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Are organically-produced raw vegetables any better than those produced in the traditional ways? [NO!]
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale

email: art@artdrysdale.com

Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at http://www.artdrysdale.com


August 13, 2017

This is the vegetable garden at the NPC School of Horticulture at Niagara Falls—my old Alma Mater. Anyone who attended the School may well recognize the individual in the pix!
Author photo.

 



 


 



 

With the information currently available, the decision to buy organic vs. conventional produce remains, more than anything, a personal choice." That is the final conclusion made by ABCNews 2020’s John Stossel during an in-depth investigation of organic produce vs. that grown using inorganic (read chemical) methods. The programme was re-broadcast with some additional information a few weeks ago.

It is difficult for me to pick out the most important fact or point made in the programme - several stand out as important and completely opposite from the general view. For example, "The perception held by the majority of the public is that they’re buying products that are better for them as well as for the environment, so they gladly pay more. According to an ABCNews poll, 45 percent of the U.S. public thinks organic foods are more nutritious than those that are not raised organically, while 57 percent think that producing organic foods is better for the environment.

Dennis Avery (the former senior agriculture analyst for the U.S. Department of State, and later senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, and Director of the Hudson’s Center for Global Food Issues) is a leading critic of organic produce, and says that organic "products are more likely to be infested with bacteria. Manure can be a breeding ground for bacteria such as E. coli that may then make their way onto the produce. Avery says that it should be those higher concentrations of bacteria, rather than pesticide residue that should concern us. ‘They’ve got us worrying about exactly the wrong thing,’ he says. ‘If we’ve got no deaths from pesticides and 5,000 deaths from bacteria, it’s pretty clear to me that we should be worrying now primarily about the nasty new bacteria.’

However, because bacteria can be found on both conventional and organic produce, experts recommend that you wash all your produce after you bring it home."

Now, this whole reference to E. coli bacteria certainly hits home in Canada, especially in south-western Ontario where the Walkerton experience of contaminated drinking water (about 17 years ago) is still on everyone’s mind. Nothing official was released as to the cause of the out-break, but one doesn’t have to be a scientist to realize that the record rainfalls of spring (and now summer) of 2000 likely did lead to greater migration of bacteria from manures (applied to various fields) into the ground water. From there, it was only a matter of time until there was infection of aquifers and well water. Similar situations have been discovered in other rural areas this year, where the results were not as catastrophic as was the case in Walkerton, but nevertheless E. coli bacteria did get into ground water. The point really is, what are we doing about such bacterial infection.

We hear much about contamination by pesticides, and yet there have been no known deaths from pesticide residues (if there are, in fact, any pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables these days). On the other hand, as Dennis Avery in the U.S. said, they have 5,000 deaths per year from bacteria! Isn’t it time that much greater attention be paid to bacterial infections, and that particularly includes those from organic produce, where the chance for this type of infection is far greater. For the record, again, the reason for this greater likelihood of bacterial infection from organic produce is that virtually all organic farmers use manures, of one type or another, for their fertilization. Now, guidelines for such manure use call for it to be stacked and kept until the piles reach a certain temperature that will kill most bacteria. However, this is hardly scientific. And, how many organic farmers are following the guidelines? Did you know that even in the U.S. only 50 percent of the organic produce comes from "certified organic" farms? The rest could be coming from anywhere!

Further on this aspect of the topic, John Stossel went on to say "Many Americans (and Canadians) who thought you had the flu were really sick from food. But who says there are more of these organisms in organic foods? We searched the records and found there have been no tests done that actually compare bacteria counts in organic vs. normal food. So we did our own laboratory sampling.

ABCNews 20/20 paid Dr. Michael Doyle of the University of Georgia to run the tests. If the food contains the E. coli, tiny blue specks appear. Bad news. In our tests, on 5 percent of the food, we found those specks. Which foods? Well, broccoli, parsley and celery were generally bacteria-free. But when they tested samples of sprouts and the pre-bagged pieces of lettuce called spring mix, that’s where they found bacteria. A third of the sprouts had sewage contamination? And, the so-called spring greens were contaminated also.

By a small margin, more of the organic produce was contaminated than the conventional stuff. But the real bad news for you organics buyers is that the average concentration of E. coli in the contaminated spring mix was much higher. And what about pesticides? Our tests surprisingly found no pesticide residue on the conventional samples or the organic.

Many customers think that organic products have more nutrients than conventional produce. John Stossel asked Katherine Di Matteo of the Organic Trade Association, which represents organic growers and retailers in the U.S., if organic produce is more nutritious. Her only guarantee is that ‘it’s as nutritious as any other product on the market.’ He also tried to elicit from Katherine why her organization in fact did nothing to dissuade consumers of the falsehood that organic produce is more nutritious. She had no answer for that at all. Of course not, it’s a great selling aid for members of her group that the public remains 'duped’!

Another major aspect of this topic is whether or not the growing of organic produce is better for the environment. Katherine claims it is, simply because there are no chemicals used in the production.

However, Dennis Avery disputes the claim by arguing that organic farmers waste land and resources because they lose so much of their crop to weeds and insects. Avery says 'it’s today’s conventional farmers who have performed an environment-saving miracle by taking nitrogen to make chemical fertilizer, using pesticides and genetically engineered seeds to feed more people, using less land.'

This aspect of the great organic/inorganic debate also brings in another whole topic. Are we going to run out of food-producing land, and thus run out of food with which to feed the world’s increasing population in the near future? Again, contrary to the popular belief, there is ample evidence that we are not going to run out of land, and thus we won’t run out of food-at least not in the foreseeable future. With increasingly improved techniques the problem in the near future could well be an over-abundance of food—such as we already have in some commodities (in some years)! This over-abundance leads to national subsidization of farmers in order to keep them in business.

Do you think Mr. Trump will have any comment on this through his Agriculture Secretary?

   

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