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Staggering $1.3 Billion Spent to Propagandize About GMO and Chemical-Intensive Foods

It's a disaster.

Photo Credit: Twin Design


The New York Post loves a good villain, but you’d think it would be hard to cast a bad light on the group of people profiled in an April 19 story: moms who feed their kids organic food.

Naomi Schaefer Riley took on the challenge in “ The Tyranny of the Organic Mommy Mafia,” and built a case against “the arrogance and class snobbery” of people who buy and eat food that’s been grown without artificial chemicals.

“Organic food does not necessarily mean better. It’s a term that’s been co-opted and manipulated into a billion-dollar industry by some of the biggest food companies in America,” Riley wrote.

The anti–organic food narrative is a recurring theme in the media of late. What’s going on with these stories?

In January, Slate ( 1/28/14) served up “Organic Schmorganic” by Melinda Wenner Moyer—shared 45,000 times on Facebook. The story concluded that it’s not worth feeding your kids organic fruits and vegetables because there is no documented harm from conventional produce treated with chemicals, especially when the residues are below levels deemed safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The story assumes that EPA exposure levels for pesticides are health-protective and ignores ample evidence about the health concerns of long-term exposures and combined effects of pesticides ( Environmental Health Perspectives, 11/12; International Journal of Andrology, 4/08), as well as data that pesticides are building up in children’s bodies ( Environmental Health Perspectives, 2/06).

In short, the article was based largely on spin, as pointed out in detailed rebuttals by the Organic Center ( 1/30/14), Environmental Working Group ( 2/10/14) and Civil Eats ( 2/4/14).

In the Washington Post ( 4/7/14), Tamar Haspel took a more balanced approach with “Is Organic Better for Your Health?” However, in reaching her conclusion that organic products are not that much better, Haspel overlooked large-scale literature reviews and meta-analysis about the benefits of organic food. She also ignored many studies on the health risks of pesticides, especially in children ( Environmental Health Perspectives, 8/11, 4/12; National Research Council, 1993), and missed the bigger public health concerns about feeding healthy animals massive doses of antibiotics and growth hormones. (See the statement from the American Public Health Association, 11/10/09, regarding their opposition to hormones in beef and dairy production.)

Haspel also fails to recognize that that US standards allow for comparatively high drug-residue levels (thus the low detection rate of drugs) and that the European Union and many other countries reject US meat raised with hormones and growth additives precisely because of animal and human health concerns. (See the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Review, 4/10/02, on the potential risks to human health from hormone residues in bovine meat and meat products.)

Where do reporters get these ideas? The New York Post article cited a recent report published by Academics Review ( 4/7/14) that harshly attacks the organics industry and its nonprofit allies for what they described as “deceptive marketing practices,” designed to instill “false and misleading consumer health and safety perceptions about competing conventional foods.”

However, the report provides scant evidence to back up its fundamental premise that organics marketing strategies are deceitful and that eaters in fact have nothing to fear from conventional food, or that there are no appreciable health, nutritional or safety advantages to organic over chemically farmed and genetically engineered foods.

In fact, in the entire 24-page report, principal researcher Joanna Schroeder cited just two highly contested meta-studies, including one by Stanford researchers published in the Annals of Internal Medicine ( 9/4/12). This misleading study has been soundly discredited by agricultural policy expert Charles Benbrook in a comprehensive rebuttal ( 9/4/12) published by Washington State University, as well as by articles in the New York Times ( 10/2/12), Huffington Post (9/13/12) and Environmental Health Perspectives ( 12/12). These critiques highlight how the study greatly underestimates the important differences between organic and conventional foods, especially in terms of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and pesticide exposure.

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