Is 'organic" food a scam?

My wife has been buying so-called organic produce for a while. it costs MUSH more than the standard stuff, and i don’t notice any difference. what i don’t understand; is there any USDA regulation that tells you exactly what you are paying for, when you buy this stuff? Is "organic’ food a trademark? Have any reputable studies found ANY difference in the nutitive content of organic vs non-organic produce?
i get the feeling that “organic’ is a catch-all phrase meaning “pay more”!
Incidentally, suppose you are a farmer who wants to grow 'organic” crops…yet you are surrounded by non-organic farms. Futher, suppose you try not to use insecticides and herbicides-wond the bugs and weeds all move from your neighbors to YOUR farm? I suppose the bugs would have a field day.
Finally, have any courts ever ruled on what the definition of organic is?

USDA has a website describing The National Organic Program.

Of course, all true organic gardeners take issue with some aspects of the USDA’s definitions and procedures. :wink:

THe Omnivore’s Dilema says according to current regulations of “organic labelling”, the organist foods you buy at the supermarket are not very “organic” in reality. However, REAL organic foods are generally better for you and the enviroment. You would actually have to go to a farmer’s market or an actual farmer to get it, in most cases.

I don’t think most consumers of organic products are going to try to tell you they are better for you on a nutritional standpoint, but that it’s what they don’t contain that matters. Some people are concerned about growth hormones and anitbiotics being given to animals intended for meat production. And vegetables raised organically have less pesticide residue, and the process of raising them doesn’t cause as much damage to Mother Earth.

If you have tasted an organically grown tomato versus a regular supermarket tomato, you can tell the difference in taste, IMO.

A recent study by a news program here in the Twin Cities tested a sampling of organic and inorganic foods from a variety of stores and found that none of the samples had a measureable quantity of pesticide, let alone more than the maximum allowed. They had interviewed some organic farmers ahead of time and they were saying that there would be huge differences in the quantity of pesticides & such between the two samples. They took the results back to the farmers and they said, well, pesticides may not be showing up on the tests, but we know they were used, so that can’t be healthy for the food, and besides, you didn’t test the soil or the water downstream from the farms; what we’re doing is better for the environment. :dubious:

I have also noticed that in the local stores, the organic food is generally smaller and uglier than inorganic food. :dubious:

OTOH, I strongly suspect that I could douse my Black Krim’s with organophosphate pesticides daily, and still have a better tasting tomato than the store varieties which are optimized for shipping, shelf-life and slicing properties.

One is the benefit of organic farming itself. To my knowledge, there are no studies showing it to be superior. But, health-and-nutrition is such a horridly complex multiple causality problem, I’m not sure it’s fair to draw an adverse inference from the absence of studies. That said, I’d agree that many (perhaps most) people who “buy organic” do so because it makes 'em feel better in a placebo sense. Of course, if you don’t believe, the placebo won’t work.

There’s another respect, however, in which organic produce usually is better than its “inorganic” counterparts, viz, how ripe the stuff gets before being picked and shipped. How much better varies widely, depending on locale, farmer and market. With all due respect, folks like you are part of the problem. Do you want cheap or do you want good? Good produce is like sushi-grade fish. Good produce costs more - lots more - because it requires special handling and there’s much more shrinkage (stuff that has to be tossed because it goes overripe or wilts before it can be sold). Whether the difference in quality is worth the difference in price is something only you can decide. But I’ll agree that organic ain’t worth the candle if the particular produce at which you’re looking isn’t of correspondingly higher quality in this second respect.

In the seventies a little magazine called Organic Gardening, was at the center of what now is the organic gardening practices in use today. Everybody interested in experimental gardening in many ways, used that book and it’s forum to connect. The magazine was puplishing articles on it’s many experimental methods and new crops. People wrote in with their successes, it was a bit like the Straight Dope community. Here comes a brief summury.

Organic gardeners try to use natural fertilizers and pesticides only. You use perthium insecticide, extracted from the daisy, soap sprays for aphids, compain planting to encourage better growth, desease resistance, and insect resistance. You plant two or more crops together so insects only hit a few plants instead of the whole field, and some plants dicourage insects from eating the plant next to them. You plant a few plants that the insects prefer in with the ones you want a crop from. You can put a couple ground che3rry p-lants in a patch of potatoes and the potato bugs eat the ground cherries instead.

The federal regulations loosened up the deffinition of organic from what the original definition that the grows had. The Organic Gardening magazine and test center, went a long way in defining the original specifications.

The federal regulations don’t allow for most pesticides used on the land for a certain period and the few available have strict guide lines. Nobody can crop dust within a certain distance or the farmer can’t claim organic. I suspose he has to sue the neighbor that oversprayed for the value difference.

I’m pretty sure that I read somewhere that in Canada (where I am), there are no regulations whatsoever on “organic” food. That is, you can slap an “organic” label on whatever you want, and there are no legal requirements/repercussions for doing so. Anybody know if this is true?

Back in 1999: Canada Introduces National Standard for Organic Agriculture

It looks like they’re still working on such an updated standard today.

I used to discuss this issue with an organic gardener. I asked him how he was able to raise vegetables without pesticides and he told me he selected naturally pest resistant ones.

Aha, says I, what makes them pest resistant? No reply. I say, they’re pest resistant because they contain naturally occurring pesticides, generated by the plant for its own benefit. Okay, he says, so what?

I say, so I should eat the naturally occurring untested pesticides rather than one thoroughly tested and approved by the FDA? He’s unconvinced that the natural pesticides could be toxic, even when I point out that nicotine and oxalic acids are known plant toxins. We agree to disagree on this, but it’s one of the issues I have with organic gardening.

