• Kavin Senapathy wrote a new post, The Myth of the Altruistic Organic Industry, on the site Skepchick 5 years, 6 months ago

    ThumbnailMy recent piece, “Why this Mom Boycotts Organic and Will Never Shop at Whole Foods” garnered quite a bit of social media feedback ranging from reverence to hatred. Critical thinkers and parents appreciated the […]

    • Yep. Nothing will get you richer then creating a problem and then providing a “solution” to that problem. After all, halitosis wasn’t something anyone worried about until Listerine offered a cure.

      So much pseudoscience is based on this idea (chronic Lyme disease or chronic candidiasis for instance) that it is almost a textbook ploy (I’ve got all these magnets, what should I do with them? Bracelets!) that I could exploit if I weren’t not-evil.

      Oh yeah, and the ultimate example; “Looks like you get you some sin there, boy have I got a solution.”

    • Good article! I guess the problem is more the control of the seed thus the food we eat. The GMO seed it appears to me is produced to yield high returns on products/plants that we don’t that much in our daily life. The rules and regulations favor patenting of the GMO and make those who chose to grow non-GMO vulnerable. Do we really need more yellow corn? or the enriched rice i.e. Golden Rice? It will not be on the table of the people in the third world country it will be on our table! Why would I need more vitamin A than what I already get in my diet? Actually it might be too poisonous for me if I exceed the limit of vitamin A. Do not patent the seeds, make them at the price of non-GMO, get the revenue from selling the crops not the seeds. Clean the mess after the GMO experimentation. Then I might consider supporting the GMOs!

      • I’m going to point out that seeds(and rootstock) have been patented since the initial Plant Parent Act of 1930 with many updates in legislation over the generations and the issues of corporate control and ownership over commercial crops predate GMO tech. Farming is a business not a hobby or charity. Organic/Green Cult has made a very romantic mythology about farming not being an industry that hasn’t been true since the 19thC.

        • Your last 2 lines are key though much of what organic cult view is the mythology of a farm on the label of their butter that never existed in the real world.

          Farming is a business not a hobby. Farming is not natural farming is the very first time humans said beep you nature and took control of the environment on a large scale. Farming is not a garden but bigger.

          If you are worried about the environment you should want humans as far away from that land as possible. That means higher yields on the land we need to farm on so we can set aside grasslands and forest for real biodiversity. 3 different varieties of Kale and a winter squash is not biodiversity.

      • In addition to Adela’s point, patents on GM seed varieties run out. The patents are compensation for the R&D investment that goes into developing GMOs. Like anything else that can be patented, the patent expires. The first such expiration is the Roundup Ready Soybean http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/roundup-ready-patent-expiration.aspx

        And Golden Rice, in short, yes we need it. Golden Rice has increased levels of beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, an essential micronutrient. It will not reach poisonous levels in the body. Only as much vitamin A as needed will be converted.

      • The Saving seed argument comes from those that do not understand how modern farms work. Except for a tiny handful or those that are doing it as a hobby no one saves seeds. Not because of patent or the tech agreement but because it does not make financial sense to do so. Saving seeds mean putting aside acres of land that are going to require water, N2, weeding, insect control. Those are all costs. Then when you harvest them you have to wash your equipment. Then clean and sort your seeds. You don’t have the seed treatments. At best you might save a few cents but you will not have as good of a product as just planting a crop for market on that land and ordering from Pioneer. And its important to remember that corn or any other hybrid has to be bought from seed other wise it will not grow true.

        Yes we need Golden Rice. Its the best chance to put a dent into Vit A Deficiency. I am not sure why you don’t think it will be on the table of Asians and Africans where its intended to be used. All patents used to develop it are under a humanitarian license. This means all small farmers will not have to pay any additional money for the product. They are free to do with this as they wish.

        Sorry but patents are necessary. It now takes nearly a decade and over 100 million dollars on average to pass the regulatory hurdles to bring a GM on market. That is just the testing cost not the cost of R&D or marketing. Without patent protection no one would spend a dime on this research.

