organic / science / writing

Organic

I have been seeing and hearing this word being used more and more. It is proudly displayed on produce, food products, clothing, fuel, pesticides as well as a descriptive term to differentiate products of the same type. It is seen too often and is improperly used and I want it to stop.

Another rant?

Yes, I’m good at them and I suspect you might rant at this too. I’ve made little jokes about this to random shoppers. Their smirks and chuckles make me think that I’m not the only one. Let’s get one thing out of the way first:

organic adj or-‘ga-nik 1. of, relating to, or derived from living organisms; 2. of, relating to, or arising in a bodily organ;

Organic Produce, as opposed to rocks.So, if I wanted to describe what all living organisms are made of, I would say organic material. If I wanted to describe a function in a kidney, I would say it was organic in nature. If I wanted to say what the stuff in a compost pile was, I would say it was organic. If I…

We get it!

Do you? If I were to say that the apple in my lunch is organic would you think about it’s chemical makeup Or would you think of some glib farmer singing to an apple tree?

Well, he’s not really glib.

Aha! You’ve been fandangled by the natural foods industry too. They tell you over and over that Organic is the only way to go. In the actual definition of the word, they’re right. We’re not going to go eat inorganic material to survive so yes, organic is the only way to go.

You can’t eat rocks.

Possibly salt and ice, but most other inorganic material is not fit for consumption. It’s not good for your teeth either. Everything else we consume falls into the organic definition. So what do they mean by all this organic talk?

It’s better for you?

No. we can derive the same sustenance from any number of sources including the ones called “organic.” We can also find risky foods in both groups: butter and organic butter both can increase your colesterol leading to greater risk of heart attack.

No pesticides?

USDA Organic StandardsAs I said before, there are approved organic pesticides. In fact there are no strictly adhered to standards for “organic” products. The UDSA has a standard, but it’s considered weak and many “organic” producers go above and beyond it’s requirements. Plus it’s not heavily advertized so the public is not aware.

Sounds problematic.

It is. Here are some of the problems associated with “organic” products:

  • Pesticides: There are highly toxic pesticides and non-toxic pesticides. USDA says non-toxic are ok, but in large enough quantities any chemical can be toxic (even the non-toxic ones). Some people say no to and pesticides at all. You could breed a plant that is resistant to pests which is almost the same as genetically modifying them. Would that be considered a type of pesticide?
  • Genetically Modified: There is a lot of controversy surrounding this issue. News agencies tell us that genetically modified plants/animals are bad. However heavily cross-breeding them to produce desired results is not considered bad even though it produces the same results. Whether through breeding or laboratory work, nearly all of the foods we eat today have been subject to genetic modification.
  • Fertilizer: Similar to pesticides, the USDA says no toxic fertilizer. Others say only compost is an acceptable fertilizer. All fertilizer is toxic in the right quantities.
  • Abuse: Treatment of animals is important. USDA prohibits specific abuse and classifies some living conditions as abuse. Animal advocates would say that only conditions the animal would have in the wild are acceptable. None of the animals we normally eat exist in the wild. Living conditions are then difficult to define for animals that only exist to be our food. I agree that one extreme is unthinkable and the other is cost prohibiting.
  • Processing: You can start with an “organic” product, but through processing can undo the benefits thereof. Adding preservatives, adding other chemicals or even overseperating all the components can render the item inorganic. Again, this is a difficult thing to define. Can you really have organic sugar, white flour or baking chocolate with the amount of processing they go through?
  • Packaging & Distribution: This one more focuses on environmental impact. How much is too much? Paper packaging is acceptable, but delivering in a deisel truck is not?

Is there such thing as Organic Food?

Yes, see definition at top. As far as foods and other products go we can’t get by with a one size fits all system. It needs to be tiered in a way that we can understand. I would suggest creating an insane list of requirements that would be difficult to follow and then rate everyone on a 1-100 system of how well they are complying.

I could understand that.

Clarity is what I’m all about. This way the insane guy get’s to put the 100% logo on his products and charge accordingly. The corporation that doesn’t care can make it’s 0% item and lowball everyone. The Government could then require the rating on every product including those that are not foodstuffs (ie. environmental impact). This would make environmentalists happy as well as improve consumer education.

People wouldn’t buy the 0% stuff.

Not necessarily. We might find that the price vs. rating will balance out to a certain level for products. For tomatoes we might be willing to pay for the 80% version, but for macaroni and cheese we’re happy with 20%. I’d be fascinated to find out.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply