897 views 19 commentslast update:6 Aug 2012

Organic or Inorganic – does it really matter

Dr Hinner Köster
Over the last two centuries, increased scientific understanding, technological innovations, and social mobility changed the face of global agriculture. This made larger scale farming more efficient although not everyone seems to have accepted the societal changes, and there were calls for a return to the less efficient preindustrial farming methods.

Over the last two centuries, increased scientific understanding, technological innovations, and social mobility changed the face of global agriculture. This made larger scale farming more efficient although not everyone seems to have accepted the societal changes, and there were calls for a return to the less efficient preindustrial farming methods.
This brings up the question whether people debating the merits of consuming "organic" rather than "inorganic" products really know what it means and what the consequences may be? The use of "all natural" methods of raising and feeding animals to produce "organic" animal products has the support of mainly upper class consumer groups and as such is readily endorsed by supermarkets. The question again is whether supermarkets are really concerned about consumers or rather their own pocket.

Genetics and chemicals
To most people there are two sides to the organic food issue; genetics and chemicals. In looking at the history of agriculture, almost everything is 'genetically modified'. Genetic modification either takes place naturally or is done in a laboratory to speed up the process in order to address the demands that the continuous changes in social and economic climate brings upon us. Therefore the elements that compose the 'natural' world and the world of science are no different and all emerge from large molecules built mostly with atoms of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen that will result in similar consequences. Many educated people in developed countries however think that only some crops and animals are organic, while all others are not. The public-at-large as well as organic food advocates have been made so afraid of the "unnaturalness" of genetically modified organisms that research toward commercially viable products is often greatly hindered.

Different meanings
How can one simple word, "organic", have such different meanings? The basis of the standards is on the process rather than the product, as organic food is defined not by any material substance in the food itself, but instead by the "holistic" methods used in organic production practises. Furthermore, the implicit, unproven assumption is that organic agriculture is better for the environment than so-called conventional farming. In opposition stand the unnatural, artificial, and synthetic; the imagined profane creations of human intellect that despoil the world. Because consumers equate organic with "natural," and "natural" with healthy and safe, the organic food industry has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. However, organic food is just as likely to be tained by undesired pathogens, and organic vegetable protein products are just as likely to cause allergic reactions that can lead to death.

The main selling point of organic animal products is that they are grown in "all natural" conditions without "synthetic" additives, unlike conventionally farmed products. Why should synthesized products though have adverse effects if they are molecularly identical to natural products? The total number of negative health consequences to consumers from synthetic pesticides and animal feed additives is by all estimates zero. While "undesired" substances from "unnatural" sources may be found in many products, the levels at which they are present fall far below the levels known to not cause any health effects. The fact that they are found at all is only due to the latest significant advances in analytical chemistry.

Natural not always better
Animal products and other food items are often promoted as "all-natural, antibiotic free, etc.". What is so remarkable is how disconnected this world-view is from reality. Why would anyone pay premiums for "natural" when you can achieve greater, often safer perfection at lower cost with synthetic? It is good to be critical, and offer arguments from both sides of the fence, but it remains essential that emotions of non scientific communities should not solely dictate sound scientific decision making processes and developments.

In promoting organic versus inorganic products, self-interest is often hard to walk away from. Companies specializing in animal feed additives use biotechnological means to develop so-called "natural" products that can replace the "undesired" performance enhancing products that have been scrutinized over the last two decades. These companies could be seen as pro-active and have capitalized on the economic opportunity that resulted from the outcry of activists and other less informed people on the use of "undesired" performance enhancers. Again, there is nothing wrong with such innovative products and research shows that they efficiently replace conventional products, however it is mainly achieved through similar animal performance but at much higher cost.

Cost effective food
In developing countries in particular the sole use of "natural" additives and means of production will not allow the supply of cost effective food. If consumers or supermarkets are prepared to pay premiums for less effectively produced food, the choice should be given to them. However, if conventional farmers do not realise sufficient premiums they will not have any incentive to justify switching to production practises that involve the production of "all natural" animal products.

Since they have been proactive, the feed and livestock industries at least cannot be accused for not meeting the objectives of those that are resistant to "unnatural" farming practises and specific additives used in animal feeds. The choice remains available, but whether this should become general and enforced practise, especially in communities with great disparities in disposable income, can in future make us indirectly responsible for many avoidable sufferings in especially lower income communities.

19 comments

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    Paul du Plessis

    Really good article!! Unfortunately the "wrong" people read this - those that agree with you.

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    Dr Grahame A Leach

    It is so good to hear people speak out on this matter. An associate and I once agreed that "organic foods" are the luxury of the wealthy, while the rest of the world starves.

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    Hugo Hattingh

    I agree - all of the consumers/housewives in the supermarkets wordwide, should be much better informed. Excellent article!!

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    Farmer

    There are a lot of reasons to be afraid for gentech. And there are a lot of reasons to be afraid for larger scale farming. Gentech and large scale farming brings us monoculture and RoundUp. Gentech is mostly beneficial for the patentholder. And this is totally not true: Therefore the elements that compose the 'natural' world and the world of science are no different and all emerge from large molecules built mostly with atoms of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen that will result in similar consequences.
    You can not make RounUp Ready crops the natural way. Very poor argumented article. Scientifically nonsense. There is no integrity in the way the industry uses and promote gentech. It is used for the own benefits and the downside is trivialized.

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    Clinton Howard

    The real value of plants grown in organic conditions is that chemcial herbicides and pesticides have not been used which are definitely not identical molecules as in the plant itself

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    Tom Best

    Nature has been genetically modifying plants since the beginning of time. Cross pollination randomly transfers the characteristics from one species to another. The result is some desirable traits that benefit the proliferation of the plant species and some undesirable traits that hinder it. Scientifically modified genetics selectively modify traits that the scientist has a desire to improve without accepting the "natural flaws" that always come with the package. There are always unintended consequences (negatives) that occur. One shortcoming is failure to compare whether the positive supersedes the negative. The caveat is that most companies that promote new products, only research and promote the positives!!

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    Hossan Md. Salim

    Today one thing is clear to all that friendly environment. This friendly environment only can sustain by using organic products.

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    lindsay olman

    there are always two sides to every story, we all have to eat, that is ther have,s and the havenots, as a farmer i have practised monoculture for 45 years, using the soil as a medium, replacing the minerals, trace elements as removed. without monoculture the world will most certainly starve, i did , for a period of 5 byears try biodynamic farming, found it to be too costly and of little difference, by name not practise, i do not always use roundup or any chemical, do not be afraid of chemicals used correctly, there are watch dogs in place, i do speak for Australia, i am sure there are others in place in the world,

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    shilpi rani( agri graduate)

    definitly this article should reach everyone either they are producer or consummer;allthough its ture that not all can afford organic food and its stall always crowed with our primium segment of society in indian context

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    Farmer

    This docu about gentech and the tactics of the big companies is very interesting:
    http://nl.youtube.com/watch?v=RoS4vfyy7Pg

    Gentech is sold as a sustainable system. I think sustainable wrong ore sustainable misused. Monsanto responsible for RoundUp and Roundup Ready, also made agent orange and has this ambition: No food shall be grown, that we don’t own. No one wants one company to own the food chain. All that food will be made the Monsanto way, so every thing you eat from pig to bread will be the same gentech product. Every thing will be made out of the same. We have never seen that before, that will have a lot of negative effects.

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    Fred Tangdilintin

    Organic farming defenetly improves soil conditions while inorganic farmig does not.

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    Barde Rotzin Auta(agric undergradute Nigeria)

    Glory to science for organic products but, it remains a fact that inorganic agriculture remains the cheapest farming system for the worlds major food producers(rural farmers)

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    Farmer

    This is also good to study with respect to the topic:
    http://www.greenpeace.org/international/news/monsanto-pig-patent-111

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    Carrie

    In your article you make the new GM seeds and food sound as if they are the same as all seeds/food before this time in our world. The gene modification and genetic engineering going on today breaks the natural barriers which were put into place for good reason. These barriers kept things within close to same-species. Now, we are talking about animal genes into food, chemical pesticide/herbicides INTO food, human genes into food...this is not at ALL the same as what was practiced long ago. I'm insulted by this article; it's written with a very obvious slant (re: bias) toward accepting this abnormal process as if there's nothing wrong with it and no risk. Also, one must question why we are seeing contamination of the organic plants in our world today, to begin with. Perhaps it's because these GM products were fast-tracked and released into our environment with little thought to cross-pollination and what havoc this would wreak upon the natural world and its plants. It now seems nearly impossible to undo..thanks to Big Chem. Corporations that seem to be hell-bent on patenting and owning LIFE, and a corrupt FDA which still refuses to allow us to make OUR OWN choices in the grocery stores in this supposedly free country---I'm STILL wondering why we have no labelling for GM food!! Are they afraid it won't sell well? Scared to lose money? lol. I hate how GM has been shoved down MY throat so some fat-cats sittin' in suits behind shiny desks smokin' stogies can make BILLIONS. I hope GM fails miserably before I die--I would love to see that. Use to be I'd wash stuff to help get pesticides off it. Now? Hell, pesticides and God knows what else are BUILT IN to the structure of the very food I'm eating. And people really don't see anything wrong with this? Really?

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    K K Neupane,Nepal

    I agree, good article ! especially for developing country people for thier environment and health protection.

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    Chip P

    I'm stunned. There is more disease now than ever before, huge areas of land are becoming unproductive and turning into deserts, topsoil is dying all over the world, every year chemical based farmers need more fertilizer for less yield, our foods have no minerals or enzymes and have no taste and this "doctor" makes a comment like "The total number of negative health consequences to consumers from synthetic pesticides and animal feed additives is by all estimates zero"?????? The real number of negative health consequences from synthetic pesticides and animal feed additives is approximately 6 billion or the total population of the planet. Quality of life is not about how much money you can make. In fact, you can tell how God feels about money when you look at the caliber of the people he gives it to. All the people that feel chemicals benefit our lives will quickly change their minds when it’s their turn to face a life threatening illness brought about by chemicals in the food supply. It is so arrogant to think our puny brains are capable of improving upon nature when it is so obvious all we are consistently capable of is depleting the planet of everything that supports life. This article is about rhetoric, not science.

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    Swamy, Canada

    Good article for debate. Use of chemicals and GMO has to be judicious. Use of chemicals and GMO is a recent phenomenon and certainly affect the ecosystem.

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    Jose Lopes

    Because round up ready corn was planted over hundreds of american acres roundup was sprayed by Plane the most efficent means. Some how weeds developed a resistance to round up...Now farmers are turning to agent orange type herbicdes. Really I worry where the chem/pharma monopolised seed companies are stering the world to. I worry I do.

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    Mario Lopes

    O.K its cheaper ---That Is short sighted ....GM seeds come with a contract...The seeds are more expensive and it has not been proven that they are more productive. The weather seems to have a bigger inpact on that. GMO corporations make lots of big claims backed up by bad science. This Doctor I guess is well read on some ones propogand like I am well read on the other side of the question look up Friends of The Earth study on the viability of GM crops cheaper I do not think so

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