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Inspector

"Organic" Foods

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When I see the term "organic food," I think of Joan Gussow:

"When we said organic we meant local," she wrote in 2002. "We meant healthful. We meant being true to the ecologies of regions. We meant mutually respectful growers and eaters. We meant social justice and equality."

(bold mine: emphasizing, in this order, anti-globalism, environmentalism, more anti-globalism, socialism/egalitarianism)

This was a movement founded explicitly on environmentalism, anti-globalism, anti-technology, and anti-business/anti-capitalism.

More on "organic food" here.

This is why it is very important to specify, when you are talking about "organic" foods, what you mean. You have to be aware of the origins, actions, and purpose of the "organic" foods movement. If you like certain non-mass-produced foods or alternative premium foods, then to say you like "organic" foods is as irresponsible as saying that because you like clean air that you're an "environmentalist."

Like it or not, "organic" foods = environmentalism, anti-globalism, anti-technology, and anti-business/anti-capitalism. You must be careful not to give that your sanction.

Edited by Inspector

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Again, the key with any produce you buy from whatever source is to make sure to wash it before you eat it.

But that misses the point: "inorganic" foods use chemical fertilizers and pesticides that kill bugs and don't allow exposure to the e. coli that dwells in manure. Washing won't really remove e. coli. Maybe you could soap down your apples, but could you get all the nooks and crannies in broccoli? Yes, there is always the danger that produce can be mishandled, but "organic" foods add a whole new vector.

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But how on earth would you be able to tell if the produce at a supermarket or at a wholesaler is diseased or not?
I can't, and that is why trust is so essential in buying food. (Of source, I do wash the produce, if you were thinking that I'm one of those raw unwashed-food types).
Is it possible to get sick from contaminated produce in the USA? Sure - but the odds of it happening are extremely remote.
Since I buy food from competent professionals, the chances are indeed very low for me. Because death is permanent, I err on the side of caution in being concerned about food germs, especially fecal bacteria. Hence my interest in rational caution.

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This is why it is very important to specify, when you are talking about "organic" foods, what you mean. You have to be aware of the origins, actions, and purpose of the "organic" foods movement. If you like certain non-mass-produced foods or alternative premium foods, then to say you like "organic" foods is as irresponsible as saying that because you like clean air that you're an "environmentalist."

Like it or not, "organic" foods = environmentalism, anti-globalism, anti-technology, and anti-business/anti-capitalism. You must be careful not to give that your sanction.

I don't doubt for a moment the ideological origins of the organic movement. Nor do I buy into any of that nonsense or have any sort of irrational fear of pesticides and such. If world agriculture suddenly converted to organic, there would be starvation because there would not be enough food to go around. And it would also result in more "wild" land being converted to agriculture - which I am sure the environmentalist would squawk about. Much of New England, for example, as reverted back to wild forests. Between 100 and 300 years ago, those forests had been cleared so that people could farm the land. Today that land is considered sub-marginal for farming. Why? Because fertilizers, pesticides and breeding have resulted in significantly higher crop yields per acre thus requiring less land to produce a greater amount of food. It simply isn't worht the effort to farm rocky land in New England.

None of that, however, changes the fact that if you wish to purchase certain types of very high quality specialty produce, that produce is very often these days going to be marketed as "organic" and grown in accordance to the methods that will make it legal for it to be labeled as "organic" - and many farmers do it for the economic reasons I mentioned and not out of any idealogical motive. If conventionally grown produce of a similar variety and quality was available - then you might have a point about not purchasing the organic. But the simple fact is that, in many cases, a conventionally grown product of similar quality is NOT available. And I, for one, do not think it would accomplish anything for a person to sacrifice his passion for gourmet food on such a basis. It would accomplish jack squat in terms of any sort of economic impact on the organic industry - and, as most people here probably already know, the battle is primarily philosophical/ideological anyway.

