Organic vs. Non-organic

Previously, we discussed prepared packaged food vs. fresh food. Let us now follow Mr. Pollan down the organic vs. factor-food path a short way.
Omnivore's Dilemma pg. 176.
"Whether organic is better and worth it are certainly fair, straightforward questions, but the answers, I've discovered, are anything but simple.
Better for what? is the all-important corollary to that question. If the answer is ³taste," then the answer is, as I've suggested, very likely, at least in the case of produce‹but not necessarily. Freshly picked conventional produce is bound to taste better than organic produce that's been riding the interstates in a truck for three days. Meat is a harder call. Rosie [brandname] was a tasty bird, yet, truth be told, not quite as tasty as Rocky [brandname], her bigger nonorganic brother. That's probably because Rocky is an older chicken, and older chickens generally have more flavor. The fact that the corn and soybeans in Rosie s diet were grown without chemicals probably doesn't change the taste of her meat. Though it should be said that Rocky and Rosie both taste more like chicken than mass-market birds fed on a diet of antibiotics and animal by-products, which makes for mushier and blander meat. What's in an animal's feed naturally affects how it will taste, though whether that feed is organic or not probably makes no difference.
Better for what? If the answer is ³for my health" the answer, again, is probably‹but not automatically. I happen to believe the organic dinner I served my family is healthier than a meal of the same foods conventionally produced, but I'd be hard-pressed to prove it scientifically. What I could prove, with the help of a mass spectrometer, is that it contained little or no pesticide residue‹the traces of the carcinogens, neurotoxins,and endocrine disruptors now routinely found in conventionalproduce and meat. What I probably can't prove is that the low levels of these toxins present in these foods will make us sick‹give us cancer, say, or interfere with my son's neurological or sexual development. But that does not mean those poisons are not making us sick: Remarkably little research has been done to assess the effects of regular exposure to the levels of organophosphate pesticide or growth hormone that the government deems ³tolerable" in our foods. (One problem with these official tolerances is that they don't adequately account for children's exposure to pesticides, which, because of children's size and eating habits, is much greater than adults'.) Given what we do know about exposure to endocrine disruptors, the biological impact of which depends less on dose than timing, minimizing a child's exposure to these chemicals seems like a prudent idea. I very much like the fact that the milk in the ice cream I served came from cows that did not receive injections of growth hormone to boost their productivity, or that the corn those cows are fed, like the corn that feeds Rosie, contains no residues of atrazine, the herbicide commonly sprayed on American ;a3 cornfields. Exposure to vanishingly small amounts (0.1 part per billion) of this herbicide has been shown to turn normal male frogs into hermaphrodites. Frogs are not boys, of course. So I can wait for that science to be done, or for our government to ban atrazine (as European governments have done), or I can act now on the presumption that food from which this chemical is absent is better for my son's health than food that contains it.
Of course, the healthfulness of a food is not simply a question of its toxicity; we have also to consider its nutritional quality. Is there any reason to think my Whole Foods meal is any more nutritious than the same meal prepared with conventionally grown ingredients?
Over the years there have been sporadic efforts to demonstrate the nutritional superiority of organic produce, but most have foundered on the difficulty of isolating the great many variables that can affect the nutritional quality of a carrot or a potato‹climate, soils, geography, freshness, farming practices, genetics, and so on. Back in the fifties, when the USDA routinely compared the nutritional quality of produce from region to region, it found striking differences: carrots grown in the deep soils of Michigan, for example, commonly had more vitamins than carrots grown in the thin, sandy soils of Florida. Naturally this information discomfited the carrot growers of Florida, which probably explains why the USDA no longer conducts this sort of research. Nowadays U.S. agricultural policy, like the Declaration of Independence, is founded on the principle that all carrots are created equal, even though there's good reason to believe this isn't really true. But in an agricultural system dedicated to quantity rather than quality, the fiction that all foods are created equal is essential. This is why, in inaugurating the federal organic program in 2000, the secretary of agriculture went out of his way to say that organic food is no better than conventional food. "The organic label is a marketing tool," Secretary Glickman said. "It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is 'organic' a value judgment about nutrition or quality."
Some intriguing recent research suggests otherwise. A study by University of California-Davis researchers published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry in 2003 described an experiment in which identical varieties of corn, strawberries, and blackberries grown in neighboring plots using different methods (including organically and conventionally) were compared for levels of vitamins and polyphenols. Polyphenols are a group of secondary metabolites manufactured by plants that we've recently learned play an important role in human health and nutrition. Many are potent antioxidants; some play a role in preventing or fighting cancer; others exhibit antimicrobial properties. The Davis researchers found that organic and otherwise sustainably grown fruits and vegetables contained significantly higher levels of both ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and a wide range of polyphenols.