        • So true about saving seeds, JimisAwesome. I’m no farmer, but I’ve heard from a lot of them that no experienced farmer that makes his living in ag would save seeds.

      • You may not need more beta-carotene (Strictly speaking, it doesn’t make vitamin A, but rather beta-carotene, which your body transforms into vitamin A as needed.), but there are people starving in Africa and Southeast Asia who might.

        The only thing I might shop at Whole Paycheck for, the only thing, is Tanka bars. I know the owner’s family (His father was a lawyer who worked for AIM back in the 70s.), and I can’t always get to other venues where they’re sold. But I would not pay Whole Foods’ markup.

    • Just read your other piece as well. Excellent points in both.

      “Organic” has become conflated with “good and ecologically wise farming techniques,” even beyond GMO gibberish. Thirty years ago, this was not farfetched. It is now.

      I hate the word “sustainable” used this way, but it’s easy shorthand. So, I am all for developing sustainable farming techniques that do not cause great topsoil loss or damage, don’t create poisonous runoff that endangers the wildlife and people exposed, and does not result in farm and food workers being injured by machinery, toxins, abusive labor practices, or any other avoidable harm. I also am in favor of humane livestock husbandry practices.

      None of which are guaranteed by “organic food.”

      On a very local level, we have watched Whole Foods shove out more affordable options as gentrification spreads through Boston. In my own neighborhood, Whole Foods closed a low priced Latino grocery that was a local institution, in a sub-radar deal with the out-of-town landlord. After the deal was signed and they were about to open, Whole Foods farcically had a “community hearing” in order to give the impression that they cared about the neighborhood beyond figuring out ways of taking our money. Since then, a small food co-op, selling products similar to WF but usually cheaper, has had to fold. That part of our neighborhood now has no local grocery store, making it hard for people who live there and don’t have a car to shop– over 60% of the residents. But, hey, now Whole Foods has a delivery service to that area– for $5 a delivery.

      In short, I don’t buy into any of that “stewards of the earth” crap from Whole Foods et al, either in their intended sense of being healthy and ecologically sound, or in the greater sense of stewardship that would include treating people well.

      • Thank you, bibliotequetress. I’m all for wise, environmentally responsible farming techniques as well, but to echo your comment, I don’t think organic is the path to sustainability. In fact, some organic farms actually have to discard some of their crop due to pest damage. This is just one example of how organic isn’t as efficient as conventional and GM farming. Take the newly approved Simplot Innate potato. Not only does it reduce acrylamide to reduce carcinogenic properties of fried potatoes, its reduced bruising means less potatoes have to be discarded. This is a bit OT for this thread, but in addition, there is a misconception that vegan-friendly is organic. For anyone interested, check out vegangmo.com

    • Aloha. Not sure how I stumbled across this article, but was intrigued by your commentary. I read two of your linked articles “Why This Mom Boycotts Organic and Will Never Shop at Whole Foods” and “Choosy Moms Choose GMOs” and appreciate your candor, though naturally I don’t agree with everything stated. But hey, that’s the nature of journalism. 🙂

      I do agree that Whole Foods and similar venues are not necessarily better “stewards” of the Earth or its resources. They’re businesses and use marketing (the “organic” label or otherwise) to create, keep, and sell to their target markets.

      Moreover, with thousands of vendors clamoring to place their wares on shelves and only ~6,000 linear sq. ft. per Whole Foods store, there’s simply not enough space to sell everything. Therefore, what primary factor determines what to display? Profit.

      What goes on the shelves at Whole Foods is not necessarily the best products, the proverbial “cream of the crop” but, rather, what will generate the biggest profit margin, health or other considerations notwithstanding. Basic capitalism.

      I am curious, though, do you feel your reasoning applies when it’s the farmer or manufacturer that sells direct to the consumer, does your “organic-scam” rhetoric continue to apply? And even that may be too broad.

      I ask because I’ve long felt as you’ve described, incredulous about the “organic” label. I’ve patiently humored my wife and dutifully bought the vastly more expensive products, but secretly harbored disbelief that it was any healthier, better, tastier, etc.

