Organic: Food Justice for the 99%
Beating Back the Straw Man
Charlotte Vallaeys, The Cornucopia Institute
As Americans become increasingly aware of the story behind conventional foods-ecologically destructive monoculture fields, petrochemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides and dangerous fumigants-agribusiness has launched an all-out media offensive against the booming organic food movement.
Their public relations firms have apparently found willing partners in nationwide media outlets like The New York Times and Time magazine, which have recently published articles discouraging people from buying organic foods. The message is nearly always the same, as the harm caused by agrochemicals is downplayed, or outright ignored, while the spotlight falls on the lack of differences between a handful of cherry-picked nutrients.
It seems that the only way for industrial agriculture to score their prized "organic no better than conventional" headline is by convincing friendly reporters to look no further than the nutrition panel and ignore serious, well-documented dangers lurking in conventional food.
But this straw man approach is destined for failure. First, studies repeatedly do find higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic foods. But more importantly, simple nutritional arithmetic is not the primary reason consumers turn to organic foods. Americans can no longer ignore the mounting scientific evidence that pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, antibiotics and other drug residues are harming us, even at extremely low levels, and especially our children.
And after mainstream organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institutes of Health reviewed the science and concluded that consumers should avoid exposure to pesticides, the agrochemical industry's myth that their pesticides are safe-or at least that the residue levels commonly found in foods are safe-has been entirely debunked.
With their paternalistic message-to shut up and eat our food-no longer working, the agribusiness PR specialists and their mouthpieces have turned to a more sinister tactic. They have now brought the 99%'s animosity against the 1% into the food fight, likening a diet of conventional foods to "The 99% Diet" and a chemical-free organic diet as "elitist."
Time magazine's cover on December 3 stated: "What to Eat Now, the Anti-Food Snob Diet" amidst pictures of blocks of frozen fruits and vegetables. The story, by celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz, stated, "the American food supply is . comparable to the most elite organic diets. Save the cash; the 99% diet can be good for you." Toward the end of his article, Dr. Oz called organic consumers "snooty."
Suddenly, consumers who pay extra for a safe haven from toxic agrochemical contamination, for our families' health and for the sake of the farmers who produce our food and for the environment, are reproached for being "snobs."
The health benefits of organics are indisputable, and many consumers find this long-term investment in health to be well worth the extra cost. Americans who prioritize personal finances, choosing wholesome organic foods, should be proud of their decision.
We need to recognize the media's name-calling ("elitist," "snooty" "snobs") for what it is: a last desperate attempt by the agrochemical industry to pull Americans back to blissful ignorance about our food.
Charlotte Vallaeys is the Director of Farm and Food Policy for The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group that acts as an organic industry watchdog.