Going organic

I was a bit surprised to read this article on CNN about the supposed pluses and minuses of buying organic produce. I quote:

Jen Matlack’s husband teases her about buying organic. It’s not worth the extra money, he says, but she insists.

A new study promises to add fuel to their marital quarrel. Published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, it finds that organic produce has no more vitamins and minerals than conventionally grown produce.

Mark one point for the hubby.

That anyone would buy organic produce because they expect it to be more nutritious illustrates how poorly people’s perceptions can match reality. There is no reason a priori to expect organic produce to be more nutritious, because the term “organic” as it applies to produce simply requires that pesticides or fertilizers be naturally-derived rather than synthetic. And while naturally-derived chemicals approved for organic use tend to break down much more readily than synthetic ones, and are as a general rule less toxic, some of them are still quite nasty, all things considered. (For example, rotenone, which is a mitochondrial poison, causes Parkinson’s-like symptoms in animal models and exposure to it has been linked to Parkinson’s in humans; frankly, the most toxic substance known to man is, strictly speaking, organic–botulinum toxin).

None of the stipulations of organic horticulture suggest that organic food will be more nutritious–only that it might be less toxic. The perception that it might be more nutritious seems to arise from an associative fallacy that makes several poor assumptions. Chief among these is that synthetic = bad, which is sometimes, but not always, true.

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