The organic food movement has been taking a beating as of late. In November, California voters rejected Proposition 37, which would have required genetically modified (GM) foods to be labeled as such. And earlier this month, prominent environmentalist Mark Lynas admitted that he was wrong about GM food. Could things get any worse for the organic food movement? Yep.
When Congress passed the newest farm bill extension at the beginning of this month, they cut from the legislation $22 million in funds for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, along with several other subsidies to organic farmers. Under this program, you and I paid organic farmers to put a USDA sticker on their products, so we would know when we were buying organic food in the grocery store.
NPR would have you weep for the small-time organic farmer, who is being cast aside by that evil, Monsanto-controlled government of ours. But, this move to defund the organic certification subsidy is actually a good one, for two primary reasons.
If you're not aware, organic food is not in the least bit better for you than conventional food. Honest consumers of organic food readily admit this, and the available evidence tells us the same thing. A 2009 review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded, "there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs."
A handful of studies have reached contrary conclusions, but they're flawed in a variety of ways, especially the recent study conducted by French researchers linking GM corn to mammary tumors in rats, which was debunked almost immediately after it was published.
So what does the fancy USDA sticker certify if not that organic food is healthier? Not much. According to the agency, the difference between organic and conventional food has to do with the process by which the products are produced, not the products themselves. Still, certified organic products can contain "non-organic" ingredients, and organic farmers are allowed to use pesticides. They're natural pesticides, of course, but in great enough quantities, they'll kill you as easily as any dangerous synthetic chemical will.
The subsidies for organic certification could be reinstated in the coming months. But at least for now, this change to the farm bill means that American taxpayers are no longer forced to pay for that "USDA organic" sticker that adorns so many overpriced and dishonestly marketed products sold by Whole Foods. I never thought I'd get to say this, but way to go, Congress.