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In the blink of an eye, organic vs.  nonorganic has taken center stage in our national discussion on healthy eating, pushing aside, for the moment, any responsible discussion of the evidence in exchange for quick thirty-second sound bites amongst friends and neighbors and by the press. The fact that an unexamined axiom can elevate a bit player in our health and well being to what is approaching an out-of-control fetish simply takes my breath away. An organic sticker affixed to our daily goods demands no footnote. Discussion is preempted.

Could it be that consumers flock to this ideology because of its simplicity rather than its inherent ability to actually improve health and well-being? Perception, after all, is reality. Could it really be that simple – conventional food is bad, organic good? Check the box and go on with my day.

In focusing on organic vs. conventionally grown foods at the expense of more important factors affecting human health, we are wasting valuable time, a boatload of money and mountains of good intentions that could very well make a real difference. Do we really believe that the 23 million diagnosed diabetics and 57 million pre-diabetics in the U.S. are so because they don’t eat organic? Or that increasing our consumption of organic foods would wipe away the horrifying fact that 81 million people suffer from one or more forms of cardiovascular disease or will reduce the nearly forty-percent of New York City youngsters that are overweight?

This should not be taken as some attack on the sacred cow of organic – we applaud our brothers and sisters doing their organic thing and trying to make the world a better place. Rather, it’s an attempt to draw attention to what is clearly a more complex problem and explore nutritional and business strategies that will get us all to a better place. This is why the idea of Naked Pizza is worth pursuing and the reason we spent the last few years developing and bringing our concept to market.

At the core, Naked Pizza is science-based – from our operations to our dough balls. Thus, in our early discussions the decision on whether to “go organic” with our ingredients and brand positioning boiled to some very simple questions: First, do organics offer a nutritional benefit to our customers beyond that which are achieved through conventionally grown foods and secondly, does an organic business model allow us to achieve a price point we can scale beyond a niche consumer base, all within the disciplined model of a limited number of rooftops in a tightly defined delivery radius? Since traditional organic agriculture forbids the use of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, yields are lower per planted acre and thus prices are on average, higher. The math was simple for us: if organics only feed 2 percent of the world’s population, what percentage of the households in our tightly defined delivery area(s) eat organic and what percentage of those would swallow the higher price point on a frequent enough basis to justify our existence in the neighborhoods of America? I know its Byzantine and boring, but no matter how we sliced it, we could not figure out how to scale the niche of organic with our model and as far as we are aware, nor has anyone else.

But more important to us than the mathematics of delivery areas and economics of cost of goods, was the science of the health benefits associated with a diet of organic foods and in our case, pizza. I have found that the health benefits of organic foods is not a concept that’s well understood by folks who talk about it the most, and those people and groups who are in a position to understand the science are near silent. The human health benefits of organic foods is festooned with so many misconceptions that it’s difficult to know where to begin. So, I will cut to the chase and point to two recently published analysis that summarize 1) the nutritional quality of organic foods and 2) the human health benefits associated.

The myth of organics’ nutritional superiority

In a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from various research institutes throughout the UK systematically culled and reviewed 52,471 articles relating to nutritional quality of organic and conventionally grown foods published over the last 50 years. From this massive set of peer-reviewed papers, they identified 162 studies (137 on crops and 25 livestock products) relevant to the question at hand and of those, 55 were of satisfactory quality to be considered in the pooled meta-analysis. They looked at 1,149 comparisons among nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and so forth, to determine whether organic foods pack a bigger nutrient punch. The researchers concluded the following:

“On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced food stuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.”

Oops.

In a follow-up article this past July, the same researchers published an article in the same journal, but this time they pored over 98,727 peer-reviewed articles looking for any measurable health benefits of organic foods as a result of controlled clinical and other scientific studies. There were so few relevant studies (n=12) the researchers stated “no quantitative meta-analysis was justified” and concluded that:

“From a systematic review of the currently available published literature, evidence is lacking for nutrition-related health effects that result from the consumption of organically produced foodstuffs.”

Oops, again.

When faced with the human nutritional realities above, organic defenders often shrug and then quickly retreat to the safety blanket of “organic foods are cleaner and purer alternatives to chemically intensive practices of conventional agriculture.” True. But fertilizers today are much safer than their pre-1970 counterparts that so much of the conversation feeds off. 