The recent discovery of these secondary metabolites in plants has brought our understanding of the biological and chemical complexity of foods to a deeper level of refinement; history suggests we haven't gotten anywhere near the bottom of this question, either. The first level was reached early in the nineteenth century with the identification of the macronutrients‹protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Having isolated these compounds, chemists thought they'd unlocked the key to human nutrition. Yet some people (such as sailors) living on diets rich in macronutrients nevertheless got sick. The mystery was solved when scientists discovered the major vitamins‹a second key to human nutrition. Now it's the polyphenols in plants that we're learning play a critical role in keeping us healthy. (And which might explain why diets heavy in processed food fortified with vitamins still aren't as nutritious as fresh foods.) You wonder what else is going on in these plants, what other undiscovered qualities in them we've evolved to depend on.
In many ways the mysteries of nutrition at the eating end of the food chain closely mirror the mysteries of fertility at the growing end: The two realms are like wildernesses that we keep convincing ourselves our chemistry has mapped, at least until the next level of complexity conies into view. Curiously, Justus von Liebig, the nineteenth-century German chemist with the spectacularly ironic surname, bears responsibility for science's overly reductive understanding of both ends of the food chain. It was Liebig, you'll recall, who thought he had found the chemical key to soil fertility with the discovery of NPK, and it was the same Liebig who thought he had found the key to human nutrition when he identified the macronutrients in food. Liebig wasn't wrong on either count, yet in both instances he made the fatal mistake of thinking that what we knew about nourishing plants and people was all we needed to know to keep them healthy. It's a mistake we'll probably keep repeating until we develop a deeper respect for the complexity of food and soil and, perhaps, the links between the two.
But back to the polyphenols, which may hint at the nature of that link. Why in the world should organically grown blackberries or corn contain significantly more of these compounds? The authors of the Davis study haven't settled the question, but they offer two suggestive theories. The reason plants produce these compounds in the first place is to defend themselves against pests and diseases; the more pressure from pathogens, the more polyphenols a plant will produce. These compounds, then, are the products of natural selection and, more specifically, the coevolutionary relationship between plants and the species that prey on them. Who would have guessed that humans evolved to profit from a diet of these plant pesticides? Or that we would invent an agriculture that then deprived us of them? The Davis authors hypothesize that plants being defended by man-made pesticides don't need to work as hard to make their own polyphenol pesticides. Coddled by us and our chemicals, the plants see no reason to invest their resources in mounting a strong defense. (Sort of like European nations during the cold war.)
A second explanation (one that subsequent research seems to support) may be that the radically simplified soils in which chemically fertilized plants grow don't supply all the raw ingredients needed to synthesize these compounds, leaving the plants more vulnerable to attack, as we know conventionally grown plants tend to be. NPK might be sufficient for plant growth yet still might not give a plant everything it needs to manufacture ascorbic acid or lycopene or resveratrol in quantity. As it happens, many of the polyphenols (and especially a subset called the flavonols) contribute to the characteristic taste of a fruit or vegetable. Qualities we can't yet identify in soil. may contribute qualities we've only just begun to identify in our foods and our bodies.
Reading the Davis study I couldn't help thinking about the early proponents of organic agriculture, people like Sir Albert Howard and J. I. Rodale, who would have been cheered, if unsurprised, by the findings. Both men were ridiculed for their unscientific conviction that a reductive approach to soil fertility‹the NPK mentality‹would diminish the nutritional quality of the food grown in it and, in turn, the health of the people who lived on that food. All carrots are not created equal, they believed; how we grow it, the. soil we grow it in, what we feed that soil all contribute qualities to a carrot, qualities that may yet escape the explanatory net of our chemistry. Sooner or later the soil scientists and nutritionists will catch up to Sir Howard, heed his admonition thai we begin "treating the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal, and man as one great subject."
So it happens that these organic blackberries perched on this mound of vanilla ice cream, having been grown in a complexly fertile soil and forced to fight their own fights against pests and disease, are in some quantifiable way more nutritious than conventional blackberries. This would probably not come as earthshaking news to Albert Howard or J. I. Rodale or any number of organic farmers, but at least now it is a claim for which we can supply a scientific citation: J. Agric. Food. Chem. vol. 51, no. 5, 2003. (Several other such studies have appeared since; see the Sources section at the back of this book.)
Obviously there is much more to be learned about the relationship of soil to plant, animals, and health, and it would be a mistake to lean too heavily on any one study. It would also be a mistake to assume that the word "organic" on a label automatically signifies healthfulness, especially when that label appears on heavily processed and long-distance foods that have probably had much of their nutritional value, not to mention flavor, beaten out of them long before they arrive on our tables."
Michael Pollan then goes on to mention that the "organic revolution" hasn't appreciably improved the living conditions of farm workers or livestock. He finishes the chapter by reflecting on the fact that only one fifth of the energy consumed in food production is consumed on the farm. The rest is packaging and transportation. So, even with industrial-organic food, the carbon footprint is far too large.
--