      Since October, though, I’ve had reason to re-evaluate my previous notions and beliefs. I took the “10-day celebrity transformation” challenge which originates with a company that is the manufacturer, and sells their products direct to the consumer.

      I coupled the 10 days with precise scientific measurements of my body for months before and after the 10 days and less scientifically my own perceptions. I expected to take advantage of the 60-day money back guarantee because I anticipated proving yet again that the perceived “organic” value is baseless.

      But I was wrong.

      Surprisingly, I *was* different. Scientifically, measurably different. And I *felt* different, too. My own personal null hypothesis was necessarily rejected, at least as pertained to that trial, or that company.

      I’m not done exploring and delving into this. In fact, I’ve partnered with a University colleague and we’re conducting formal research with anticipated academic publication in the ensuring months/years.

      But it has forced me to reconsider my previous ideas, that perhaps some organic claims are not as baseless as I’d believed. I’m curious whether my experience is unique, or if it’s normal.

      Are you willing to take the “10-day Celebrity Transformation” challenge, to test it for yourself? I’d love to see your results.

      • Thing is.. Organic, because it doesn’t produce nice clean crops, so to speak, has to be more picky about what is put on the shelf. Its plausible that just simply picking out the fruit, vegetables, etc. that are less bruised, because its easier to see which ones are in organic crops **may** mean that certain negative characteristics that do effect health, are avoided? Another problem is quite simply the whole double blind issue. Its possible to health, and even weight, to fluctuate, and to do so due to **perception**. There was a study done a bit back which actually showed that just sticking a chart on the wall, reminding people how many calories they burned doing just simple things, had the insane effect of causing weight loss. Maybe they inadvertently did some of those things a tiny bit more, or the reminder that they where trying to lose also caused a slight decline in intake.. its really hard to pin down, because your mental perception can, and does, cause physiological changes. This why the whole, “If we run some electricity through our body if will cleanse you of allergies!”, nonsense I recently heard someone was using works. It is, ironically, possible to trigger allergic responses, with nothing but visual, or other stimulus. By the same token, the right mental monkeying can reduce, and possibly even eliminate *some* allergies, depending on how severe they are. Literally believing you are cured can, in such cases, cure someone (at least until/unless they stop believing). This is what makes claims about GMO versus Organic such a pain. Scientifically there is **no** chemical difference between them in most cases, in the majority of cases, and even the claimed contaminants people insists are in the non-organic products may, in many cases, be introduced during the packaging process, not at the fields, so.. can’t be attributed to being a cause. What does differ is “perception”, and… sadly, the truly problematic thing is that it is actually possible for someone who doesn’t believe, at all, in something, to be unknowingly influenced, to predispose them to have a positive reaction. This happens with acupuncture, where whether or not it works, or how well has vastly more to do with the perceived reliability/believability, and trustworthiness, of the practitioner, than it does with even whether or not the patient thinks its totally nonsense. It just doesn’t seem to matter, at all whether its real, just.. whether your reaction to the “doctor” is positive enough to trigger your own nervous system to trick itself, regardless of what you conscious mind says about it, into reducing pain, or improving the effect of a medication, or… even possibly having organic foods seem to be healthier than ones that are not.

        Its a real tricky mess, and bloody hard to detect, from what I understand, which is why, frankly, most of the stuff out there is unconscionably premature and unethical, even if any of it is true in the long run. It may take 10,000 patients, over dozens of studies, to be “certain” of the effect, or to disprove it, but.. almost all of this stuff is predicated, at best, on a tiny handful of studies, often with only a few hundred people in them. Pure statistical anomaly could produce positive results in such small samples, and numbers of studies.

        • Absolutely, my personal discovery does not justify the organic movement and although I used scientific devices and procedures as part of my experience, it’s clearly not without possible error, bias, etc. Hence I’m collaborating with a colleague to conduct some formalized research.

          But, given that the challenge *is* backed by a 60-day guarantee, I *did* observe significant results (p < .01), and subjectively I *do* feel better, I think I'll do another one or two 10-day challenges and see if my findings remain consistent.

          Kagehi, et al — care to try the challenge?

