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Organic food: Just a superstition

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted August 3, 2009

The Green Movement has been called "the new religion." It surely isn't that. Religion is a belief in a higher power than humanity. The Green movement believes nothing is more powerful than a press release from the Sierra Club or a lawsuit filed by Greenpeace.

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine recently reviewed 162 scientific papers published over 50 years—and found that "there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically grown foods over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority." This is no surprise.

The first researcher to announce the health futility of organic foods was Lady Eve Balfour, one of the sainted organic pioneers. She turned her English estate into an experimental farm, to "prove" organic food was better. She finally admitted in 1977 that 30 years of testing had produced no evidence of nutritional or health differences for organic.

This will make no difference to the sales of organic food because organic food buyers are irrational. They think buying the most expensive foods buys longer, happier lives. No such luck. If organic were healthier, African subsistence farmers would have been outliving American housewives and stockbrokers for the past 90 years.  

Instead, Americans eating industrially fertilized and genetically modified crops have been outliving Somalis and Nigerians by about 30 years. We not only have ample high-yield food, but our lives are also protected by vaccines, antibiotics and sterile operating rooms.

There is only one known way to extend your life through eating, and that's to eat more fruits and vegetables. The quarter of the population that eats the most fruits and vegetables has about half the cancer risk of the quarter that eats the least. The produce doesn't have to be organic, local—or even fresh. Canned, frozen, and imported produce will serve just about as well.

But such knowledge isn't nearly as powerful as superstitions like "eating organic" to avoid "depleting the topsoil." No-till farming, with herbicides, saves far more topsoil than organic farming, but again that's only knowledge.    

Greens keep telling me that humans are even powerful enough to "change the earth's climate" Forget the sun!  During the Little Ice Age, the sun was weak and crops failed repeatedly. More than a thousand "witches" were burned to wrest control of the climate back from Satan—just in Bern, Switzerland. Wiesenstag, Germany, burned 63 women as witches in one year, 1563. Now that is superstition at work!

Of course, most of the "witches" were elderly widows whose husbands were no longer growing food for them. Many were mentally ill. So, maybe it was also self-serving behavior. It certainly predicted the idea of abortions as a "solution" to global warming. Even if that doesn't stop the warming, the old planet will be a little less "crowded." 

Religion in recent centuries has mostly prodded us toward treating our fellow men more humanely. The Green movement has no such lofty pretentions. If the world went all-organic, half the humans would die of starvation. Most of the remaining wildlife habitat would be plowed down to make room for more low-yield crops. That's an even uglier outcome than we can expect from President Obama's commitment to cut U.S. fossil fuel emissions by 80 percent. And just about as useful.

Excuse me now, I have to find a black cat. ESR

Dennis T. Avery is an environmental economist, and a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.  He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421 or email to cgfi@hughes.net.

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