My recent piece, “Why this Mom Boycotts Organic and Will Never Shop at Whole Foods” garnered quite a bit of social media feedback ranging from reverence to hatred. Critical thinkers and parents appreciated the post exposing misconceptions about the organic industry. Yet others accused me of poisoning my children, being an industry shill disguised as a mother, and called me vile names I won’t repeat here.
I wanted to briefly address one thoughtful comment that caught my eye. This comment is from a regular on my Facebook page. I always appreciate his thoughtful contributions, and I can see his perspective here. I absolutely agree that there is nothing inherently evil about capitalism. After all I like to shop, often at national chain retailers.
As he states, genetic modification technology has the potential to create a “better product.” One example of such a “better product” is the recently FDA approved Simplot Innate potato engineered to reduce browning and bruising, and decrease formation of acrylamide, a carcinogenic compound that occurs when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures. Another is the first non-browning Arctic Apple, still awaiting government approval. Another point on which I agree: While I’m no fan of Whole Foods, it definitely has an excellent grasp of its consumer base, and is very successful for that reason.
What I must question is the all too common idea of an “altruistic organic approach.”
This notion is one of the main reasons I condemn organic and Whole Foods. This ubiquitous fallacy that organic is “good,” and that organic farmers and sellers “care more” is no more than a brilliant marketing ploy. The former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman himself once stated, ” “Let me be clear about one thing. The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.”
The concept of “woe is the farmer,” the little guy against the behemoth Big Ag is quite pervasive. Along with the fallacy that organic farming doesn’t use pesticides, this earthy image of natural, small, noble organic farms is one of the organic industry’s most successful marketing tactics.
As Science 2.0 recently reported, many conventional farmers don’t make the switch because of ethics. These particular farmers believe that going organic is a strategic tactic based largely in ideology. The organic industry’s massive growth from under $60 billion in 2010 to a projected $105 billion in 2015, even during an economic recession, evidences that organic targets a well-to-do consumer base. Some of this consumer base may be gullible, some image-conscious, and others may believe misconceptions about the organic industry.
Organic Valley leads this ideological movement along with Whole Foods
The world’s biggest organic producer cooperative, Organic Valley began in my home state of Wisconsin, the second biggest organic farming state in the nation after California. Organic Valley’s website is full of utter falsehoods that make this science advocate’s blood boil. Just one of many unscientific myths propagated on Organic Valley’s website is the claim that “Genetically engineered crops are a relatively recent technology with potentially devastating impacts on ecosystems and human and animal health.” GE crops have been around since the 1970s, without one single adverse health effect. Furthermore, we know that GM soybeans, cotton, and corn have reduced pesticide use and increased yield. Organic Valley also posits that organic foods are more nutrient dense that their conventional counterparts. This has been proven false. A 2012 meta-analysis of over 200 studies found that organic produce is no more nutritious than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
Next on the list of Organic Valley fallacies is this gem: “Organic food and farming can help slow and potentially reverse the rising incidence of overweight, obesity and diabetes…” There is absolutely zero evidence that conventional or biotech farming has any link to obesity, or diabetes. This type of rhetoric puts a mistaken onus on consumers to protect their health with a slew of products, namely organic foods, that simply aren’t inherently healthier than their less pricey counterparts.
Last but not least, Organic Valley has the gall to claim that organic foods “help promote healthy cell division” and “metabolic development” with nary a link to a study to support this hogwash. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, Organic Valley. Put up or shut up.
The website gets away with using scientific-sounding jargon to convince its audience that there’s a valid reason to buy organic products.
Hypocrisy in action: GMO opponents distrust the government, all while Organic Valley executives shape USDA policy
Time and again, I’ve seen anti-vaccine and anti-GMO advocates bemoan the U.S. government, questioning its affiliations and wondering what corporate bigwigs are paying under the table to shape policy. “The FDA and USDA have been bought out by big industry!” opponents shout. Dr. Mercola cites conflict of interest between the USDA and the biotech food industry. Natural News claims collusion between the U.S. government and the agricultural biotechnology industry. Yet Big Organic cooperatives get away scot-free with proudly stating that they’ve spent countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting against GMOs and directly shaping USDA regulations. The Organic Consumers Association is largely funded by organic retailers, and in turn lobbies for stricter organic standards, and higher market share. Organic industry behemoths’ ability to influence the government in the name of altruism is unbelievably shrewd. This double standard that demonizes biotech while allowing big organic to influence public policy with nary an eyelash batted is completely illogical.
Yet, why should we expect any better? The Organic Valleys and Whole Foods of the world are talking primarily to an audience that doesn’t understand basic genetics. As the colossal growth of the organic industry demonstrates, it’s easy to manipulate a largely scientifically illiterate public. Companies like this have no choice but to perpetuate a non-evidence-based ideology disguised as fact.
Without spreading the message that (and I quote) Organic Valley are altruistic “stewards of the earth,” that GMOs are inherently dangerous, and that organic is the way to sustainability and wholesomeness, these conglomerates’ business models would never thrive. As I often say, I’m not against capitalism. What I vehemently oppose is the perpetuation of unscientific drivel in the name of nothing more than profit. I continue to stand by my stance that organic is the scam of the decade.