          • Nope. Not at all interested. I don’t take challenges where my own flawed perceptions can derail the outcomes. Doctors are not allowed to use placebo, save in dire cases, like wars, where there is literally no option but either give someone hope, or see them die, because the same mental manipulation that can make someone better can make them worse. Its an ethics violation to even try, despite the fact that, if done right, it could improve outcomes. I would be a total bloody fool to fool myself, instead of waiting for the facts.

            And, that is not the only reason. I work in a grocery store. The same people that, day in, and day out, claim they feel better eating organics, sometimes in the same conversation, will describe problems that are no different than anyone else that is supposedly eating more poorly. Worse, they fall pray to real scams, like mega-vitamins, or Airborne. I, one day, say one fool buying 3-4 different “natural products”, which claimed to keep him safe from the colds. The primary ingredient for them was, in all cases, Vitamin C. He also had juices, which contained the same. Added up.. he was probably taking something like 5,000-7,000mg a day of the stuff.. We, literally, have no idea what a safe dose of it is, but we **do** know that there is an unsafe one, over which the risk of certain cancers become much higher (both the key advocate of mega-dosing on it, and his wife, died from cancers, for which no other factor could be found, which would explain them), and.. I can’t remember if it was 10,000mg, or 100,000mg a day they had been taking. What we have vast evidence for, from studies is that vitamin C has **no effect at all** on colds, or flu. We do however have about 50 times as much purely anecdotal gibberish, and endorsements, from people that think it did help, but don’t have one scrap of actual evidence, like.. something showing it cleared up in 2 days, instead of 3, or anything similar, to justify the claims.

            This is even more compounded by the “bad science reporting” disease. This has several attributes, that should terrify anyone that understands them:

            1. Journals don’t get readers by simply stating the basic facts of research. Things that sound, or can be made to sound, like miracles, and vast and grand strides, will be published, to the exclusion of other.

            2. News papers, TV news, pop-science magazines, etc. look for only the most interesting of the things from #1, to publish. And, then, all too often they screw up the explanations even worse than the journals do.

            3. Retractions, if printed, are never read by the people that keep quoting the original study.

            4. Studies that contradict, deny, or even disprove, something are less interesting than ones that claim great advances, so, even when they contradict, deny, or disprove, prior studies, journals do not always print them, and, if they do, the public, rarely, if ever, sees them.

            5. Most studies that get published, then recounted, than blown out of proportion to the facts, and “preliminary”, and require dozens of additional experiments, and thousands more tests, to confirm. Yet, they are often reported as breakthroughs, because reporting them as such draws attention, and, in part, sadly, make it more likely that the funds will exist for the original researcher, and others, to keep testing, and either confirm, or deny, the original results.

            A good example of this is “anti-oxidants.” People make “all” of the same claims on these as they do with eating organic. Heck, a bloody “huge” claim being made by organics is that there is, in contradiction to fact, more of those in organics, especially if its also termed a “super food” than in normal produce. Only… Here is the facts of anti-oxidants:

            1. It was proposed, clear back when the vitamin C nut was killing himself with mega-dosing, that oxidation may be a major cause of malfunction in human cells, and part of the aging process.

            2. Initial tests indicated this did happen, it did cause some errors, and that **maybe** anti-oxidants would have an impact. Some initial studies suggested this may be correct.

            3. Later studies, which, as per the first list I posted above, never made it into most journals, was never then taken up by news, or popular science magazines, and never made it to the public, suggested that… oddly, more testing didn’t seem to produce quite the promise implied.

            4. Meanwhile, every product maker on the planet, practically, was cramming “anti-oxidants” into things, especially the makeup and “health” industries, who would sell you fake moon rocks, if they thought they could get by with it, and there was the tiniest chance that hitting your head with the rock every morning might “reduce wrinkles”.

