Stanford University published a study on organic foods last week that seemed to set some in the agriculture industry on fire. In a nutshell, Stanford physician Dena Bravata, the senior author of the paper, concluded that there isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods.
The study says there are no significant differences in the vitamin content of organic and conventional fruits and vegetables. The study also says both organic and conventional foods are at similar risk for bacterial contamination.
I have to admit, I was taken aback by the outpouring of support in the form of news releases from ag groups, the chatter and “I told you so’s” on social media platforms, and not very well-balanced stories from some ag reporters. The almost frenzied response from many in agriculture to the study’s findings could be interpreted as relief from fear, rather than appreciation for the scientific review.
It is true that the popularity of organic products is on the rise. Between 1997 and 2011, U.S. sales of organic foods increased from $3.6 billion to $24.4 billion. Many consumers are willing to pay a premium for these products. Call me a rebel, but I think that’s a good thing. I don’t want to live in a cookie-cutter world. America’s abundant and diverse food supply provides choice for the consumer.
I don’t want to buy the apples with bird doo on them, but if that’s what you want and a farmer can provide it, I say more power to him! I’ve said many times that any farmer who can keep squash bugs out of his or her garden without some sort of synthetic pesticide deserves an extra dime per harvested cucurbit! As long as the farmer growing crops organically doesn’t bash me for growing conventionally, what’s the rub?
A rising tide typically carries all boats.
You’ve probably all heard it by now: By 2050, the world will need almost 3 times as much food as it needs today. Without the synthetic inputs used in conventional agriculture, it will be impossible to keep up with demand, so you shouldn’t be overly concerned that organic agriculture is going to put conventional agriculture out of business.
Another significant report came from the United States Department of Agriculture last week. It shows that 17.9 million U.S. households with 50 million people were food insecure at some time in 2011. At least once during the year these households had insufficient money or other resources for food. 11 million of those households were able to cope with the situation by eating less varied diets, participating in federal food assistance programs or getting emergency food from community food pantries.
The report came out the day after USDA announced a record 46.7 million people received food stamps in June yet only 57 percent of food-insecure households say they participate in federal food and nutrition programs. The Food Research Action Center says things are actually getting worse this year as unemployment benefits run out.
There is a booming market for organic agriculture. The dollars don’t lie. But research almost always measures consumer preference, not necessarily consumer behavior in selecting organic over conventional or vice-versa.
In the end, the vast majority of the people in this country simply want cheap food.