A similar issue is involved when it comes to "fair trade" coffee. That is nothing more than a movement of Commie-Lefty anti-capitalists. But go out and try to find really top quality coffee beans these days that are not labeled as "fair trade" coffee. It is becoming increasingly difficult And if you go to Starbucks - well, that is "fair trade" coffee too. As disgusting as that is, I don't think a person who values a quality cup of coffee in the morning would accomplish anything by sacrificing that pleasure and drinking cheap swill instead - other than, of course, giving up something that added to his enjoyment of life.

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None of that, however, changes the fact that if you wish to purchase certain types of very high quality specialty produce, that produce is very often these days going to be marketed as "organic"

Oh, certainly, which I did agree with above!

No, I didn't mean you shouldn't buy the stuff just because it so happens to be marketed as "organic." I meant you have to be careful about:

1) How you speak on the subject, being careful not to endorse the "organic" movement; to be perfectly clear you mean a premium food and not the hippie ideology of anti-everything-that's-good-for-man.

2) What kind of "organic" food you buy; to buy the good kind

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But that misses the point: "inorganic" foods use chemical fertilizers and pesticides that kill bugs and don't allow exposure to the e. coli that dwells in manure. Washing won't really remove e. coli. Maybe you could soap down your apples, but could you get all the nooks and crannies in broccoli? Yes, there is always the danger that produce can be mishandled, but "organic" foods add a whole new vector.

Maybe it does. And if one can demonstrate that it is riskier than conventionally grown produce that has had pesticide exposure - well, I would find quite amusing.

My point, however, is that, even with a higher risk level, the odds of getting sick from produce, organic or otherwise, in the USA are VERY low and is not something one should be especially worried about if one sees an item of produce that looks good and one wants to buy. Blowing risks out of proportion is a tactic the environmentalists use. It is just as absurd for us to do it in reverse simply because the target is something the environmentalists like to eat.

Since I buy food from competent professionals, the chances are indeed very low for me. Because death is permanent, I err on the side of caution in being concerned about food germs, especially fecal bacteria. Hence my interest in rational caution.

Well, let's see.... the e coli tainted packaged spinach that was pulled off the market several months ago that made people in many states very sick was sold through conventional supermarket chains under a variety of national name brands - including Dole. Taco Bell recently had an e coli outbreak in a handful of states that was traced back to lettuce from a certain supplier in California. Taco Bell supposedly has some of the highest food handling practices in the industry. In both cases, the origin of the e coli was suspected to be the result of the farms being right next to cattle fields where cow patties had tested positive for e coli. In the case of the spinach outbreak, it was belived that wild boars broke through the fencing that separated the spinach field from the cattle and the pigs brought the tainted dung into contact with the spinach. My guess is that the major supermarket chains and Taco Bell would classify as competent professionals.

As for erring on the side of caution when it comes to food germs - you might also want to consider not eating out in restaurants. For example, check this warning out. Imagine you were passing through that area of the country and stopped at that restaurant for a bite to eat during the days covered by the warning. A few hours later, you are hundreds of miles away and never hear that warning being issued. Despite the mention that officials in other states have been notified, how many media outlets in your part of the country are going to carry warnings about a restaurant in some podunk town in New York State? Heck, if I ate at a restaurant here in Fort Worth/Dallas that was infected, I might never even know about it because I never watch TV and rarely pay much attention to other local media.

And consider what happens when McDonald's employees wash their hands after going to the bathroom. McDonald's, being a Politically Correct company does not have paper towels in most of their restaurants. They have hand dryers. And once one has dried one's hands under the hand dryer, one must use those clean hands to open up the door to exit the bathroom - the same door that people who DO NOT wash their hands after using the bathroom also touched in order to open. The percentage of people who do not wash their hands after going to the bathroom is shockingly high - and it is even higher when there is nobody else in the bathroom with them to observe. I, for one, will NOT touch faucets or door handles in public bathrooms. I grab a piece of paper towel and open it up using that. How many McDonald's employees do you suppose do the same?