As for the nutritive differences, I heard something about that myself a bit back. A local grocery store was advertising it’s selection of organic and/or locally grown produce, and included the statement that organic produce is more “nutritionally dense”. This seems to mean that a given weight (to be fair, it should be dry weight) of organically-grown produce will have more nutrients than the same weight of conventially (inorganically?) grown produce.

I figured (like you) that there couldn’t really be difference. But I did find this article (and the references at the end) that seems to back up that claim.

To me, though, there are too many variables to really point at organic / non-organic as the root cause, unless there are details that I missed in the studies.

Trace minerals are going to come from the ground the produce is grown in (and maybe from the water), so it might be due to commercial produce being grown in soil that’s more “played out” than what organic farmers use. On the other hand, maybe organic farming processes are better able to replenish the soil than chemical fertilizers.

Maybe commercial farms use different breeds of plants that are less able (or have less time) to incorporate those minerals. I believe commercial crop strains are generally chosen for quick growth, high yield, and easy shipping. I don’t know whether those same criteria are used by organic farmers. If an organic farmer used the same seed stock, maybe the nutritional differences would go away.

I think people buy “organic” for a few different reasons, some (IMO) valid, some not. You could probably cover a lot of those by going to a farmer’s market instead of Safeway (support local growers, fresher / riper produce), regardless of whether it’s organic or not. Some people feel like they’re voting with their dollars against harmful environmental effects of mass farming (although I don’t know whether this would be true or not). Some people just like getting on the hippy-dippy bandwagon implied by the term “organic”.

Pronounced genetically engineered to be pest resistant. Personally i have no problem with it, but many of the people who harp about organic stuff have zero clue of the botany behind their favorite “naturally pest resistant” products and would be upset to find out that plant X is a specially bred or hybrid plant…

Book recommendation: What to Eat, by Marion Nestle. I’m still reading it myself, so I’m not prepared to answer your question, but it’s really fascinating and covers lots of other food-related subjects as well.

IANA Organic Farmer, but I am married to one, and have had to sit through/dig up paperwork for several organic inspections. We do not supply organic milk or produce; we primarily supply organic farmers with feed (hay, soybeans, corn) and do occasionally grow human-consumption quality soybeans. We also raise organic beef cows. We live in Ohio, and I can’t speak to other states or countries (although we must comply with federal U.S. regulations as well if we want to ship organic soybeans, which usually go to Japan). I certainly don’t have all (or even most of) the answers here, but I can shed light on a few points.

Not necessarily. We are bordered on three sides by non-organic farms, and on one side by an organic farm. One way to prevent problems is by not planting like crops next to one another. Corn, for instance, does not cross-pollinate with oats or soybeans, and would not attract the exact same pests. Therefore, a field of non-organic corn planted next to a field of organic soybeans is not going to have that much effect. That’s the simple version, of course, but there are ways to prevent, or at least greatly lessen, these problems. (For what it’s worth, a good pen of free-range chickens can do wonders for a bug problem.)

Yes. Any portion of an organic farm that is bordered by a non-organic entity is required to maintain a buffer distance. Can’t remember what the required width is right now, but it typically ends up being a wide band of grass or hay that runs between the organic and non-organic field. In addition, “No Spray” signs are posted at prominent places, just in case a crop sprayer got confused. My husband has had sweating nightmares about that very thing.

To meet federal regulations, a field must be proven free of all pesticides for three years. This means that you can sell your crops only at conventional prices (which are lower) while you are growing crops organically (which is more time-consuming and costs more) for three years. It’s quite a proposition, and a major financial setback in some cases. The accidental spraying of a field would result in the loss not only of the value difference for the crops in the field right then, but for the next three years. It would be a holy mess. If someone were going to court over this, however, I’m not sure that it would be the neighbor that would be sued; it could easily be the crop duster.

Hope some of this is helpful.

Why the dubious smileys? ItWhile I won’t swear by it, it seems perfectly plausible to me that produce raised without the use of nitrogen and phosphorus-rich powders will result in less runoff in local streams, resulting is less algae bloom and other problems. It seems plausible to me that produce raised without nerve-poison pesticides will be less likely to result in collateral damage to the environment. Organic produce can result in greater erosion problems, as organic farmers often till more than conventional farmers; but if we can acknowledge that increased risk, surely we can acknowledge other decreased risks without having our Cool Skeptic badge revoked.

And why the dubious smiley about the smaller, uglier produce? That doesn’t surprise me at all. Organic produce usually is exposed to more adverse conditions than conventional produce, so of course it’ll be smaller and uglier. Often organic farmers experiment with heriloom varieties and such; these varieties may be smaller but tastier.

I don’t think organic agriculture produces more nutritious food, but I do think it has a smaller ecological footprint. That’s why I buy it.


We couldn’t feed everyone ‘organically’. There isn’t enough nitrogen (fertilizer) naturally occurring that could feed the plants that feed people and which feed live stock.

Kudos to chemicals, for without them, many of us would be living in famine.

Organic = bad for the environement. Stealing my nitrogen without giving any back. Bastards!

You realize, of course, that the world’s supply of easily gotten oil is finite?

The root nodules of organic soybeans contain the same nitrogen fixing bacteria as their glyphosate ridden brethren. Heck, the herbicide looks to interfere with the delicate symbiosis of nitrogen fixation.

Wait, are you serious? You might want to read about crop rotation, which can help maximize nitrogen in the soil. If you plant organic corn one year and organic alfalfa the next, then the alfalfa is going to help replenish the nitrogen in the soil.

And I’m sure the amount of pollution caused by modern pesticide and fertilization processes are wonderful the environment. :dubious: