This is a guest post from Anne Pernick, Executive Director of Corporate Ethics International and the Business Ethics Network. The Business Ethics Network (BEN) is a project of Corporate Ethics International, a 501(c)(3) working to bring corporations back in service to and under the control of the citizenry.
This year has brought quite a dust up about organic food. The controversy tells us much more about our need to be spokespeople about the issues we care about than it does about organics, however.
This fall a Stanford University study questioned the health benefits of organic versus conventional food based on review of a large number of previously published papers. This story was a media splash, with supportive opinion pieces popping up to keep the drumbeat going. What didn’t get as much attention were the rebuttals to the Stanford study and its conclusions, or other new research showing the dangers of pesticides, even at low levels, in terms of fat growth and metabolic disorders and kids’ brain development. Or a study from 2011, which also reviewed a large number of previously published papers, and came to the conclusion that organics offered better nutrition.
Of particular interest to me was a radio story on 11 rural schools in my state where pesticides were found in drinking water. Several of the schools had multiple pesticides in the water — as many as 12 types of pesticides in some schools. The schools were identified in a federal Department of Agriculture story. The Stanford study came out on Sept. 3. The drinking water story came out on Sept. 4. To me this was an amazing juxtaposition. If we were worried to hear there were pesticides making their way into our kids’ drinking water, how could we not see the importance of organics in terms of our family’s health, our community’s health and our planet’s health?
But instead of those “we’re all downstream” connections, the debate is going through another round of calling organics unimportant and elitist. Earlier this month Dr. Oz, who had been a strong advocate for organics even after the Stanford study, calling organics something families should be investing in, authored a Time magazine piece calling organics the food of snobs. This article is being criticized for leaving out critical information for consumers.
Some say there may have been a conflict of interest behind the Stanford study (a conflict the university denies) and are asking Dr. Oz if there’s one behind his article and his change of heart. As part of the corporate campaign movement, questioning whether corporate influence shaped the statements of opinion leaders is always important.
But there’s a way to fight this important battle with the information we already know, and that’s the data on the benefits of organics and the dangers of pesticides and other elements of conventional agriculture. We need to commit to being informed about the details of this research, and to make noise about what we know. We need to be willing to make people uncomfortable if they aren’t informed or honest about the facts about organics. And we have to commit for the long haul, and not only because organics versus conventional affects our family’s health but because it affects our community’s health, our farm workers’ health and our planet’s health.
At the Business Ethics Network, we’re hosting a webinar on Tues. December 18 at 11am PST/ 2pm EST with expert presenters to get into the details of the Stanford study and other research on organics that’s not getting the same attention. This webinar is free and open to the public, and we invite the Care2 community to join us. It’s an opportunity to get into the specifics we need to be sharing with others. More details below. Please RSVP here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/L7ZPRVN
Organic Food: A Fresh Look in a Year of Controversy
Tuesday Dec. 18, 11 a.m. PACIFIC/ 2 p.m. EASTERN
Alexis Baden-Mayer, Organic Consumers Association
Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota – Southwest Research and Outreach Center
Please RSVP at this link:
This is a free, public webinar, which will be recorded, posted and shared.
The Stanford study touched off a firestorm, but did it really help consumers evaluate organics or just create controversy (as evidenced by Dr. Oz’s recent flip flop on the subject)? How is the Stanford study holding up to a few months of analysis? What are other recent studies showing about the importance of organics, and are they gaining the same attention? What about the impacts of different farming techniques on our whole ecosystem as well as on our dinner table?
Photo from Thinkstock