The Farmplate Blog

New York Times Debates Organic Food After Controversial Stanford Study

Jeff Gangemi Sep 11, 2012 News 0 comments

After the release of a Stanford University study that cast doubt on the nutritional benefits of organic food, the last couple of weeks have featured a nearly constant debate about the merits (or supposed lack thereof) of organic food. 

We’ve gotten drips and drabs of context on the topic, from those who say the study ignored the real merits of organic, namely that organic isn’t about nutrients, but about choosing farming methods designed to harmonize with nature. Others have argued that organic is about choosing not to willingly serve as guinea pigs for testing the relative merits of pesticide use.

Today, in the New York Times, we get our first balanced look at the issue, from a set of four diverse experts weighing in on the topic:

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at NYU, who begins her argument, “Questions about organic food raise three issues: productivity, benefits and costs. Productivity is easy. Since the early 1980s, careful productivity studies conclude that organic yields are only slightly lower than conventional yields, and organic production leaves soils in much better shape — boding well for future productivity. The yield difference is too small to have much of an effect on world food supplies…” Read her full argument here > 

Christie Wilcox, a PhD student and blogger for Scientific American, who argues that “Organic farming tugs at our heartstrings, harkening back to a simpler time when life was rugged and man lived off the land. We’re told organic farming is not only better for us, but also better for the environment. While it sounds like the perfect solution, the fact is our notion of organic farming is an idyllic fallacy…” Read more here > 

Raj Patel, a fellow at the Institute for Food and Development Policy, leads off like this: “The countries worst hit by high food prices are food importers. Anything that can keep costs down will help feed the hungry. And the right kind of organic farming can help…” Read more here > 

And finally, Tom Philpott, a writer and organic farmer, begins this way: “Organic agriculture is the idea that farmers should learn from and work with nature, not attempt to blot it out. Sir Albert Howard, one of organic's founders, put it like this: 'Mother earth never attempts to farm without livestock; she always raises mixed crops; great pains are taken to preserve the soil and to prevent erosion; the mixed vegetable and animal wastes are converted into humus; there is no waste; [and] the processes of growth and the processes of decay balance one another.' For Howard, the line between farming method and food quality was direct: nourishing food, he asserted, could come only from healthy soil…” Read more here > 

Click here for the whole story >  

Image courtesy of Courtney and Jacob Cowgill from Prairie Heritage Farm