Nonorganic foods have greater unseen costs
Betsy Hart's Aug. 25 opinion piece on organic food was remarkably uninformed, considering how much information is now available about organics and how little of it Hart bothered to review. Relying on a single, brief Time magazine article by celebrity surgeon Sanjay Gupta, Hart concludes the organic label is virtually fraudulent, and trumpets her decision to serve her family chemical produce. It is certainly her right, but not nearly as righteous and wise as she supposes.
Hart imagines only three possible differences between organic and conventional food: price, pesticide residue and nutritional content. Dismissing pesticide residues as harmless and nutritional content as equivalent, Hart triumphantly declares any price differential a rip-off. This is simplistic, cynical rhetoric.
Pesticides and herbicides are powerful poisons. They kill thousands of farmworkers and others every year, along with millions of fish and birds. Hart's indifference to her kids accumulating these toxins in their bodies over a lifetime is nothing to brag about. As Gupta acknowledged, research shows organic fruits contain higher levels of flavonoids, antioxidants associated with lower risk of dementia, cancers and heart disease. That Hart considers this a waste of her money demonstrates her values, not her knowledge. Hart also overlooks that Gupta speculated (without support) that processing might "possibly" eliminate benefits of organic; Hart irresponsibly drops "possibly" and inserts "any benefit." Bad journalism.
Hart's penny-wisdom and pound-foolishness overlooks the real cost of the industrial agriculture system beyond her household. A billion pounds of pesticides and 20 million tons of synthetic fertilizers -- both derived from fossil fuels -- dumped annually into the soil, water, wildlife and people in the United States. These fertilizers are the world's single largest source of nitrous oxide emissions, a far more potent contributor to global warming than carbon dioxide, and fertilizer runoff creates algae blooms and polluted ground water. Hart's fruit is "cheap" in part because it is grown on huge, computerized farms sucking irrigation water from streams and aquifers. It is then trucked across the country and flown around the world on jets, using more petroleum and generating more greenhouse gases.
The billions in farm subsidies that give Hart her "cheap" fruit give us a diet rich in high fructose corn syrup and chicken nuggets, and along with it, soaring rates of obesity and diabetes.
Whether or not one consumes meat, the industrial feedlot system gives us water pollution from vast manure lagoons, and e. coli in our beef from pharmaceutical-pumped cattle that live in their wastes. Imagining these are all "separate issues" is a fantasy; the parts of the system are interdependent, and they have heavy costs not only to health and the environment, but to the taxpayers who are subsidizing Hart's "cheap" fruit.
To be sure, buying organic fruit from a huge farm in Chile or California burns fossil fuels and defeats several benefits of organic. The answer is not to abandon organic, but to buy locally grown organic food from the small Hawaii growers who work the aina. Educated shoppers can find an array of local organic produce, from kale to coffee, at farmers' markets and health food stores.
Paul H. Achitoff is the managing attorney in Hawaii for Earthjustice.