Consider: Bruce Ames, a molecular biologist, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center at the University of California at Berkeley does not think synthetic chemicals are innocuous. But he likes to point out the oft-overlooked fact that “99.9 percent of the toxic chemicals we’re exposed to are completely natural.” This is not a trivial detail. Ames is pointing to the simple fact that when we consume the average plant – organic or not – we “consume about 50 toxic chemicals” as natural pesticides occurring both within and on the food surface.  It is true that most plants do not want to be eaten and have therefore natural defenses.

The tit-for-tat that takes place between applying or not applying synthetic fertilizers would be more productive if we did maintain a healthy skepticism but based it on accurate scientific information rather than ideological presuppositions or fear. For example: Organic farmers are allowed to use sulfur, copper, zinc oxide and copper sulfate as natural fungicides. All of these substances are deemed dangerous, “high mammalian toxcitiy” and “highly toxic” in certain dosages according to California worker injury stats, the EPA and the WHO, respectively.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Terry Tufts
    112808987
    All well and good from the human perspective. I question the safeness of the fertilizer from an environmental perspective. The size of the blue algae bloom in the Gulf is outrageous due to farm drainage down the water basin leading to the Gulf of Mexico...not that the oil spill helped. The other issue is organic is generally smaller than non. Nothing wrong with that. Nutritionally, you'll get no argument from me. Thanks for the article.
  • Chris Moyer
    112803157
    This was a very difficult blog to read for me. It completely dismisses the holistic nature of organic agriculture and the benefits of such growing methods. If you're going to point out one side of the issue, you should take the time and explain the side. Furthermore, this piece provides no clarity on the topic whatsoever. Instead, it breeds confusion and seems very much like a marketing piece to me which hurts, I feel, the credibility of this website.
  • Jennifer Litz
    112796053
    Chris: Leach's blog is his own perspective on the issue, not house reportage. We strive for our bloggers to cover the entire spectrum of information and opinion on a given topic, as it inspires a healthy debate and illumination of the entire industry's views.
  • Jeff Leach
    112773410
    To Terry Tufts: thanks for the thoughtful comments. you are spot on.

    To Chris Moyer: thanks for the comments. the post was not about the holistic nature of organic agriculture - which i do not disagree with. its was about the pervasive misunderstanding that organically grown foods 1) provide more nutrients and 2) they result in increased health benefits - neither of which is supported by the data. clearly pointing to the data. as for pointing out the other side of the issue, i would, if there was one on the increased benefits on consuming organically grown foods. again, just stating the science. as for breeding confusion? i'm actually attempting to bring clarity with the data. as pointed out by the editor, its about having a discussion. looking forward to any clarity and facts you would like to add to the "specific" points raised in the post. either way, thanks for taking the time to comment.
  • Vaughan Lazar
    112112690
    Jeff, I appreciate your eloquent post as well as your point of view. However, though some may dispute the nutritional merits of organics, I challenge anyone to explain to me how it can be good for my health to be exposed to chemicals (even at diluted levels) that are designed to kill the nervous systems of living organisms. And of course we know that such chemicals aren’t good for the ecosystems where they’re used, which these days means all around us, not to mention for the workers who pick and process the ingredients. And though you clearly admit the article is "not about the holistic nature of organic farming," we both know that there is no other way to farm.

    I could also point out a bunch of facts, like you attempted to do, linking pesticides and synthetic hormones to ADHD in children, cancer, Autism, and even obesity, but what will that do? I mean, who cares about that stuff anyway?

    I have a feeling that we may never see eye-to-eye on this crazy "out of control fetish," but I'm okay with that. There was a time, not too long ago, where people thought secondhand smoke was okay and you could even smoke on airplanes and in restaurants. I also recall a time where scholars, even those going for their PhDs, argued that the world was flat…funny how things shake out.

    What saddens me the most is that both of our companies are trying to accomplish a similar goal: Serve a healthier alternative to a typically crappy offering. You even point out that "organics isn't going to solve the real problem of childhood obesity and diabetes" and part of that statement is true: Organics ALONE can't solve the problem, but if your ancestral grains and food via science teamed up with other companies, like Pizza Fusion (rather than positioning yourself against them), we just might make a difference…together. I guess this is where business and the almighty dollar get in the way. So I suppose the two "little guys" will hang out on blogs and fight it out?! Not me.

    I must admit I liked you better when you were challenging Papa John to a game of hoops for the pink slip to his Camaro, but now you've resorted to spending a lot of your time and energy trying to debunk such a minuscule percentage of the marketplace. Since the real problem is diabetes and childhood obesity, let’s make a difference and attack it together.

    I am writing this simply because I suck at basketball and I DO believe organics make the world a better place, as well as a much healthier pizza.