The fact is, while all of these things are scary and unpleasant to think about, the risk of getting sick at a restauarnt or a McDonalds is very low. And so is the risk of getting sick from buying produce.

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Maybe it does. And if one can demonstrate that it is riskier than conventionally grown produce that has had pesticide exposure - well, I would find quite amusing.

Then it pleases me to do so:

A study by the Center for Global Food Issues found that although organic foods make up about 1 percent of America's diet, they also account for about 8 percent of confirmed E. coli cases.

Organic food products also suffer from more than eight times as many recalls as conventional ones. Some of this problem would go away if organic farmers used synthetic sprays -- but this, too, is off limits. Conventional wisdom says that we should avoid food that's been drenched in herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. Half a century ago, there was some truth in this: Sprays were primitive and left behind chemical deposits that often survived all the way to the dinner table. Today's sprays, however, are largely biodegradable. They do their job in the field and quickly break down into harmless molecules.

Although I was able to find this easily, I did not learn it on the web. I first learned it from my wife's pathology professor.

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The tainted spinach fiasco is an interesting case. The original hypothesis was that spinach grown by one particular "organic" grower, Earthbound Farm, had been tainted e. coli in cow manure fertilizer. The spinach was not disinfected, and then was sold to a major distributor, mixed in with other spinach from "inorganic" growers, and distributed across the country under branding not explicitly labeled as containing "organically" grown food. As it turned out, the FDA eventually cleared Earthbound Farm, but it raises an interesting issue: to what degree are big-brand, "inorganic" foods being tainted with "organic" foods? I used to buy bagged salads (because they were more convenient), but since the tainted spinach fiasco, I've gone back to buying fresh, unbagged romaine. The bagged salad makers have lost my trust by failing to warn me about potential "organic" content in their products.

Another interesting aspect of the "organic" food question is whether genetically modified food can be called "organic." It clearly cannot, under the hippie version of "organic," but it can be grown using "organic" farming techniques. The fun bit is arguing with hippies who don't realize that every domestic crop has been genetically modified in some way (by human, as opposed to natural, selection; by cross-pollination of neighboring crops; even through historical use of pesticides and fertilizers). Dear hippies: if your corn is edible, it has been genetically modified!

-Q

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I have not posted or read anything on oo.net in a long time, and do not plan on returning to this thread after I have posted, but happened upon this and simply must comment. I simply cannot agree with this assessment. One assumes "hippie food" is here being equated with organic food due to the new thread title, so I'll simply address that matter.

Organic producers are not the only food producers that use manure products - from cows and chickens - to fertilize their crops. Anyone traveling through any agricultural part of the country can determine through nasal sense perception that the use of manure for fertilization is a widespread practice. The nature of E. coli contamination has to do with both the fertilization mechanism and the leafy nature of some vegetables. There has been at least one E. coli recall of non-organic vegetables ( I believe it was spinach) that was fertilized with manure, so opposing organic food on this ground only is ridiculous, unless you know exactly how every non-organic veg product you are buying in a supermarket has been fertilized. The most you can do is hope it wasn't fertilized with manure.

I don't oppose genetically modified food, even though at least one person has died from eating that, because I recognize the immense benefits of such food. There are valid and real concerns about allergic reactions in GM foods that would not be found in situations where one creates hybrids of two distinct species. This is why GM foods are extensively tested for allergic reactions before being put on the market.

There are also benefits to eating organic foods of various types, the evidence of which would no doubt be highly contested here regardless of facts, so I won't even bother to go into it. I find it offensive and annoying that Inspector would lecture to others he presumably does not even know, as if they are children, about their food choices.People are smart enough to make their own informed choices. I eat some organic foods for reasons that I and others (should) find no need to justify here, and in doing so we would only be buying into the idea that we somehow need to prove we are right. I will list one good reason for eating organic, though. You're sure that if you buy organic you're avoiding the very real danger of dying from eating toxic food from China.

