Issue Brief: Dishonest Propaganda Sprouts from Organic Agriculture

In The Wealth of Nations, the 18th century economist and philosopher Adam Smith observed about the chicanery of some businessmen, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Nowhere is that truer than in today’s organic agriculture and food industries, whose bamboozling of the public relies on chicanery and misrepresentations.

The most recent example is the article, “What the pesticides in our urine tell us about organic food,” by Kendra Klein and Anna Lappé, two well-known agents of the organic industry, in The Guardian.  Their misleading half-truths and outright misstatements offer a teaching moment about “advocacy research” that is designed to obtain a preordained, spurious result that can then be used as propaganda to distort consumers’ choices in a free market. 

First, the article is based on a recent published “study” (one of the coauthors of which is Klein) of four families (with a total of 16 participants) whose urine samples were measured for 12 days – six days on a conventional, non-organic diet, then six days eating organic — to determine the levels of various pesticides.  Leaving aside the minuscule sample size, the study measured only conventional, synthetic pesticides, but no “organic” ones, obviously intending to obtain results that would reinforce the myth that organic agriculture doesn’t use pesticides.  

In fact, many organic-approved pesticides pose significant environmental and human health risks. They include highly toxic chlorine products such as sodium hypochlorite, calcium hypochlorite and chlorine dioxide; and copper sulfate, a widely-used broad-spectrum organic pesticide that persists in the soil and is the most common residue found in organic food. (The European Union determined that copper sulfate may cause cancer and intended to ban it, but backed off because organic farmers don’t have good alternatives.)  It is noteworthy that modern synthetic pesticides are both safer and more effective; and some, such as neonicotinoids, can be used as seed coatings, avoiding the need for foliar spraying.

More than two dozen synthetic chemical pesticides are permitted in organic agriculture, and organic farmers are demanding more. The reason is revealing. Organic practices are so primitive and inferior that constantly-challenged organic farmers periodically must go whining to USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (whose members are from the organic industry), which rubber-stamps their requests for new chemicals to be approved.


Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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