This story gives me the warm fuzzies. Well, only to the extent misery loves company. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is confronting organic myths. Because evidently consumers all over the world misunderstand the organic label. [Cue cheerful music.]
It’s a well-known fact that American consumers get the organic label wrong. And the FAO’s publication confirms that our counterparts in other countries have the same problem. Consumers falsely consider organic food safer, better for the environment, healthier, more nutritious, pesticide-free, and better for farmers. None of those are necessarily true (and to the extent it is true, it has nothing to do with being organic).
Misleading marketing bears the most responsibility for these wrong assumptions. The organic certification, where it exists, is all about using “natural” inputs, instead of synthetic inputs. It’s a pretty flimsy distinction, and often doesn’t make sense in real life. For example, let’s say we can extract a chemical compound from dandelions and use it as a pesticide. Organic regulations require the producer to literally extract the chemical from dandelions. Conventional farmers, however, can use a “synthetic” version–which is indistinguishable–from a lab.
FAO’s press release contains some pretty strong language:
Organic labels rely on rules that prohibit or limit the use of synthetic fertilizers and agrochemicals, which is an attractive feature for consumers, but pesticides that are physiologically produced by plants are still used in organic agriculture, and at high dosages they also may have negative effects on human health.New FAO publication: Organic foods – Are they safer?, March 31, 2021, FAO
Read that again. The FAO is confirming what I’ve been telling people for years–organic farmers use pesticides and they can be dangerous at the right levels! Incredible.
Before we get too excited, the FAO still assigns some questionable benefits to organic farming, including better incomes for small farmers, food security, improved soil and water quality, and improved animal welfare. That may be the case in some regions of the world, but I wouldn’t agree those apply equally. And I would go so far as to say that it isn’t true in the US.
Now I haven’t read the publication yet (hopefully I’ll find time to do that and write another post on it–if you read it, be sure to comment with your thoughts). But I’m amused they had to even do this. In the past, I’ve thought they put too much emphasis on organic farming. And now it seems like they have to walk that back.
Dennis Laughton says
The term “synthetic fertilizers” causes a lot of problems for people. Here is my explanation. Nitrogen- the air we breath is about 80% nitrogen which is inert. N is extracted from the air by the Haber-Bosch process using steam and pressure. This accounts for 50 – 60% of nitrogen used by crops world wide. The rest comes from, legumes which fix their N by nodules attached to their roots, livestock manure, and a little from rain (lightning will mimic the Haber – Bosch effect) The rest of the nutrients are mined and refined and in some cases treated to make them more plant available. That is it in a “nut shell” Text books have been written.
Nice explanation! It’s something I honestly haven’t studied much.