July 30, 2015

"The Colossal Hoax Of Organic Agriculture."

A Forbes headline. Excerpt:
Few organic consumers are aware that organic agriculture is a “trust-based” or “faith-based” system. With every purchase, they are at risk of the moral hazard that an organic farmer will represent cheaper-to-produce non-organic products as the premium-priced organic product. For the vast majority of products, no tests can distinguish organic from non-organic—for example, whether milk labeled “organic” came from a cow within the organic production system or from a cow across the fence from a conventional dairy farm. The higher the organic premium, the stronger the economic incentive to cheat.

61 comments:

Scott said...

You mean my organic fair-trade Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is all bullshit?

Original Mike said...

The gullible have been fleeced for centuries.

Gabriel said...

Organic produce may not have different health benefits or risks from conventional agriculture, but it is absolutely indispensable for social signaling.

@Scott: You mean my organic fair-trade Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is all bullshit?

Since Japan buys almost all of the genuine Blue Mountain, yeah that's probably not what you are getting.

Gahrie said...

Organic food is a signal, an attempt by people to demonstrate that they are better than others by their shopping choices. Even the higher prices are a benefit because they demonstrate that the buyer has enough income to be able to afford to pay higher prices for "better" food. Mothers who buy organic food care more about their families, etc.

People used to use clothing for this purpose, but that doesn't always work anymore.

Gahrie said...

@Gabriel:

Great minds think alike.

Scott said...

"Since Japan buys almost all of the genuine Blue Mountain, yeah that's probably not what you are getting."

Yeah, more Jamaican Blue Mountain is sold than is grown, been that way forever.

Which leads me to wonder: A small clique of Wisconsin farmers grows what is regarded as the world's best and most expensive ginseng; and all of it is sold to Asian importers. Is that organic too, or does it matter to them?

Michael said...

I am reminded of the time I saw the employee opening packages of the $2 cranberries and pouring them into the authentic looking vat of $3.5 cranberries.

rhhardin said...

I live on a diet of tawdry foods.

mikee said...

I love that there is only a moral hazard mentioned.

I'd worry more about the fungus, mold, mildew, bacteria and other crap that organic food carries.

Roy Jacobsen said...

From the For What It's Worth department: J.I. Rodale, who popularized the term "organic" to mean grown without pesticides, died of a heart attack.

Big Mike said...

The higher the ______________ premium, the stronger the economic incentive to cheat.

You can fill in the blank with just about anything you want and the statement is still true.

CWJ said...

Scott and Gabriel,

Reminds me of how Kona coffee became "Kona blend" with the percentage Kona trending ever downward to like 5% or so.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

At the local Wegmans, there's a beer aisle designated "gluten-free," and when I first saw it I wasn't phased at all so, yes, you're right, I'm boasting that I've finally progressed from stage four and now find myself comfortably ensconced in stage five, acceptance.

MadisonMan said...

Know your supplier. That's the real bottom line.

Expat(ish) said...

@Eric - I've had gluten free beer and it tends to be molassay sweet - not sure why exactly.

I have a very good friend who has convinced himself that he's gluten intolerant. So that's what we drink.

"It's better than drinking alone."

_XC

Bob Ellison said...

I once had a cup of coffee at a small shop in Kailua, HI. It was fantastically good, so I asked the server where it came from.

"Well, I picked it from my yard up there this morning and roasted it today," she said.

rhhardin said...

Organic chemistry is next.

CWJ said...

Expat(ish),

Sorghum rather than barley. I couldn't choke it down. So in my case, given only the two options, I'd rather drink alone.

SteveR said...

Yeah if it makes you feel better, pay for it. But don't think I'm impressed. I expect it will just end up being another thing regulated because people are stupid.

traditionalguy said...

Genetiically Modified is still considered organic. It just means no chemicals to assist the farmers with weed control and to fertilize the field.

We will need another Encyclical from the Marxist Pope to determine reality.

MadisonMan said...

@CWJ: Sorghum Whiskey, in contrast is very good. :)

Link.

walter said...

"have a very good friend who has convinced himself that he's gluten intolerant."

The First Step is to Admit That You Have a Problem.

"Free the gluten!"

rhhardin said...

Last night's Radio Japan (real audio) describes using "sewage slunge" to produce energy. It's a "treacher trove" of opportunity.

Guy with no accent seems nevertheless not to know the words.

Mark said...

This 'how to be gluten intolerant' video always makes me laugh. There's enough truth there.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Oht9AEq1798

CWJ said...

MadisonMan,

Thanks. I learn something new every day. I'll take your word on the whiskey, but trust myself on the beer.

Marc Puckett said...

I end up buying 'organic' produce most of the time from April through October, because I choose to 'buy locally' and in this part of the world the growers who sell at the organised farmers' markets etc do the 'organic' thing. The rest of the year, at the grocery store, I revert to my cheapest-is-best default setting; one thing for sure, I don't become ill from November through March.