Billy

Bush, Cheney & Pelosi, Behind Bars
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Billy, There certainly is much information on organic foods. There will always be scientists and doctors who can give pro's and con's to almost any situation. We may not figure out this "organic revolution" until these foods have been passed on through generations. And even then with all of the "other" things we are exposed to how can we really know for sure. Certainly confusing and to many variables. Good luck with your research on this subject. Blog_dog
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In article

Thank you Blog_dog, the intent is to kindle a conversation. As was mentioned in excerp of Pollan's book, the USDA has stopped looking for nutritional differences in foods. We are now faced with GMO which can trigger allergy reactions in some people. To me that means that in others it triggers less obvious reactions. The US government won WTO rights to place tariffs on French cheese among other items because the French didn't want to eat US beef raised with hormones. Et voila, Jose Bové who raises sheep for cheese. In our own country, Ben and Jerry's ice cream tried to sell an ice cream marked "made without GMO's". They were prevented from doing so by the USDA. GMO products aren't marked at markets. Puss laced milk is sold with no reference to the use of Bovine Growth Hormones. With no knowledge of the products for sale, there is no free market.
If our government wanted us to eat well, they would subsidize foods that they know with 100% certainty are healthy (fruits and vegetables). In not doing so, it underscores the fact that our government in in the pocket of lobbyists. So what else is new. huh? We can't lose sight of the fact that our government, is not our friend.
I'm currently reading "Collapse" by Jerod Steele. In it is described the Norwegian colony in Greenland, that could have survived, beyond it's 450 years, except that it's ruling class only did what supported it's own interests.
Presently we are presented with two options: (1) follow the course of reason, or (2) the course laid out by the lobbyists.
--

Billy

Bush, Cheney & Pelosi, Behind Bars
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As far as tree care goes, I make decisions on treatments out of an understanding of tree biology. Funny thing is that the more I learn, the more I lean towards organic tree care. If fact organic tree care is my specialty. I guess you won't read this because you kill-filed me. Anyway if you want organic tree care here are some of the problems that require being addressed to reduce problems for trees:
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Many tree problems are associated with the following: They are Case
Sensitive.
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this fruitcake is neither consulting forester, tree expert, biologist, or arborist. He is, however, a total fraud.
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It is entertaining sitting on my porch, sipping morning coffee, when, each morning, the somewhat dotty guy across the way (symplastless) walks to his mail box and back to the house, while the obnoxious little yapping dog next door (D.Staples) barks and barks and barks.........
cheers
oz, enjoying life's small pleasures
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There is a solution, subject, try not reading the posts.
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says...

Which might be your solution too.
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What was I thinking? "Lum and Abner" was way more entertaining than this. Forget the popcorn. Bring the bottle.
--

Billy

Bush, Cheney & Pelosi, Behind Bars
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D. Staples wrote:

Geez, a sock puppet. You're worse than he is.
--
--
--John
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J. Clarke wrote:

replies. I used to look forward to Don's posts but....
Kate - oh well
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Being over 50, I know what chickens tasted like organically from the supermarket, and how they tasted fresh from the hatchet. Same with eggs. There's nothing better than a sunny-side up feritlized home grown chicken egg. Home grown is best chicken and egg. There is no comparison.
Enter new age industrial grown chickens. Wonder if they get growth hormones like cattle? Seen some whoppers and midgets in multi-pack cases.
--
Dave
"Billy" < snipped-for-privacy@getthe.net> wrote in message
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