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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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