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Organic Falsely Under Attack!

It is sad to read a headline that casts doubt over an entire industry, Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce. It is so very misleading and eschewed. The study is really more of a synopsis of studies of nutrient value of food from traditional versus organic farming. Not a great study at all. Probably half of their studies are funded by the industrial food complex and the other half from health and organic advocates. So how could you expect the result to be a balanced conclusion about nutrition?

But the debate over organic food versus industrialized food is about so much more. It is about animal health, worker health and soil health, water shed health, air quality, environmental damage and food health and, yes, ultimately people’s health.

If I asked you to eat a dose of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, steroids and antibiotics with your food, would you? Yet this is exactly what is being offered with your food! None of this is debated — it is not being studied because the contaminate level is below “acceptable standards”. Really? When I see farm workers wearing hazmat suits in the fields to tolerate the pesticides and herbicides in the field, I think we have a problem. When we all eat chickens that are fully grown in 45 days because they eat a feed “cocktail” of steroids and antibiotics (versus a normal chicken which grows up in 90 days) are we just asking for trouble.

The Mayo Clinic does a nice job of discussing the differences between the two systems and includes this chart.



Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth. Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Spray synthetic insecticides to reduce pests and disease. Spray pesticides from natural sources; use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Use synthetic herbicides to manage weeds. Use environmentally-generated plant-killing compounds; rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth. Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

Is it really the nutrition argument that we need to wrestle with?

The real answer to nutritional value comes from the soil. The healthier and more mineral and biologically rich the soil is the better the nutritional value of the product. Remember the expression, “you are what you eat”? It goes for plants, too. Richer soils bring greater nutrition to the product regardless of the farming method used.

But here is the catch: After time in a traditional industrial ag system, the soil health degrades substantially and becomes only a medium to host the plant. After time, it contains limited life and health and hence, the nutritional value of the product declines as well. In an organic system, however, the soil health is everything and the continuance of the life of the soil is the primary goal and the food nutritional value is maintained.

This is why it is so hard to see a headline like the NYT article. To continue on the health attributes of organic, let’s look at the protein side of the discussion. Below, see what the US allows the industrial farm community to feed the animals we eat:

  • Dairy cows – antibiotics, pig & chicken byproducts, hormones (for growth), pesticides, sewage sludge
  • Beef cows – antibiotics, pig & chicken byproducts, steroids, hormones, pesticides, sewage sludge
  • Pigs – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs (growth hormones are prohibited)
  • Broiler chickens – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs (growth hormones are prohibited)
  • Egg laying hens – antibiotics, animal byproducts, pesticides, sewage sludge, arsenic-based drugs

This information is taken from a discussion on organic food in They do a good job of reviewing what it means to eat on either side of this discussion. But the question again is asked which animal would you rather eat a naturally grown one or the one that lives in a cesspool being feed whatever is available with steroid and antibiotic cocktail.

What we really need to consider is the complete and total solution to health: environmental, community, worker, and consumer. If we do this we will clearly see that the argument of industrial or organic is not even close. In fact, the argument is so close that most of the discussion running for the past 30 years is not whether it is a healthier system but whether you can feed the growing masses with organic farming. Industrial Agriculture says no, of course. There are many ways to pull that argument apart, but that is for another time.


This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. I agree that the study may be funded by those in favor of industrial farming so as to promote their products. It won’t be a great study at all since there is bias in the data being collected. People know when they are defeated that’s why they go to extreme means of advertising seeing that there is no competition at all with them on the losing side.

  2. Thank you for providing the link to the New York Times article that presented the food science study by Stanford University scientists. The lead researcher for the project, Dr. Bravata (I hope I spelled that correctly), specifically stated, in approximately the 5th paragraph, that no outside funding was used for the study. That is contrary to the opening sentences of your post here, which states that the study findings are biased because it was funded by commercial agriculture. I cannot reconcile this discrepancy. If you are correct, that is the logical equivalent of alleging that Dr. Bravata’s quoted statement to the New York Times was a falsehood. Or that Dr. Bravata does not know the source of his research funding, yet you do. Is that correct?

    Also, the NY Times article said that the study was based on forty (40) years of accumulated research, which they referred to as a “meta-study”. You said that that sort of study was methodologically flawed. I am not an experimental research scientist, merely an engineer and Wharton Graduate School MBA type. You may have different expertise than I do. I remain puzzled: Why are the researchers at Stanford University unaware of their study’s fundamental methodological shortcomings?

    1. Thank you, Ellie, for your comment. Let me try and clarify what I was drilling into. First of all, the NYT headline, which was picked up all over the country, is terrible. The facts on Organic vs Industrial agriculture are clear. The environmental issues and the health issues of the workers are irrefutable. The other aspect of eating pesticide content in your food is addressed in the study but not the headline. Nor is the health effects of these residual chemicals.

      Finally, you are right that the Stanford Study by Dr. Bravata is a “meta study” of other studies, which I suggest have been at least half-funded by the Industrial Agriculture companies as they have the money, the resources and motive to fund them. By doing a random sample you will find this is true and even underestimated. I find it tragic that almost every Ag School in the country is funded by the Industrial Agriculture companies and that there is almost no funding for Organic Ag. This is a sad phenomena that has deep repercussions and we have to stay aware of what we are eating and how our food is grown.

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