I wonder if those eating organic food, such as myself and Ari Armstrong, are all ignorants who have bought into environmentalism? Give me a break!

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No, I didn't mean you shouldn't buy the stuff just because it so happens to be marketed as "organic." I meant you have to be careful about:

1) How you speak on the subject, being careful not to endorse the "organic" movement; to be perfectly clear you mean a premium food and not the hippie ideology of anti-everything-that's-good-for-man.

2) What kind of "organic" food you buy; to buy the good kind

I just love it when people don't read what I say.

Calm down Liro. You are not the enemy. I'm just saying don't give the enemy a blank check.

Edited by Inspector

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Ha ha, put that in your bong and smoke it, hippies!

Speaking of, they're all too happy to put genetically modified pot into their bongs and smoke it!

From http://www.nida.nih.gov/PDF/RRMarijuana.pdf, "Furthermore, the marijuana that is available today can be 5 times more potent than the marijuana of the 1970s."

Hmmm, wonder why that is?

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I think the only criteria we should judge food by is 1) Health, and 2) Taste. Setting aside the issue of whether organic food taste better (which I think it does), there really isn't any rational reason to think that a major corporate food distributor is going to necessarily produce healthier food than a regular farmer. The only thing that you can definitively count on from a corporate distributer is that they will producer CHEAPER food.

For instance a free grazing cow or a farm chicken free from high doses of growth hormones and antibiotics is probably going to be better for you. And by growing your food in a natural (read: healthier) environment --the reason why animals raised for meat require so much antibiotics in the first place is because they are raised so densely packed in the first place-- you eliminate many of the health risk factors in the first place. The bottom line is that healthy food and organic (a vague word) food aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

Speaking of, they're all too happy to put genetically modified pot into their bongs and smoke it!

From http://www.nida.nih.gov/PDF/RRMarijuana.pdf, "Furthermore, the marijuana that is available today can be 5 times more potent than the marijuana of the 1970s."

Hmmm, wonder why that is?

Why? Selective breeding. Which I suppose constitutes genetic modification as much as say, finding a smart, beautiful woman to have children with constitute genetic modification.

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And by growing your food in a natural (read: healthier) environment --the reason why animals raised for meat require so much antibiotics in the first place is because they are raised so densely packed in the first place--

Watch out, though: also per AB of Good Eats, "free range" can mean almost anything. The FDA doesn't have any definition for the size of the range that the animal is "free" on or the amount of time it spends there. This is, of course, the fault of having a regulated food industry: just comply with the regulations and you don't have to actually ensure your product is what it says it is.

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Selective breeding. Which I suppose constitutes genetic modification...
I've been making this argument for years to people opposed to genetic modification of foodstuffs. It tends to get a lot of blank stares, pregnant pauses and "well whatever, but how about this..." responses. I take these as signs that it works on some level - at least to the point where the GM opponent will quickly decide to evade the issue rather than clarify his position by making his hatred for man's mind explicit.

-Q

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Your link doesn't say anything about genetic modification.

And your original point --that marijuana has increased in potency since the 70s-- has everything to do with repeatedly cross pollinating marijuana strands with high THC contents. It's no more genetically modified than say, a dog (selectively bred from wolves).

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That's the argument: that cross-breeding marijuana and selectively breeding dogs are forms of "genetic engineering," because they are intentional efforts by humans to "engineer" better chronic and show poodles using knowledge of how heredity and genes work.

-Q

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Your link doesn't say anything about genetic modification.

And your original point --that marijuana has increased in potency since the 70s-- has everything to do with repeatedly cross pollinating marijuana strands with high THC contents. It's no more genetically modified than say, a dog (selectively bred from wolves).

"These plants have been genetically improved," he told a handful of journalists...

I guess I need to apologize. I certainly did not mean to upset you. I thought, perhaps erroneously, that "genetically improved" meant they were genetically modified. I do not disagree with you that cross pollination, selective breeding, etc., has occurred.

