Organic Food Is Such Produce More Healthful, Safer?

February 28, 2000
The Columbus Dispatch

In the past few decades, the popularity of organically grown food has grown enormously. Stores selling it have sprung up across the country, usually in neighborhoods catering to relatively well-off customers.

Proponents of organic food say it is more healthful, safer and better for the environment, because its production requires fewer chemicals that eventually would pollute waterways. The last claim may have some validity, but the "healthful'' and "safer'' image is not necessarily true. There is no intention here to dissuade anyone from using organic food but merely to put the matter in perspective.

In an ABC television 20/20 show earlier this month, reporter John Stossel questioned Katherine DiMatteo, director of the Organic Trade Association, representing farmers and retailers. Stossel asked DiMatteo whether organic foods are more nutritious than others.

After several evasive answers, she said, "It is as nutritious as any other food on the market. (It) is not particularly a food-safety claim. That's not what our standards are about.''

That's a revelation. If a chief spokeswoman for organic foods says they are not safer or more nutritious than other foods, her statement runs counter to what approximately half the public believes.

While proponents of these foods are correct in asserting that reducing the use of chemicals on produce will mean cleaner waterways, another issue is worth considering: If all food were grown organically, the farms would use twice the land that now is under agricultural production.

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides have made farmland much more productive than without them. Worldwide, more than a third of the Earth's land surface is given over to farming. Using even more land would have serious consequences.

Another issue: Manure is used to fertilize organic produce. Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues believes organic food is potentially more dangerous because of the high amounts of manure used to fertilize it. Manure is a known reservoir of bacteria dangerous to humans, including the deadly new strain of E. coli, 0157:H7.

If one thinks something is good for him, the psychological well-being that derives from that belief may be positive. But when consumers consider the purchase of any food, organic or not, knowing what is fact and what is ungrounded fancy can be useful.


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