            5. At some point, even bloody water bottling people decided to push the stuff.

            6. Meanwhile, the original guy that proposed the idea had been doing detailed research on just what the heck was actually going on. These where his conclusions, as of like.. 6-8 months ago? Guess why just about no one, at all, knows about them…:

            a. Oxidation actually plays a role in some cellular processes, even with respect to DNA. Its not possible to stop it, and definitely not a good idea to curtail it so much that it messes with those processes.

            b. Our cells have several systems, which are interdependent, and change how they work, based on certain conditions. One of those conditions is the level of oxidation going on.

            c. We produce our own, natural anti-oxidants.

            d. One of the processes fowled up by removing oxidation, or drastically reducing it is “error correction and repair”. Basically, if our cells recognize there is less change of defects arising from errors, it stops wasting as much resources on repairing the errors that do happen. This can actually “cause” more errors, since they will not be detected, or repaired, because the sloppy system tracking them has shut down, on the assumption that there will now be less of them. Whoops!

            e. Just to see what would happen, he disabled “natural” production of anti-oxidants in some test animals, and saw a 25% gain in life span. Yep.. they lived longer by **not** having any protection from oxidants. Double whoops!!

            So… A bloody lot of people insist they feel better drinking, eating, and taking these things, but… we don’t know how much it too much (will cause more errors, and cause cancers, or other problems), many of them seem to have secondary effects that can boost, in the short term, energy levels, even as they do damage (sort of like if you where taking uppers all the time, and ignoring the mess that causes with neurotransmitters in the brain, which can become permanent, and incurable), we have no real clue how much actually helps (or even if taking them at all might be bad), nor, at this point, do we even know what other problems may exist, if we, say, deleted “our” ability to create them in our own bodies, and stopped eating foods with them at all. The latter might make someone who, now, could live healthy to 100, instead survive to 125, or.. it might increase the risk of cancers, and other diseases. We just don’t know.

            What do we know? That taking/eating/drinking anti-oxidants in every bloody thing we take into our bodies, at best, does nothing at all, and at worst, might actually contribute to aging, instead of slowing it. In short – our current obsession with this stuff might be making us, over the long run, **less** healthy, not more. But.. its likely to be, like vitamins in general, as case where W amount isn’t enough, X amount is more or less right, Y amount is maybe a little more than needed, but your body isn’t going to use more than it needs, and Z amount.. will shorten your life span, and/or send you to chemo. But, we just don’t know. And… the public is getting ***all*** of its information from people who never read, and never will, the later research, suggesting that it may be the worst bloody thing they could possibly do to themselves, or.. it just doesn’t work, neither one of which justifies selling the stuff, and either of which rips to shreds the “self reported” claims of millions of people, who are convinced, from the exact same sort of studies/challenges, you are talking about, that its making them healthier, happier, and better.

            • Wow. My claim is that I observed empirically significant evidence (p < .01) that there was a difference between organic products used vs. non-organic. Of only anecdotal note do I subjectively state that I also feel better. I openly recognize my single experience may not be representative and may be flawed due to personal contamination, hence my interest in formalized research.

              Given that you're not involved in formal research (or, if so, haven't stated as much) and thus have no opportunity to jeopardize legitimate research, abstaining on the grounds that it's unethical because it may influence results is… well, absurd, IMO. If you don't want to try something, just say no thanks. 🙂

              I am curious, what alternative do you propose? Just purchase and eat whatever happens to be on the local grocer's shelves, whether that's Whole Foods (ah, back to the original article) or something else, and hope that the manufacturer, farmer, et al, has spent a billion dollars on research to ensure it's top-notch, has no long-term ill effects, etc?

              No thanks. I'll continue formalized research and privately do my own "experimentation" (the results of which MAY suggest opportunities for legitimate, formal and controlled research), even if my results are subject to error because of personal involvement. After all, as the consumer I get to choose where and how to spend my dollars, and in this case, the organic food is LESS than what I was already spending, so it's a win-win. 🙂

            • Just saying.. Beware your personal research isn’t just biased, but dead wrong. Me.. I will go with the recommendations made by health experts, when I can actually get at that information. So, so, soooo much of what is out there is **not** from actual nutritionists. Even the food pyramid, and its replacement, are **both** political, as much as factual, and thus distort the real information. When you tack on “naturopaths”, which have no credentials, of knowledge at all, but sound a bloody like like nutritionists, and all the other junk out there.. its bloody surprising some times that we are not eating cardboard and drinking mud, because some clown some place either found an economic/political gain from making it sound like a fact, or there where a dozen micro-studies, which “suggest” it is a good idea.