I also came across this which I found interesting... http://www.plantpharma.org/ials/index.php?id=318

"Even marijuana is genetically modified through the use of colchicine, a chemical which induces multiple copies of the marijuana genome with the nucleus of each cell resulting in higher levels of THC, marijuana’s primary active ingredient."

Capitalism seems to be fully functioning in the drug trade. If there is money to be made producing something, then the producers are going to pull out all the stops and technology necessary to bring a technologically better and more profitable product to market, right?

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I wouldn't say that Capitalism is fully functioning in the drug trade. People working in the drug trade do not have the protection of legally enforceable contracts or from fraud or misrepresentation. These are important and integral parts of Capitalism. But I agree that the drug trade has spurred some interesting innovations, not only in drug production technology, but in drug law evasion technology as well.

-Q

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I wouldn't say that Capitalism is fully functioning in the drug trade. People working in the drug trade do not have the protection of legally enforceable contracts or from fraud or misrepresentation. These are important and integral parts of Capitalism. But I agree that the drug trade has spurred some interesting innovations, not only in drug production technology, but in drug law evasion technology as well.

-Q

I stand corrected. :)

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This is an interesting article in the New Scientist on why genetic modifications may have different physiological effects than those produced by plant breeding. If you take a gene from a petunia and put it into, say, a totally unrelated plant such as a tomato, you can't exactly assume that the transgene is going to be processed in the same way. So some caution is required when selling a transgenetic product - in a way that is not required when creating hybrids between closely related species with almost identical physiological mechanisms.

I have no problem with GM foods, provided they've been proven safe and that the industries take care not to introduce genes known to cause allergies to people. And so far, this has been almost exclusively the case. I recall a case, years ago, of an immunocompromised? person dying of an allergic reaction to GM corn when it first arrived on the market, but I can't seem to find any documentation of that or what specific action was taken as a result.

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That's the argument: that cross-breeding marijuana and selectively breeding dogs are forms of "genetic engineering," because they are intentional efforts by humans to "engineer" better chronic and show poodles using knowledge of how heredity and genes work.
Selective breeding is genetic engineering. Technically. But I mean, that's really like comparing a molotov cocktail to an atomic bomb. I remember awhile back I read an article about how geneticists were able to combine a particular gene from a moth with a potato to decrease blemishes on the crops, or something to that effect. That's clearly not in any way possible with selective breeding. I'm not personally against genetic modifications in and of itself. But I certainly don't endorse a blank check to simply engineer away. It really comes down to the degree of control we have over the technology, and weighing the risks of unintentional side-effects vs potential benefits (well, that's easier said than done but you get the idea). GM in and of itself is just a powerful tool, no more and no less.
"These plants have been genetically improved," he told a handful of journalists...I guess I need to apologize. I certainly did not mean to upset you. I thought, perhaps erroneously, that "genetically improved" meant they were genetically modified. I do not disagree with you that cross pollination, selective breeding, etc., has occurred.
You don't have to apologize for anything. I'm not upset at all :PI was just trying to distinguish things like selective breeding from more modern techniques like recombinant DNA.
I have no problem with GM foods, provided they've been proven safe and that the industries take care not to introduce genes known to cause allergies to people.
This should be the bottom line when judging GM foods.

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[T]hat's really like comparing a molotov cocktail to an atomic bomb.
Exactly. Both are incendiary devices. "Genetic engineering" is a similarly imprecise term. The argument should prompt a reasonable anti-GM person to refine his definition of what it is he objects to. That's my only motive when I use that argument.

"Transgenic" is a much more precise term.

But I certainly don't endorse a blank check to simply engineer away.
I do. Engineer away. But before I buy, I'm going to do my research, and I expect the engineer to answer any concerns I have. And if he sells me a product he knows to be bad, and doesn't tell me, then that's fraud. No restrictions, other than those naturally imposed by Capitalism, are needed in the case of transgenic foods.

-Q

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