    “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society." ~ Vince Lombardi
  • Jennifer Rose
    112111421
    The Organic Trade Association (OTA) would like to bring readers’ attention to important information that is not presented in this blog. Several studies have shown that organic production is on par with, and sometimes superior to, conventional production levels, Findings by the U.N. Environment Programme, for example, showed that organic practices raise yields, improve the soil, and boost the income of developing countries’ small farmers. Similarly, the Long-term Agro-ecological Research (LTAR) initiative at Iowa State University’s Neely-Kinyon Farm found yields equal or greater than conventional counterparts for organic corn, soybeans and oats. In 2007, for instance, the organic corn yielded more than the conventional with 209 bushels per acre compared to 188 bushes per acre for the conventional corn. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Michigan found that organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming on the same amount of land in developing countries.

    Next, OTA would like to point out there is mounting evidence (http://www.organicitsworthit.org/organic-food-article/nutritional-considerations) that organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains may offer more of some nutrients, including vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, than their counterparts grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. For example, a two-year study led by John Reganold of Washington State University that provided side-by-side comparisons of organic and conventional strawberry farms showed organic farms produced more flavorful and nutritious berries while promoting healthier and more genetically diverse soils. Findings in the paper showed organic strawberries had significantly higher antioxidant activity and concentrations of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), among other things.

    Moreover, studies linking non-organic practices to increased health risks are beginning to prove more conclusively the many benefits that organic agriculture has to offer farmers, the land, our water supplies, air, and ultimately, the health of the planet and those living on it. The U.S. President’s Cancer Panel report released in May exhorts consumers to choose food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, and growth hormones to help decrease their exposure to environmental chemicals that can increase their risk of contracting cancer. Also, a study published May 17 in Pediatrics concluded that exposure to organophosphate pesticides—prohibited in organic production—at levels common among U.S. children may contribute to the prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in these children.

    Finally, OTA would like to clarify that all synthetic substances used in organic agriculture undergo review by the National Organic Standards Board before they are permitted for use. If they complete the review process and are deemed acceptable for use in organic agriculture, by law they may not be used in a way that contributes to the contamination of crops, soil, or water.
  • Jeff Leach
    111981178
    Hey Vaughan (pizza fusion founder),

    Thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful comment about the blog post above. You bring up a few points, so I will address them each:

    Your comment: “I challenge anyone to explain to me how it can be good for my health to be exposed to chemicals (even at diluted levels) that are designed to kill the nervous systems of living organisms” – Vaughan, I could not agree with you more and that is why I pointed out that “99.9 percent of the toxic chemicals we’re exposed to are completely natural.” As I pointed out in the blog, I do not have an issue with organic food – with eat a combination of organic and conventional foods in my house. What do have a problem with is the carefully cultivated illusion that organic foods are pesticide-free and somehow more nutritious – and somehow have a greater positive impact on overall health and well-being. This is simply not supported by the facts.

    Your comments above support the myth that organic farming is pesticide free – which is NOT true and concerning that someone in the business would continue to spread this myth among its customers or even worse, you are not aware of their use. Pretending that organic farmers do not use pesticides will not make them go away and resorting to verbal gymnastics to describe pesticides used in organic farming as “extracts” and “rock dusts” do not make them any less toxic. And the USDAs National Organic Rule that refers to them as “inputs” and “substance” and “material” in place of the more accurate term pesticide is troubling.

    And since you mentioned that you were concerned with pesticides that are “designed to kill the nervous systems of living organisms” I thought I might remind you of the definition of a pesticide as any “preparation for destroying plant, fungal, or animal pests.” With that statement you seem to be unaware that pesticides used by organic farmers are designed to do just that. For a quick look at pesticides used “widely” in commercial organic farming – which provides the vast majority of organically grown foods – take a look at the Organic Materials Review Institute. For example, organic farmers use horticultural oils (insecticides) derived from highly refined crude oil (yep) and plants. These are mixed with water and an emulsifier and sprayed on crops. These oils work primarily suffocate insects physically and disrupt insect feeding behavior and insect metabolism chemically.

