Fact checking The Checkout

Thanks ABC’s The Checkout for pointing out that almost half (40%) of conventional beef has hormone growth promotants and that organic farmers don’t use synthetic chemicals; however we’d like to expand on some other truths that didn’t make it into the selectively and simply presented facts.

Chemical testing

New agricultural chemicals are only safety tested in test tubes and on animals, not humans. The cocktail effects, not single effects, are a major blind spot in our regulatory and “safety” government approval process.

If we’re willing to buy into the assumption that everything is safe then what are the lessons learnt from tobacco and asbestos decades ago (that took over half a century to ‘prove’ as unsafe)? We can’t see these chemicals on or in our food. We are lulled into thinking they simply aren’t there – or that they are being regularly tested.

Most fruit and vegetables aren’t tested regularly by government regulators and when they are, they’re tested in isolation – almost never in combination – which is what happens in nature and in our bodies.

The lack of reliable science does not mean that something is truly safe. Better to be safe than sorry. Try the litmus test is – would you use a host of synthetic chemicals on your home garden vegetables before feeding them to your family? If you would, perhaps organics isn’t for you.

Pesticide residue testing

Who really knows the affects of accumulative pesticides, particularly on small bodies like our children?

A peer reviewed RMIT study published this year in Environmental Research showed a diet of certified organic food for just one week reduced pesticide residues in urine by 90%. There are detectable levels of pesticides in our bodies, particularly if you eat conventional foods.

The government tests for pesticide residue in foods and finds detectable levels. Is eating less poison good for you? We think so. These chemicals are designed to kill, not heal. Who is to say what is a safe amount of pesticides in our bodies?

RMIT is now studying chemical exposure in 14 – 16 year olds.

Feeding the world

We can’t feed the world now – despite producing more (conventional) food than ever. This argument is an old hoary chestnut that ignores the dire consequences of staying on the current heavily industrial and non natural production pathway that our farming and food system (including distribution) is on.

Organic standards require natural buffer zones and areas on farm for plants and wildlife, how many farming standards require that?

To say organic farming’s yields are so low you would have to sacrifice rainforests is misplaced. There are many studies showing that after three or four years of organic farming farms can equal, if not better the yield of conventional crops, depending on the sector.

The UN (Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It Is Too Late) says our agricultural systems need to change to ones that are less reliant on fertilisers and other inputs. If it doesn’t not only will we not be able to feed the world but we won’t have a world to live in. Organic is showing one sustainable way forward.

Animal waste

Unlike conventional agricultural guidelines the Australian Certified Organic Standard requires animal manures to be thoroughly composted (and farms are audited to make sure this happens) before being used as fertiliser. This manages the risks of spreading bacteria.

Organic farming has led the way here – making composting so popular that many conventional growers source their compost from the same place as certified organic farmers.

As for taste?

Frankly don’t buy anything that doesn’t taste fantastic. Shoppers aren’t silly – even if reductionist science (that breaks everything down to individual chemical molecules) does sometimes come out with funny notions and misses the wood for the trees.

We don’t know about you but we’d rather support farmers who let their animals free range, encourage biodiversity, don’t use harsh chemicals and GM and take pride in providing us with food the way it’s meant to be – without traces of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics.

But hey The Checkout – thanks for reminding shoppers that if they’re going to buy organic, they should look for a recognised logo like

logoIf you find the price of organics annoying perhaps it helps to understand why it costs more. Read on.