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Desperate Food Industry Tries to Tar Michael Pollan and Organic Produce

With growing numbers of food-conscious consumers, big corporations are trying to sully the reputation of alternatives to their style of agriculture.

What do you get when you cross a grassroots movement with a food industry fearful of losing its influence? Bogus studies, campaigns of misinformation and opinion pieces filled with myth and vitriol.

You may have noticed an uptick this year in news reporting that organic food isn’t really better for you , opinion pieces by conventional farmers saying that they are tired of being demonized by “agri-intellectuals”, and guilt-inducing ads by Monsanto in highbrow publications like the New Yorker touting the company’s ability to feed the world through technology.

Though all of this could be disturbing to those of us committed to sustainable agriculture and food that is fair to eaters, animals, workers and farmers, I’m choosing to see this as a good sign. I think it means we might be winning.

The turning point was when First Lady Michelle Obama planted an organic garden on the White House lawn only to receive a letter from The American CropLife Association telling her that they hoped she recognized the value of conventional agriculture in American life. The letter can be read here. Then, there were false allegations that the garden was contaminated with lead. In the face of all this, the first lady stuck with her commitment to keeping the garden organic.

Why is this happening now? For many years, organic food was a marginal market and the big players were content to let it either exist on the sidelines or hedge their bets and buy into it themselves.

But due to the excellent work by many writers and activists like Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Marion Nestle, Robert Kenner and others too numerous to mention, more of us are starting to pay attention to where our food comes from and how it is produced. This market is now a force for change. And individuals and companies that benefit from the status quo don’t want change.

Let’s take a closer look at the people and ideology behind some of the more recent high profile examples of the attacks against sustainable  food.

The aforementioned study by London’s School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on the nutrient values of organic foods looked at various studies on the subject and compiled them to reach its conclusions. No new study was conducted. The meta review ignored some recent studies on nutrients, including one focused on antioxidants.

Not only that, the conductors of the survey only looked a narrow set of very specific nutrients. They did not consider factors of taste, environmental impact , or pesticide residues in the food – all factors that most consumers I know consider when buying organic foods.

Beyond the obvious limitations of the subject matter, it’s instructive to take a closer look at how the study was covered in the media, who conducted the study and who funded it.

So let’s pull back the curtain, shall we?

Media Coverage: Though the study looked at only 8 different nutrients and concluded there was no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically- and conventionally-produced foodstuffs, it went on to say that there were other reasons to buy organic food. Headline writers like tension so all the headlines were some variation on “organic foods not really better for you” or worse yet, “the organic foods hoax”.

What is the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine ? The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a respected college within the University of London , so all would seem to be on the up and up. But, this is the same school that published a hateful and not at all scientifically-rigorous study blaming fat people for global warming. I’d love to get into the problems with this study but that’s another post.

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