    Organic farmers also use sulfur – a contact poison – mainly as a fungicide, but also as an insecticide. In general, sulfur has a relatively low toxicity to humans, birds, fish etc – but do to its HEAVY APPLICATION rates in organic farming, it is believed to represent a greater environmental risk than many synthetic fungicides (see Kovach, J. et al 1992 – A method to measure the environmental impact of pesticides for a quick overview). Copper compounds are also used by organic farmers- which are allowed under the USDA National Organic Program. Again, since you pointed out your concern for anything that kills living organisms you should understand that copper application in organic farming has a high toxicity to fish – and the widely used copper sulfate is considered “highly toxic” by the EPA. Note the EU says it will soon phase out the use of copper sulfates in the near future do to environmental concerns. Note that the ban was supposed to have begun on 2003 but was delayed since organic farmers complained that they would have no effective way to control fungal disease otherwise.

    Pyrethrins are another interesting substance used in organic farming. Extracted from chrysanthemum (sp?), it’s a chemical nerve toxin. Again, since you pointed out you were concerned with pesticides that “kill the nervous systems of living organisms” I thought I would point out that the application of pyrethrins are toxic to aquatic life and is classified as a “Restricted Use Pesticide” by the EPA and also classified by the same EPA as a “likely human carcinogen” after it was shown to cause tumors in rats. Rotenone is another toxin used by organic farmers. Extracted from crushed roots, its often poured in ponds to kill fish – in fact, its one of the most effective “piscicides” known (it disrupts muscle coordination among other things). Its also a suspected carcinogen, teratogen (birth defects), and so on – also causes Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms in rats.

    One of my favorite’s is Bacillus thuringiensis (aka Bt). It’s a soil bacteria that produces a protein toxic to caterpillars. I actually use this one at my house to protect my okra. Organic farmers use this one “extensively.” The toxins kills the lining of a caterpillars gut, causing death. Bt is widely used by organic and non organic farmers. Spinosand is another another organic pesticide produced by DOW Chemical. The active chemicals (yes, chemical in organic pesticides) in spinosand cause involuntary muscle contractions and paralysis. Neem extract (like nicotine and cocaine) is obtained from seeds of a south american lilly. It works by disrupting the nerve cells, leading to death.

    And the list goes on Vaughn. Note that in most instances, organic farmers spray as much as 10 times more pesticide per acre than their non organic counter parts. Again,, lets be clear – we are not talking about what you, I or regular folks use in their backyards – we are talking about commercial organic farmers that supply thr vast majority of the organic produce. They are sprayed more as they rapidly break down – but not before delivering rapid “knock down” in the field of the target insect. One of these is pyrethroids. The synthetic version is actually more effective at killing the insects and break down to non toxic byproducts. Because of their effectiveness, the synthetic version sprayed twice will do a better job than the “natural” version sprayed 10 times while posing no greater threat to the environment and less risk to farm workers.

    Which brings me to my next point: organic farmers use more pesticides than conventional farmers. I know – shocking. Oil and sulfur are the two most widely used pesticides in the US in terms of ttl pounds per acre (www.ncfap.org/database/default.htm) - copper also ranks high. Coil, sulfur and copper accounted for a whopping 62% of ttl applied insecticides and fungicides applied to US crops in 1997. Why do these “organic” pesticides account for such a huge percentage of the ttl applied to US crops – even though organic crops make up a small % of all acreage farmed in the US? Mainly because they are less effective. Even though the avg copper application is 4 pounds, organic famers apply at a rate of 14 pounds per acre. Sulfur is applied at a rate of 144 pounds per acre by organic farmers, even though the avg is only 30 pounds for conventional farmers. And oils are applied at a rate of 72 pounds per acre by organic folks – 50 pounds by the other guys. Synthetic insecticides are applied at avg rates of 1 to 4 pounds per acre, one-tenth to one-fiftieth the application of organic oils (note some new instecticides such as imidocloprid, are averaging rates of less than 0.5 poun per acre – which is one-hundredth the application of organic oil.

    Even though organic activists point out that these statistics only prove how much more poisonous synthetic pesticides are compared to organic applications (which is partially true). But more reasonable question would be, toxic to what? Lets take spinosad discussed above for example – used by organic and non organic farmers. Its highly toxic to insects but has a low toxicity to mammals. Organic and conventional farmers are protecting acres of land with less spinosad that would be needed to make even a single person slightly nauseous – let alone seriously harmed.

    Vaughn, I could go on and I want even bring up herbicides. I don’t bring facts to the table because we are anti organic – we are not. We just think a more honest discourse is in order – especially for companies who sell finished products to customers. Organic farming is NOT pesticide free. Organic farm practices (commercial) pose as many (if not more in some cases) human health and environmental risks as synthetic pesticides used by “today’s” non organic farmer. Organic pesticides also pose their own ethical quandaries when you consider the child labor in poor countries used to harvest such things as pyrethrum flowers in Africa.

