between the organic and the more-ganic wings of the “sustainable” farming fashion has the potential to add to growing consumer confusion over exactly what your shoppers are getting when they willingly increase their food expenses at a time of food inflation simply based on vague notions of "the right thing to do." What should be clear to grocers who are actively working to shape themselves into the community wellness center is this take-away: The most radical arm of the organics movement, those purists who believe the ideology of "food justice" has always been the defining identity of organic, have willingly conspired in the charade that organic food is healthier for consumers. Now that those health claims are being questioned out in the open, for all consumers to see, grocers could be thrust into the path of a potential consumer backlash.

The Cornucopia Institute, one of the most vocal advocates for organic farming in the United States, alleges a "conspiracy" between corporate agriculture and the USDA and details what it claims to be a climate of regulatory abuse and corporate exploitation at USDA's organic certification program. The Cornucopia report charges the USDA with "stacking" the National Organic Standards Board with agribusiness executives that all too often have "sold out" the interests of organic farmers and consumers.

In its new white paper, The Organic Watergate, Cornucopia claims the NOSB has "increasingly facilitated the use of questionable synthetic additives and even dangerous chemicals in organic foods," the group said last month, including synthetic nutrient oils in dairy products and other "unreviewed synthetic ingredients."

"We implore consumers not to reject organics because a handful of corporations have acted recklessly and the USDA has failed to do their legally mandated job. Organic farmers, and their ethical processing partners, need your support now more than ever," Cornucopia's director Mark Kastel said in a statement. "And health conscious families deserve authentic organic food."

But the Cornucopia report neglected to note some important paradoxes built into the very definition of that "authentic organic" food. Do your organic-friendly shoppers really understand these common myths about organics?

MYTH: Organics are pesticide-free. Although the exact percentage varies from survey to survey, every study that asks shoppers why they prefer organic finds at least a majority give the same answer: They believe buying organic avoids pesticides. Not true. Like conventional farmers, organic farmers also use pesticides to control plant diseases and damaging pests. More than 20 chemicals are approved by the NOSB and are commonly used in organic production. And because they tend to be less effective on a pound-per-pound basis, some organic pesticides are used at greater rates per acre than common conventional pesticides. Organic pesticides are by definition those made from natural sources; however, research is demonstrating that the traditional assumption that just because a chemical occurs naturally it is safer is not necessarily true. Many naturally derived pesticides, including those like rotenone and permethrins, have been demonstrated to carry serious risks to human health. Organic does not equal pesticide-free.

MYTH: Organics are safer. Organic pesticide residue is not the only safety issue organics could potentially raise. Because NOSB standards forbid use of synthetic fertlizer, organic farms rely more heavily on animal manure than do their conventional counterparts. Because many foodborne pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella are carried and spread by fecal contamination, that raises the risk that organic foods may be contaminated by those pathogens. Although the jury's still out on whether the risk is truly higher with organics, research has certainly demonstrated the risk exists: A Minnesota study from 2004, for instance, discovered E. coli in produce sampled from one in 10 organic farms, compared to just 2 percent from conventional farms. An Ohio study in 2007 showed pigs from antibiotic-free farms was more likely to have been carrying several important pathogens before harvest than conventional farms that used those medications forbidden by the organic standards.

MYTH: Organics are healthier.Despite scientific comparisons between organic and conventional farming that now reach back a half decade, scientists still have not found compelling evidence organic makes any difference in consumers' health. A systematic review of more than 160 previous studies from peer-reviewed journals between 1958 and 2008 found no differences in nutritional content of more than 15 different nutrients. Where there were demonstrable differences in nutritional content, none were found to be big enough to impact human health. Joseph Rosen, emeritus professor of food toxicology at Rutgers, writes “….a consumer who buys organic food thinking that it is more nutritious is wasting a considerable amount of money. Even if organic advocates turn out to be correct in their assertions that organic food has more nutrient content than conventional food when tested against each other in valid matched pairs, how is the consumer going to use this information to make the right choice? Except for just a few fruits and vegetables, the consumer can not tell what variety of a crop is being offered for sale, thus making the selection of organic or conventional a crap shoot.”

MYTH: Organics taste better. Safety and health claims aside, then, can organic deliver on the consumers second most common belief that they simply taste better. Not likely, blind taste-testing shows. In one study from 1992, non-expert tasters actually preferred the taste of several conventional over organic. Another from 2002 found that although panelists preferred organic orange juice over conventional, they could tell no difference between organic and conventional milk.

S5 Box