|Is organic superior to regular food?
Organic food a scam?
Joseph Rosen, who heads the Food Science Department at Rutgers University's
Cook College, says there's "not one iota of evidence"
that consuming organic food is healthier.
"Organic is, in my opinion, one of the biggest
scams ever foisted upon the American public," Rosen says. "These
foods have absolutely no advantage whatsoever, especially when you
consider the high prices charged for them."
In fact, says Payet, the decision among small farmers
to market homegrown products as organic was probably a mistake.
"The movement for wholesomeness was branded with
the concept of organic, which just means no chemicals," Payet
says. "That's certainly one component. It worked very well
in the beginning, but it made it very easy for agribusiness
to co-opt the movement when they realized there was money in
Rosen, an organic chemist, says that the growth hormones
people worry about in animals "are produced by humans internally"
anyway. He cites a study of free-range and conventional chicken
that found "no difference, except about $2 a pound."
Irradiated meats, Rosen says, may even be healthier
than their organic counterparts, which are cooked at high temperatures
to purge them of possible bacteria. "The more you cook the
meat, the greater your chances of incurring naturally forming carcinogens.
So instead of the hypothetical risk of irradiation, you have a very
real risk that comes as part of the cooking process."
As for pesticides, Rosen says, "the vast majority
used are at a lower level of concentration than the maximum allowed
by the EPA. So where's the danger? Once fruits and vegetables reach
the consumer, very little pesticide is left on them."
So what does Rosen consider healthy? "Fresh,"
he says. "Fresh will win every time, whether it's conventional
or organic. It's not so hard to figure out that produce from a roadside
stand will taste better than food that has traveled thousands of
miles to get to the supermarket."
The organic niche
Payet concurs, adding that some organic farmers agree that wholesome
has at least as much to do with freshness as production methods.
In fact, he says, his group focuses first on supporting family farms
and next on the buy-local movement. Organic farming sits in third
"Agribusiness brought consumers better prices
and greater convenience," Payet says. But it also "reduced the
quality of food and took away intangibles such as community. People
used to know where their food came from."
He says it was only about 15 years ago that people
started realizing that "wholesomeness had been lost from the
food business." In response, "the same local farms that
were providers 40 years ago started fulfilling this demand through
co-ops and farmers' markets."
But now executives for major chains are eyeing organics,
Payet says -- and that's not at all about local farms. "It's
about importing large quantities of produce from other countries.
So the local farms that created the movement are being sidelined