food / travel

The End Of The Organic Myth

Op-Ed: The bean sprouts identified as the culprit in the recent E. coli crisis in Germany has cast a shadow over the virtues of organic food. Expensive, environmentally demanding -- and not always so tasty or healthy -- organic food is not the idyll that

An organic vegetable stall in France.
An organic vegetable stall in France.
David Barroux

For many, organic is a synonym for "tasty" or "healthy" food. But the tragic episode of the German-grown bean sprouts -- more than 30 people have died since the E. coli epidemic began -- has bitterly reminded us that, when dealing with the so-called organic myth, a little bit of critical thinking (and eating) would stand us in good stead.

Just as it would obviously be ridiculous to say that every type of organic food is bad for your health, people need to be reminded that they should know better than to systematically attribute every possible virtue to organic food.

Without being taken for a mouthpiece of the food processing and chemistry lobby groups, we can admit that organic food has been thriving in a bubble which harbors an entire host of unwarranted generalizations. Organic food is thus supposed to be more tasty, healthier, eco-friendlier and better for the economy than conventional food.

None of these statements is as undisputable as one might first think. Blind taste tests between organic and non-organic food have repeatedly shown that consumers rarely prefer the organic stuff. More worryingly, the German tragedy has proved that organic animal breeding or farming can sometimes be dangerous to human health.

From an environmental point of view, things are hardly any better. In order to produce on a large scale -- especially when outputs are low, as is the case in the organic food industry -- farmers often have to drive their tractors for hours on end. There is also the need to import products from abroad. As a result, the carbon emissions associated with the green industry are far from low. Add to that the fact that, contrary to what most people think, the organic industry has not completely banned the use of pesticides. In order to replace a number of synthetic products, organic farmers often use sulfur and copper as fungicides, which can prove quite harmful to the soils.

Economically speaking, organic farming, which is a very labor-intensive industry, is more profitable for overseas farmers. Moreover, the often steep price of organic products makes them unaffordable to large swaths of the population.

Rather than demonizing each other, organic aficionados and non-organic traditionalists should start to sit down and exchange ideas about their best practices. Food habits and agriculture should not be two feuding religions sects, but rather sciences that harmoniously combine reason with pleasure.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - ntoper

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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