              We are all easily fooled by what we want to be real, and the easiest person for us to fool is ourselves, or.. someone said something to that effect, way back when. I have yet to see anyone disprove the axiom.

          • Please elaborate on what differences were measured, how they were measured, and what statistical process was used to arrive at a p <0.01 significance level.

          • My claim is that I observed empirically significant evidence (p < .01)

            Second person asking: how was this measured?

          • 3rd person asking… How do you derive statistically significant data from a study of 1 person?

            • but-but-but! he observed some anecdotal evidence! no confirmation bias here, no sir.

            • “I coupled the 10 days with precise scientific measurements of my body for months before and after the 10 days and less scientifically my own perceptions.”

              And measuring what, exactly? And with what instruments?

            • 4th person asking: Wouldn’t p for an n=1 study be around .5? In other words, a crapshoot?

            • 5th person asking, and please also verify whether the “10-day Celebrity Transformation” you speak of is the multi level marketing scheme produced by Purium Health that is marketed as a cleanse and really has nothing to do with organics?

              Skepticism is a pain in the ass when you’re trying to sell stuff isn’t it?

            • “Formalized research” — that’s what Joshua Smith called his “challenge”. LOL

            • Do we have a meme now? 😉

        • There’s also the opposite, the ‘nocebo’ effect, which has actually been responsible for the deaths of otherwise healthy people:


          How our perceptions influence our biology is fascinating and strange as fiction.

    • USDA Organic certainly is marketing gimmick and fears of GMO are definitely unfounded. However, GMOs and “conventional” farming are hardly any savior for the environment or hungry humans.

      Hunger is generally a localized issue which requires countering many base issues which drive the hunger. GMOs can occassionally be helpful tools, but thinking of them as some kind of actual solution is more harmful than helpful.

      For instance, 1 and 5 children in the US is on food stamps… saying GMO IS TEH WUNDERCURE and being done with the issue would ensure a lot of US children stay hungry. Of course that’s not what anyone is doing, but I have seen the GMO wundercure approach thrown at other international hunger problems.

      GMO can be like organic to many skeptics and scientists in that it’s billed as magic solution to big problems without proper critical thought. GMO is a TOOL, not a solution.

    • I read kagehi’s spiel about antioxidants above (great job there) and here’s my 2c worth in support.

      In the early 70’s I read Linus Pauling’s book about vitamin C and decided to give it a try. I went and bought a kilo of ascorbic acid and took 5 grams a day for 200 days.

      Like many people, in the winter season I usually get 1 or 2 respiratory tract infections a year, severe enough to take a few days off work.

      In short the vitamin made no perceptible difference to frequency, length or severity of my URTI’s.

      This experience taught me a lot about argument from authority and that even Nobel prize winning biochemists can be totally full of shit on subjects where they ought to know better.

      It also helped immunise me against taking too seriously claims about free radicals and antioxidants when about a bazillion papers on the subject appeared in the 80’s and 90’s.

      Anecdote I know but a valuable personal experience and I’m not trying to convince anybody of anything.

      • I don’t know about megadoses of vitamin C causing cancer though. That’s a new one on me. It’s certainly not mentioned in the MSDS sheets.

        Fun fact about vitamin C: it can often reduce your cholesterol measurements!

        However, as this is due to a negative interference with the test itself, this is not recommended. (A bit like Hitchhiker’s Guide where Zaphod Beeblebrox’s glasses turned black in the presence of danger).

        • Fun fact: TBHQ (tert-butylhydroquinone) is also an antioxidant. Unsurprisingly, because it’s not ‘natural’, alties aren’t so excited about it. Quite the opposite, really.

          • Ha! You could have some fun with that for sure!
            I guess lithium aluminium hydride is also a great antioxidant, but I don’t want to go anywhere near it without PPE.