    As for your comment “we both know that there is no other way to farm.” Its actually difficult to believe you can make this comment. The science on this is clear (see Mader et al. 2002, the journal Science, Soil fertility and biodiversity in organic farming – the most prestigious science journal in the world). In short, to feed a global population that is supposed to increase 50% in the next few decades, there is NO other way as organic farming not only yields less per acre, it requires a shit ton more land when you consider the “entire” farm cycle (aka whole farm) – ie, nitrate fertilizers from cows – yes, the fertilizer has to be shipped in from farms that have animals and you CANNOT grow organic or non organic foods without nitrate. It would be more helpful if organic farmers start referencing sound science on yields, rather than cursory studies – the stakes are too high for such antics. Its estimated that an additional 3-5 billion cattle would be needed to generate enough nitrate fertilizer to support the organic farming. This says nothing of the additional 30-40% more land needed to support the cattle. Really, you want the world to farm organically? Ignoring these basic facts are not helping solve real world problems.

    Vaughn, as for your point: “I have a feeling that we may never see eye-to-eye on this crazy "out of control fetish," but I'm okay with that. There was a time, not too long ago, where people thought secondhand smoke was okay and you could even smoke on airplanes and in restaurants. I also recall a time where scholars, even those going for their PhDs, argued that the world was flat…funny how things shake out.”

    Note even sure what these means. If you mean sound science and the facts when the day, then I would suggest we are on the same page – kind of the point of everything we are saying about organic vs conventional. Funny how sticking to the facts help us move forward.

    As for your statement: “What saddens me the most is that both of our companies are trying to accomplish a similar goal: Serve a healthier alternative to a typically crappy offering. You even point out that "organics isn't going to solve the real problem of childhood obesity and diabetes" and part of that statement is true: Organics ALONE can't solve the problem, but if your ancestral grains and food via science teamed up with other companies, like Pizza Fusion (rather than positioning yourself against them), we just might make a difference…together. I guess this is where business and the almighty dollar get in the way. So I suppose the two "little guys" will hang out on blogs and fight it out?! Not me. “

    As I pointed out, we are not against organics – even though people want to position as us as anti-organic. Note that half of the grains in our ancestral blend are organic. They are not included in our mix because they are healthier for the human body and earth, but because I could only find them in an organic format. What you guys do in your business is your business – I don’t need to tell you how hard it is to open and keep stores open. We have decided to pursue a more sustainable business model that will actually allow us to make a difference. The idea that people should “think b4 they bite” will only achieve cultural influence if we can open hundreds, if not thousands of units. We think that founding a business on organic vs conventionally produced ingredients is the wrong tactic. First, because there IS NO health benefit to serving organic vs conventional foods (follow the science please) and even worse, it takes the consumers eye of the ball. I’m afraid people are starting to think if its organic, then they need not think any further. A pizza crust made with 100% organic high gluten flour is not any better for you than a glazed donut. We need serious solutions to our chronic problems, not ideologies that peddle voodoo. To put it bluntly, pursing the myth of an organic utopia in the fast food business in which we both operate, will only result in more human suffering as it pertains to acute and chronic disease. We need a more intelligent conversation based on sound biological science and clear understanding of the cause of disease and ailments. Strategies that view the world through rose-colored glasses reliant upon revisionist history of the facts. This is not a game and playing with the health and well being of our customers to satisfy the ideology of a few is not going to make the masses any healthier.


    You stated: “I must admit I liked you better when you were challenging Papa John to a game of hoops for the pink slip to his Camaro, but now you've resorted to spending a lot of your time and energy trying to debunk such a minuscule percentage of the marketplace. Since the real problem is diabetes and childhood obesity, let’s make a difference and attack it together.”

    We are not trying to debunk anything. We are trying to bring clarity and facts to the table. We are with you brother, but we think you energy and efforts would better serve the cause if it actually focused in ingredients and a business model that could scale and make a difference. We will go our own path – as will Pizza Fusion. We are there to assist like-minded individuals and companies. However, we think your business model confuses the topic and misses the real opportunity to make a difference. Even worse, we are wasting valuable time if we think the key to optimal health rests in a decision between and organic vs natural pizza.

