There are a number of questions when it comes to “non-organic” and “organic” food production, and each of us prioritizes the related worries differently (anywhere from “what a crock; trust in science” through “I wash my food, and if the ag. workers don’t want to get poisoned they should change employers or careers” to “all change is bad, and it is logically impossible to PROVE it’s totally safe, so stop.”) I find it helpful to organize the concerns and the data into two broad categories, namely: personal (what will happen to me/my body/my children) and global (what will happen to the environmental web, the economy, the society, etc.). Of course these issues are all interrelated, are very complex, and are subject to different value structures, etc. (profit motives, rational and irrational fears, the “pure fun” of discovery, etc.), but that seems to help.
For a couple of articles on Bt, see:
Some readers may feel that a few butterfly or insect species are unimportant, and that the ag. workers should look out for themselves. Others may feel responsible for those hurt in the production of their food, or worry about pollen/pesticides/carcinogens etc. making their way to “innocents.” Some ask “If these are the known effects, what are the long-term unknown effects throughout the body/the food chain?” or “If we only found this out 3 years after this product was widely available, what are the chances in future for a far more catastrophic danger to make its way undetected through the pipeline?” Still others think, “I stand to make a lot of money if ‘those’ people get out of the way” or “This is all a plot to weaken the nation” (and that probably applies to both sides, actually). And of course,just as everyone has their own way of looking at this subject, each has hi/r own proposed management techniques.
On the personal-scale side of things, there are many chemicals deadlier than Bt to consumers, workers, or to various species (usually by design). Many of them are now illegal in the U.S., though we still manufacture them for export and use by Third World countries, and some of those crops later come back to us. I have heard it said as a given that one should be far more careful with fruit and vegetables fed to small children than one might be with one’s own food, because they can less withstand the “pesticide load” that comes now in the standard American diet. I believe most pesticide manufacturers feel that, if their products are used properly and standard precautions (washing the produce, peeling, etc.) are followed, risks are low. But yes, many people do give a “rat’s butt” about the complex “unnatural” (that is, not found otherwise in the environment) chemicals found on food or used systemically in its production. There is a tendency, perhaps, to think that once something gets into or onto the food, some of it will remain there, and that it could build up in one’s own tissues over time.
On the “global” level there are many questions. As our understandings of the various complex systems are really in their infancy, it is nearly impossible to state anything with certainty; nonetheless, new products are constantly developed and sent to market as soon as feasible (this IS a capitalist economy) while at the same time other groups fight all change, all the time, figuring “better safe than sorry.”
An example of one area of worry is that of human hormone mimics. Considering how complex a thing the human body is, the wrong influence in the wrong place at the wrong time could have very unpredictable results - anything from serious - but delayed and therefore untraceable - cancer to decreased fertility to, I suppose, increased rates of aggression or insanity. (It is easy for the imagination to run wild; the problem is, are “new” worries truly unlikely, or silly, just because no one considered them previously?)
To sum up, then, some people’s response to this unquantifiable threat system is simple: avoid as much danger as is possible as far as is possible. Organic crops offer these people a way to lower their fear and vote with their dollars. It’s not only an “image” thing. In fact, while I don’t make it a point to shop organic, those I know who do NEVER seem to do it for the status. For them, it’s the only alternative to a large, scary problem that can’t be measured. And those worries, and their management technique, are unrelated to the stock market.
And lastly, some personal observations:
A late friend of mine who was a pilot and grew up on a farm here in CA once noted that every single crop-duster he knew had long since died early of some rare, horrible cancer or other. My friend died last year in his 50s of pancreatic cancer; he was never a crop-duster, so far as I know.
Near here is a community (Watsonville)known for strawberries. Part of the soil preparation for planting strawberries involves the use of a dangerous and (now)controversial gas, apparently to kill molds (?). Every year, at planting time, there are exposures (some parents say poisonings) at the elementary school in that town, even though the fields are often far from the school.
I spent some time in Taiwan, the people of which did not evidence much concern for “environmental” issues. It was at that time common (and I’m sure it still is) to see such things as a used chemical drum washing and repainting facility, run by a family on the ground floor of an apartment building across from a middle school, separated from vegetable fields by only a crude corrugated fence. Clearly the runoff from the hand-washing process just went into the field. Would I have avoided eating that food if I could know where it came from? YOU BET. It doesn’t surprise me at all that cancer is the #1 cause of death in Taiwan. Is OUR food safer? I hope so, but honestly, hell if I know.