Quaestor said...

There not much left of the sorghum after being metabolized by yeast, then distilled, then sealed in an oak barrel for five years.


Penn & Teller did a wonderfully witty exposé of organic food.

Quaestor said...

Expat(ish) wrote: I have a very good friend who has convinced himself that he's gluten intolerant.

Well, we can say he's intolerant of something, can we not?

Gabriel said...

I don't eat organic vegetables. I'm a level 5 vegan, I don't eat anything that casts a shadow.

glenn said...

"First you need honest people"

Dad


Dad was right.

Interesting,not crazy said...

I want pesticides on my produce, and I want antibiotics in my meat and mercury in my fish.. Helps build a strong immune system.

Mike said...

Ha ha ha ha. And Whole Foods overcgarges you too. And more pesticides are used in "organic" farming than on GMO crops. Oh the truth, it burnsssssss.

Quaestor said...

Quaestor also has a friend who, based on a claim of gluten intolerance, eschews certain beers. In his case it's a popular beer called Blue Moon, which purports to be a Belgian-style wheat beer. He says Blue Moon gives him a headache, and since wheat as more gluten than barley therefore he's gluten intolerant. (Yes, Quaestor has a friend whose forensic skills rank somewhere south of valley girl.)

Now I don't know whether you, gentle reader, have drunk Blue Moon. If not trust me when I say, "Avoid like the plague." Blue Moon resembles Belgian wheat beer about as much as my sainted grandmother's boiled nightgown. The Flemish like their beer with a twist of fresh orange, but the brewers of New Moon have relieved the drinker of the need for a real orange by dosing their swill with something that tastes exactly like Nehi orange soda. Of all the thing normally found in beer - such as water, alcohol, maltose, hops, and a trace of gluten - is it not more parsimonious to suspect a coal tar derived artificial favoring as the source of my friend's mal de tête before the jumping to the conclusion of gluten intolerance?

LarsPorsena said...

Blogger rhhardin said...
Organic chemistry is next.

7/30/15, 10:43 AM
---------------------------

Organic Chemistry is just too damn hard.

Original Mike said...

"Avoid like the plague."

Blue Moon makes me nauseous.

Loren said...

I never have believed that "organic" bananas grown in Honduras would be any different from regular ones.

John Scott said...

It seems like every time I read about mass food poisonings and recalls it is due to some prepackaged organic vegetable.

Kyzernick said...

Nice Simpsons reference Gabriel. That's an oldie, too.

TreeJoe said...

I'm not going to defend organic branding or pricing, nor am I going to pretend the world could be fed on an "organically grown" basis with today's farmland. Nor will I claim organic-labelled foods are going to give you a longer, healthier life. Now with that being said, let me make a few claims:

- Around here (SE PA), organically labelled fruits are almost always significantly tastier from wegmans, trader joes, and giant. Strawberries taste like candy, apples taste like apples are supposed to - and you can do an immediate compare with non-organic-labeled and note the difference.

- There are lots of food-borne hormones or chemicals that alter the body in undesirable ways. Hell, a lot of soy will do that. I have a choice between meat I know has notable significant hormonal residue in it - that can impact the body in at least a short term manner - and a meat that is LABELLED to not have any/asmuch hormonal residue, and I've got great disposable income, I pay for the organic-labelled meat. Maybe I'm a sucker. Don't care.

- Meat - pork, beef, chicken, whatever - is usually produced with pharmaceutical help. Reduction in disease, promotion of weight gain, whatever. But very differently than humans, there's very little dosing control - only dosing guidance. And the interest in residues in the product are not as critically monitored. Here's an example of how a drug approved for ~60 years was halted due to suddenly finding that - despite the drug using only organic arsenic - it produced inorganic arsenic residuals in the chicken's livers. http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm258313.htm

Note in the above link that they actually only tested the product's safety on lab rats despite it's use in chickens and despite it creating some residuals that would be ingested by humans. That's fine and all, but let's not think that's fully sound scientific testing either.

....

There are totally rip-off organic labelling out there. However, as I explained it to my grandparents, organic to me just means I'm trying to buy food the way it was grown 8-9 decades ago and I'm willing to pay a premium for that attempt, in the hopes that I'm getting a superior quality food in some manner which I won't independently verify.

Mike said...

John Scott, you mean like Odwalla Juice? Yeah they went from hippies making "natural" and "unpasteurized" fruit beverages to a modern pasteurizing juice maker after 10 people died from e coli poisoning. Yuck!

MadisonMan said...

There not much left of the sorghum after being metabolized by yeast, then distilled, then sealed in an oak barrel for five years.

What's left is *delicious* if it's whiskey!

However, Last night's drink was a G&T with Hendrick's.

damikesc said...

Good. Anybody obsessed with "organic" food should be ripped off.

Kyzernick said...

I don't believe for a moment that all the food labelled as organic is grown any safer than any other food out there, or is any better for you, or any tastier, or any juicier, or any way different except in price. I've tried both organic and regular, a few times side-by-side. I'll stick with regular. Whole Foods could go out of business tomorrow, and I'd cheer just cuz sometimes it's fun to be an asshole.

Mike said...

TreeJoe careful shopping and a higher-than-average income does allow for that choice. Here (SoCal) I'm lucky to have farm markets open every day and we get strawberries and corn and asparagus picked that morning. Although Jacinto Farms is not all-organic their berries are always better than the ones in any store around here, including Trader Joe and Whole Foods. I mean, you can't make great strawberry ice cream with lousy tasteless fruit.

And while I mock much of the "organic" movement in my prior comments, it is really the anti-GMO and anti-big Ag people that are due most of my ire. It's just that "organic" has been drawn into the anti-GMO movement in many respects and benefited from the false perception that organic does mean less pesticides, and safer practices. When in reality a GMO food product has never hurt anyone but organic and natural foods have killed plenty of people because the practices are decidedly UNsafe and extra care must be taken by the buyer to clean organic fruits and veggies. Even at that, their will be residues of the "organic pesticides" which according to their labels can be applied ("soaking top and bottom leaves and all fruit surfaces") right up the moment they are picked and packed.

Yuck again. It takes exponentially more of the natural "Round-up" type organic spray than the GMO version. That's why Monsanto invented Round-up, to make the plants resistant to the "natural" chemical in Round-up, which does not affect mammals. But the organic version of it is nasty. Check out Will Saletan's recent Atlantic (I think) piece on the subject. It's an eye opener.

Mike said...

Correction: It was Slate not The Atlantic. Will's article is here.

tmitsss said...

I trust irradiated food

tmitsss said...

"I want pesticides on my produce, and I want antibiotics in my meat and mercury in my fish.. Helps build a strong immune system."


Hormesis is a term used by toxicologists to refer to a biphasic dose response to an environmental agent characterized by a low dose stimulation or beneficial effect and a high dose inhibitory or toxic effect.Dec 5, 2007

kcom said...

I once had a cup of coffee at a small shop in Kailua, HI. It was fantastically good, so I asked the server where it came from.

"Well, I picked it from my yard up there this morning and roasted it today," she said.


And I suspect she was pulling your leg. Coffee normally has to dry for weeks after it's picked. That's what develops the flavor and brings the moisture content down to the level needed for grinding.

Ten steps to coffee

Dad said...

Chemicals aren't killing us, they are allowing us to live.

when I sold my non-organic dairy farm to the Amish, I signed a paper. Bingo! The farm was organic!

The difference between conventional dairy farming and organic dairy farming is whether the antibiotics are kept in the barn or in the house.

There is a large "organic" vegetable farm nearby. Plastic everywhere. Huge mounds of it and all over the fields.

Rich, white people's food.

Scott M said...

Blue Moon makes me nauseous.

Heretic.

jacksonjay said...

BTW, don't eat that Mexican cilantro. Turns out they don't have Port-A-Potty facilities in the fields down there!

kcom said...

Because port-a-potties are known for their dedication to hygienic standards. :)

clint said...

The key sentence there is: "For the vast majority of products, no tests can distinguish organic from non-organic..."

Hard to believe that a difference so subtle no known scientific test can measure it has significant health consequences.

Of course, there are a few products where it clearly could matter.

Bob R said...

Organic food. Anti-GMO. All of it a crock. One good thing about the organic fad is that they are bringing new (or sometimes old) varieties to the market. Bring tasty food to the market and forget about the labels.

Bob R said...

Tangentially related: While I'm against most regulation of food and farming, one thing that I think we ought to consider regulating is the use of antibiotics in feed. It's a big collective action problem. When we were raising sheep while I was growing up, I could clearly see the advantage of feeding them aureomycin crumbles. They grew faster, looked healthier, were generally happier, more lively animals - right until the minute you slaughtered them and butchered them. It must make even more of a difference in confined, feedlot conditions. But the problem is that if every farm is doing it, we are developing more resistant diseases. It's one of the few situations where regulation is justified: no individual's action is causing harm - collective action does cause harm - the harm is distributed to lots of people who had no involvement in the action.

The Godfather said...

In 1967 my first wife and I honeymooned in Jamaica and drank Blue Mountain coffee for the first time. I thought it was the best coffee I ever drank. We were told that Blue Mountain was never exported, so you had to come to Jamaica to enjoy it. Years later I discovered Blue Mountain coffee for sale in the United States and thought, Hey great! I don't have to fly to Jamaica to enjoy the best coffee in the world. But I found that the Blue Mountain coffee I bought in the States was just good, not great. I suppose there's a lesson in that.

Coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
raf said...

I only eat organic foods. I tried inorganic once, but it tasted really bad.

Coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

I tried inorganic once, but it tasted really bad.

In vitro veritas.

Loosehead said...

It's easy to tell for broccoli -- just look for the green worms and you will know it's organic.