    We think the conversation is better served with talking points about diversity of nutrients, low GI, and feeding the entire human super-organism – our genome and the microbiome within. We live in a biological world dominated by single cell organisms so small we can scarcely fathom their dominating role in our health. Our lives are awash in insulin, triggered by a nutritional landscape that looks nothing like the diverse landscape that our genome was selected. Repeat after me: modern human beings are genetically adapted to the environment in which our ancestors survived and which conditioned our genetic makeup. Translation: the ancient genomes we carry with us today make us ill equipped to deal with the rapid changes in technology and culture that has shaped – and continues to shape – our modern nutritional landscape. When this happens discordance occurs and we get sick. Sometimes it manifests acutely, such as in the case of diarrhea, but more often than not chronically, as with the case of autoimmune diseases, some cancers, heart disease, diabetes, tea party affiliation, and the list goes on. Organic vs conventionally foods has NOTHING to do with this. Zip. Zero.

    Nevertheless, we respect you guys for taking the chance – working your ass off – and trying to do what you think is right in the world by your investors and customers. And we wish you guys the best.

    “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler,” Albert Einstein

    Peace out brother.

    Jeff
  • Jeff Leach
    111639402
    TO: Jennifer Rose (organic trade association):

    Thanks for your comment above on this blog post. You raise several points so let me respond point by point:

    You state: "The Organic Trade Association (OTA) would like to bring readers’ attention to important information that is not presented in this blog. Several studies have shown that organic production is on par with, and sometimes superior to, conventional production levels, Findings by the U.N. Environment Programme, for example, showed that organic practices raise yields, improve the soil, and boost the income of developing countries’ small farmers."

    OK. But, its no great secret the U.N Environment Programme has become a wholly-owned subsidiary and mouthpiece for organic religion (you might also check out Robert Paarlberg’s recent book “Starved for Science” for a unbiased and fact-based analysis of the UN’s program. I have owned a copy for years and find it a constant source of science-based information). Respectfully, the UN’s findings showed that compared to doing nothing else, organic methods help farmers. That is a far cry from concluding that organic methods are the best, in agronomic, economic, or environmental terms.

    You state: "Similarly, the Long-term Agro-ecological Research (LTAR) initiative at Iowa State University’s Neely-Kinyon Farm found yields equal or greater than conventional counterparts for organic corn, soybeans and oats. In 2007, for instance, the organic corn yielded more than the conventional with 209 bushels per acre compared to 188 bushes per acre for the conventional corn."

    Devil is in the details. A closer look at the Iowa state data on organic vs conventional research – along with the research from Rodale - show that in a corn-soy rotation, organic farming can be yield competitive – however, only adding “extraneous” swine manure – and Rodale adds poultry and dairy slurry. But this is ONE SPECIFIC crop rotation and still depends on exogenous nitrogen sources. From a "whole farm" perspective – which is conveniently ignored – and focuses on a narrow crop rotation, organic farming methods fall far short time after time. For example, Mader et al. 2002 report in the article “Soil Fertility and Biodiversity in Organic Farming” in the journal Science, that their potato yields were 60% of conventional. That's typical for such a pest-prone crop. Organic wheat yields also don't compare well to conventional. Oats do fine and organic oat yields are always on par with conventional. But again, where will all the necessary exogenous nitrogen come from? i.e., the “whole farm” must be considered. The N in the swine manure Iowa State is applying came from conventional swine fed corn fertilized with synthetic N by the way.

    You state: "Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Michigan found that organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming on the same amount of land in developing countries."

    Really? It’s actually more than concerning that you are trying to pass off the Univ of Michigan study – after it has been torn apart six ways to Sunday from other researchers and high school students. This is concerning as “you clearly know” that the vast majority of regular consumers who see/read this reference will not actually look to the original study and not even question your reference to it. But I’m not a normal consumer. There are some many flaws with this study I don’t know where to start – so I’ll just bullet a few of the problems pointed out by many many others:
    1) 105 of the 199 studies claimed as “organic” by Michigan were not even organic – yikes!;
    2) Many of the “organic” examples were actually from GMO seeds (which, because they are GMO produce higher yields!;
    3) In the study they also labeled as “organic” 49 yield ratios from the “System of Rice Intensification” which is not organic. Combined, these represent 79% to 89% of the 133 “developing world” yield ratios included in the study;
    4) Double, triple and quintuple counting of yields from the same studies;
    5) Omitting non-favorable projects – this is called cherry picking by the way.

    And the list goes. The OTA really should stop referencing the Michigan study in its cut-n-paste strategy on blogs etc to promote organic – it’s not helping.

    You state: "Next, OTA would like to point out there is mounting evidence (http://www.organicitsworthit.org/organic-food-article/nutritional-considerations) that organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains may offer more of some nutrients, including vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, than their counterparts grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers."

