Organic Elitists

Organic Elitists

Marion Nestle wrote about “Certified Organic” foods in last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle. Excerpts:

Foods grown on sustainable soils ought to contain higher levels of nutrients … but organic certification does not require higher nutritional values. Without testing, I’d be hard-pressed to know whether the organic foods I’m buying really are nutritionally better. The main point of organics [certification] is production methods, and these require hand labor and careful management, both of which come at a higher cost. 

Food marketers … take advantage of public perceptions that “organic” implies … sustainability and better nutrition. Companies that follow the rules can legitimately market highly processed foods as organic, taking advantage of their health aura to command higher prices.

No wonder so many big food companies have bought organic product lines …. Yes, organic junk food is free of synthetic pesticides, but the foods still have calories. As I like to put it, an organic junk food is still a junk food [examples here – ml].

… USDA organic rules do not say a word about sustainability.

… don’t blame organic producers for the high prices. Until the latest farm bill … organic farmers received not one break from the federal government. In contrast, the producers of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton continue to get $20 billion or so a year in farm subsidies.  Industrial agriculture also benefits from federally administered marketing programs and from cozy relationships with congressional committees and the USDA. In contrast, the USDA considers fruits and vegetables “specialty crops.” This kind of food politics shows up as higher prices in the grocery store.

As the supply of organic foods increases, and the Wal-Marts of the world sell more of them, organics should become more democratic.


Some thoughts: Scientific studies of the nutritional value of organic vs. conventional foods find no significant differences, even the studies funded by proponents of organic agriculture. Foods became  more expensive worldwide as U.S. farmland was converted to fieldcorn production for use as fuel ethanol. Big box stores like Wal-Mart carry much more highly-processed snack and conveience food than fresh or simply-preserved whole food products, and are careless in labeling items “organic.” Huge food processing firms have acquired smaller producers to exploit the marketing advantage and luxury cachet of  the “organic” label.


Hat tip: Mark Bittman.

Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: