She argues that basing an argument to society at large -- organic
systems are better for people than conventional systems -- on the basis of
vitamin/mineral, protein, and other nutritional parameters is not supported
by the science that exists, and for many reasons, would not stand up even if
the long-term, expensive studies were carried out to rigorously test the
hypothesis. She states instead that the reasons society should support
organic farming are mostly environmental. Some thoughts/reactions.
I agree with Joan that the problem the food
industry/agriculturalists needs to solve is not vitamin/mineral deficiency.
Most nutrition-related health problems have their roots in excess. Herein
lies the critical issue which has not been assessed adequately and which, I
believe, will show major differences between farming systems that are of
significance to human nutrition and health.
Conventional farming systems (especially high-value, short season
fruits and vegetables) that pump water, nutrients, and biocides into hybrid
plants bred for a few traits that have lots to do with plant architecture
and fast growth/yield may not alter vitamin/mineral levels much, but they
certainly do alter dramatically the overall composition of the harvested
foods -- density, sugar content, protein and type of protein, digestible
fiber, and perhgaps most important, many known and unknown biochemcials that
may affect bioavailabiltiy, the human immune system, reproductive
performance, and who knows what else. Such farming systems work for growers
(i.e. produce profits under contemporary polices/marketing institutions)
because they give the grower the ability to control key "macro-parameters"
of the farming system, but only at the expense of management practices that
result in minimal biological diversity and ecological interactions. In
general, simplicity/narrow genetics in farming systems results in a diet
that is also simpler in terms of what is in it, and maybe also what people
can get out of it. And in the case of excess consumption of certain foods,
from certain places most of the time, even greater "concentration" of
simplicity in the diet of many individuals.
The American diet/citizens suffer from many of the same problems as
crops, and the way people grow and develop, and our nutrition-related health
problems are not unlike what is observed in crop fields. It is clearly
possible to eat organic foods excessively and to miss an adequate balance of
nutrients, protein, etc. But there are some self-correcting tendencies in
organic systems that may eventually be viewed as highly desireable in
improving the human diet/nutrition/health interface.
Look at, and eat a standard, over-amped conventional strawberry,
bulbous, tasteless, and then do the same with an organic strawberry. The
differences are unmistakable. Without knowing what careful science will
establish as significant differences, surely there will be many. If a
person ate the functional equivalent of organic strawberries across their
diet, compared to others eating conventional counterparts, I believe across
the population their would be significant changes in health status, for many
reasons that Joan notes, and others known of us can now imagine.
I agree with Joan that it is easier today to document and explain
the environmental benefits of organic vs. conventional systems, especially
in areas with significant pest pressure, but I still believe there is ample
suggestive evidence that how food is grown affects what is in it, which
affects what people are inclined to eat, and which then affects their
health. Complicated causality indeed, but still possibly very, very important.
Hope you'll produce a written version of your talk, Joan, so it can
be shared more widely.
Charles Benbrook 202-546-5089 (voice)
Benbrook Consulting Services 202-546-5028 (fax)
409 First Street S.E. firstname.lastname@example.org [e-mail]
Washington, D.C. 20003 http://www.pmac.net