    Again, really? Despite dozens of studies that have found essentially no meaningful differences, the evidence "is mounting"? Are there really hoards of developed world consumers suffering from magnesium, phosphorus, and/or vitamin C deficiencies? Please see the reference above in my post which references the massive meta-analysis recently published.

    You state: "For example, a two-year study led by John Reganold of Washington State University that provided side-by-side comparisons of organic and conventional strawberry farms showed organic farms produced more flavorful and nutritious berries while promoting healthier and more genetically diverse soils. Findings in the paper showed organic strawberries had significantly higher antioxidant activity and concentrations of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), among other things."

    As for John Reganold research, more pigment and vitamin C in 2 years of strawberries from a biased (organic grower) researcher is pretty thin soup. What about the reams of studies examined by the neutral, un-financially motivated researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, commissioned by the Food Standards Agency and later published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition? Please see studies I reference my original post that culled tens of thousands of studies.

    You state: "Moreover, studies linking non-organic practices to increased health risks are beginning to prove more conclusively the many benefits that organic agriculture has to offer farmers, the land, our water supplies, air, and ultimately, the health of the planet and those living on it."

    Studies are "beginning" to prove "more conclusively" simply ignores the actual facts.

    You state: "The U.S. President’s Cancer Panel report released in May exhorts consumers to choose food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, and growth hormones to help decrease their exposure to environmental chemicals that can increase their risk of contracting cancer."

    The cancer panel report was as clear-cut case of a political hatchet job. It was so bad that even the American Cancer Society released a statement from Michael J. Thun, MD, vice president emeritus, Epidemiology & Surveillance Research, stating that the report was "unbalanced by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer . . . The report is most provocative when it restates hypotheses as if they were established facts. For example, its conclusion that “the true burden of environmentally (i.e. pollution) induced cancer has been grossly underestimated” does not represent scientific consensus. Rather, it reflects one side of a scientific debate that has continued for almost 30 years."

    You state: "Also, a study published May 17 in Pediatrics concluded that exposure to organophosphate pesticides—prohibited in organic production—at levels common among U.S. children may contribute to the prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in these children."

    Right, so why has ADHD gone up even as organophsophate pesticide use has drastically declined? This is one of those sticky correlation does not equal causation things – yet we don’t even have a correlation, much less causation.

    You state: "Finally, OTA would like to clarify that all synthetic substances used in organic agriculture undergo review by the National Organic Standards Board before they are permitted for use. If they complete the review process and are deemed acceptable for use in organic agriculture, by law they may not be used in a way that contributes to the contamination of crops, soil, or water."

    That would be the NOSB that is run by and for the organic farming / trading / marketing industry? So why is it that NO TESTING is required of fields or product for such unwanted, unacceptable stuff? Why is paperwork, not pesticide residue testing, the basis for the organic standard? Is a once-per-year farm visit (preannounced) and a pile of paperwork that may have been filled out just hours before the "inspector" arrives really a substantive basis for a food purity claim? Why not just test the stuff? Or is it that most of the non-organic stuff would test pesticide-free (or nearly free, if you'll consider most pesticides are only found part per billion levels if they're found at all)?

    In summary, we have nothing against hard working farmers who produce either conventional or organic foods – nor anything against peoples right to choose the foods that want for themselves and families. But it would be useful if we stuck to the facts and not the hype.
  • Jennifer Rose
    111087293
    Thank you for your remarks. As you point out, the devil is in the details. As such, we’d ask that readers consider the following:

    •The studies you cite by the UK group have been shown to have come up with certain conclusions while overlooking data that is favorable to organic. As you may recall, this article prompted criticism that it didn’t look at all the attributes of organic products and included studies dating back 50 years that did not have clear parameters on whether products examined were truly organic. Even the authors of the British study themselves acknowledged that although they did not see documented significant nutrient differences between organic and conventional food, they did not rule out that possibility.

    •There is a French meta-analysis study of findings over the years that favor organic. That literature review, prepared by Denis Lairon of the University of Aix-Marseille in France, was commissioned by the French Agency for Food Safety (AFSSA) and published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development (http://swroc.cfans.umn.edu/organic/ASD_Lairon_2009.pdf).In it, Lairon notes, there are nutritional benefits to organic produce, such as more dry matter, minerals and antioxidant micronutrients than their non-organic counterparts. Meanwhile, he writes, studies show organic foods have significantly lower amounts of nitrates and residues of toxic chemical pesticides, fungicides and herbicides than do non-organic foods.

    •In your remarks that “Organic farmers are allowed to use sulfur, copper, zinc oxide and copper sulfate as natural fungicides,” you fail to acknowledge that conventional farmers use these substances, too. You also fail to mention that, unlike conventional farmers, organic farmers have stringent limits on when these can be used. As we indicated in our previous post, pesticides allowed in organic agriculture are only those on an approved list, with restricted use. In fact, organic standards allow the use of only a small fraction of the hundreds of pesticides and thousands of formulations allowed in conventional agriculture. Organic producers use these substances only as a last resort, and often only as an aid in transition from a chemically dependent production system to one that relies on biological systems and preventive methods.

    •You notably overlook the fact that organic standards require rigorous announced – and unannounced – third-party inspections. You also inaccurately characterize organic systems plan as “a pile of paperwork that may have been filled out just hours before the ‘inspector’ arrives.” In fact, these detailed plans outline every step of the production and processing process from the farm to the table—an involved and lengthy process that results in greater transparency than is afforded under any other food system in the United States.

    Organic is not a food purity claim, nor does it profess to be. It is, however, a food production system that is based on - and committed to –transparency, integrity, and continuous improvement. In this way, it offers consumers something that non-organic systems do not: government-backed standards and verification processes they can trust.
  • Belinda Tousson
    101128510
    What I think is is funny about all this stuff on organic foods is that it's coming from a Pizza website, of all places. Pizza is wheat-based; wheats are bad for just about anybody as a major portion of anybody's diet, organic or non-organic - it's still an acid food and should be balanced with more veges, fruits, nuts and berries. Oh and let's not get into the sauces and cheeses and tons of meat on some varieties! It's a bit hysterical in my view that a proponent of pizza is compelled to put forth an article about health and is against organics! No surprise there. HA HA HA - what an irony of the first order. You might think on writing articles on how to balance pizza in the diet. Educating people that eating pizza is a diet or 'can be eaten by itself and it's good for ya that way' is not a cool mantra to live on. I'm on the organic band-wagon because I see the effects of non-organic foods, hybridized foods and 'industrial' grade growing habits (and pizza or burgers as a major meal component washed down by 'candy in a cup' - sodas) in my daily clientelle who mostly have not been educated on how to eat properly as a basic lesson, much less on whether it's organic or not. Instead of being educated on sites like this about nutritional value of pizza and were it should fit into their diets, they are faced with esoteric issues in which they receive no immediat gain. In any event, I see what happens to them when they switch to organics and a more balanced diet - stuff the body was designed to process to function optimally. That's not measured by any man-made device or 'study' - as profit margins are. I have clients who now eat organic pizzas and follow it with salad. They have reduced allergies and reduced phlem and reduced lethergy. But a machine made by man isn't calibrated to measure intrinsic, small changes that make a huge diference in the body and how it functions. Did you know that with a 1/4 cup of organic carrot juice before bed keeps phlem and runny noses down? Why, because it's alkallizing and has an ingredient in it that deactivates certain viruses - non organic carrot juices don't carry that ingredient - why? Because of the lack of a properly balanced fertilizer that has the components necessary for the plant to make the ingredient. It may look like a carrot, but doesn't act like one in the body if it's not somewhat grown organically. This is proven fact. Irradiated foods are not even foods at all. Put an irradiated tomato outside next to a non-irradiated tomato or an organic tomato out - see which one gets eaten by birds or rats? That is measurable by nature which is highly more sensitive than man-made lab tests...Oh, and do the hydrogenated oils test too. Take a pat of margerine and a pat of butter and stick it on a windowsill where birds can get to it - they don't even see the margerine as food! This is measurable - but not scientific enough to stop Crisco from making it's near-oils or margerine from making it's near-butter. Organics and a balanced diet is intrinsic to peoples health and wellbeing and can be measured in not having disease or illness or their feeling better in general (no runny nose, no phlem buildup - their health problems seeming to rebalance themselves - which is what the body does with the right tools) or not having genetic anomalies inmass as we are having these days - which man doesn't 'want' to measure if it involves shorter shelf life and lighter profit margins - this is a given. Good luck with your health problems. Belinda Tousson, M.H.
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Latest posts by Jeff Leach
Jeff Leach
Jeff Leach is the co-founder of New Orleans-based Naked Pizza. Jeff is currently completing his PhD in anthropology and has published widely in nutrition, medical and anthropological journals. Through Naked Pizza, Jeff hopes to influence public health policy in the U.S. and demonstrate that pizza can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
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