[Market-farming] Denver Post Op-ed

Sharon and Steve shopkins at tdstelme.net
Tue Jul 31 19:00:50 EDT 2007

Reasons you should buy regular goods
By Jackie Avner
Article Last Updated: 07/27/2007 10:40:10 PM MDT

I don't like to buy organic food products, and avoid them at all cost. It is 
a principled decision reached through careful consideration of effects of 
organic production practices on animal welfare and the environment. I buy 
regular food, rather than organic, for the benefit of my family.

I care deeply about food being plentiful, affordable and safe. I grew up on 
a dairy farm, where my chores included caring for the calves and scrubbing 
the milking facilities. As a teenager, I was active in Future Farmers of 
America, and after college I took a job in Washington, D.C., on the Senate 
Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee staff.

But America no longer has an agrarian economy, and now it is rare for people 
to have firsthand experience with agricultural production and regulation. 
This makes the general public highly susceptible to rumors and myths about 
food, and vulnerable to misleading marketing tactics designed not to improve 
the safety of the food supply, but to increase retail profits. Companies 
marketing organic products, and your local grocery chain, want you to think 
organic food is safer and healthier, because their profit margins are vastly 
higher on organic foods.

The USDA Organic label does not mean that there is any difference between 
organic and regular food products. Organic farms simply employ different 
methods of food production. For example, organic dairy farms are not 
permitted to administer antibiotics to their sick or injured cows, and do 
not give them milk-stimulating hormone supplements (also known as rbGH or 
rBST). The end product is exactly the same - all milk, regular and organic, 
is completely antibiotic-free, and all milk, regular and organic, has the 
same trace amounts of rbGH (since rbGH is a protein naturally present in all 
cows, including organic herds). Try as they may, proponents of organic foods 
have not been able to produce evidence that the food produced by 
conventional farms is anything but safe.

Do organic production practices benefit animals? Dr. Chuck Guard, professor 
of veterinary medicine at Cornell University, told me that it pains him that 
many technological advancements in animal medicine are prohibited for use on 
organic farms. He described how organic farms don't use drugs to control 
parasites, worms, infections and illness in their herds. "Drugs take away 
pain and suffering," he said. "Proponents of organic food production have 
thrown away these medical tools, and the result is unnecessary pain and 
suffering for the animals."

In order for milk and meat to qualify as USDA Organic, the animals must 
never be given antibiotics when they are sick or injured. On organic farms, 
animals with treatable illnesses such as infections and pneumonia are left 
to suffer, or given ineffective homeopathic treatments, in the hope that 
they will eventually get better on their own. If recovery without medication 
seems unlikely, a dairy cow with a simple respiratory infection will be 
slaughtered for its meat, or sold to a traditional farm where she can get 
the medicine she needs. I don't buy organic milk because this system is 
cruel to animals, and I know that every load of regular milk is tested for 
antibiotics to ensure that it is antibiotic-free.

Organic milk certainly is not fresher than regular milk. Regular milk is 
pasteurized and has a shelf life of about 20 days. Organic milk is 
ultrapasteurized, a process that is more forgiving of poor quality milk, and 
that increases the shelf life of milk to about 90 days. Some of the Horizon 
organic milk boxes I've seen at Costco have expiration dates in 2008! There 
is a powerful incentive for retailers to put the ultrapasteurized organic 
milk on the shelf just before the expiration date, so consumers will think 
the organic milk is as fresh as the regular milk. After all, consumers are 
paying twice as much for the organic product.

Do organic production practices benefit the environment? In many cases, they 
do the opposite. Recently, Starbucks proudly informed their customers that 
they would no longer be buying milk from farms that use rbGH, the 
supplemental hormone administered to cows to increase milk production (even 
though the extra hormones stay in the cow, and the resulting milk is the 
same). The problem with this policy is that Starbucks will now be buying 
milk from farms that are far less efficient at making milk. Without the use 
of the latest technology for making milk, many more cows must be milked to 
produce the same number of café lattes for Starbucks' customers. More cows 
being milked means more cows to feed, and therefore more land must be 
cultivated with fossil-fuel-burning tractors. More cows means many more tons 
of manure produced, and more methane, a greenhouse gas, released into the 

I see Starbucks' policy as environmentally irresponsible. When a farmer 
gives a cow a shot of rbGH, the only environmental cost is the disposal of 
the small plastic container it came in. But the environmental benefits of 
using this technology are enormous.

Attention all shoppers: Safeway is adopting the same misdirected policy as 
Starbucks, judging from the prominent labeling of milk at my local Safeway 
store: "Milk from cows not treated with rBST." When I'm feeling particularly 
green, I drive past Safeway and shop at another grocery store in protest.

Consumers assume that organic crops are environmentally friendly. However, 
organic production methods are far less efficient than the modern methods 
used by conventional farmers, so organic farmers must consume more natural 
and man-made resources (such as land and fuel) to produce their crops.

Cornell Professor Guard told me about neighboring wheat farms he observed 
during a visit to Alberta, Canada: one organic and one conventional. The 
organic farm consumes six times as much diesel fuel per bushel of wheat 

Socially conscious consumers have a right to know that "organic" doesn't 
mean what it did 20 years ago. According to the Oct. 16, 2006, cover story 
in Business Week, when you eat Stonyfield Farms yogurt, you are often 
consuming dried organic milk flown all the way from New Zealand and 
reconstituted here in the U.S. The apple puree used to sweeten the yogurt 
sometimes comes from Turkey, and the strawberries from China. Importation of 
organic products raises troubling questions about food safety, labor 
standards, and the fossil fuels burned in the transportation of these foods.

Does buying organic really benefit your family? Remember, there is no real 
difference in the food itself. At my local Safeway store, organic milk is 85 
percent more expensive, eggs 138 percent higher, yogurt 50 percent, chicken 
thighs 80 percent, and broccoli 20 percent. If the only organic product you 
buy for your family is milk, then you are spending an extra $200 on milk 
each year. If you buy 5-10 other organic products each week, such as fruits, 
vegetables, eggs, yogurt and meat, then you could easily approach $1,000 in 
extra food costs per year. Families would receive a more direct health 
benefit from spending that money on a gym membership, a treadmill, or new 

When I share this information with friends who buy organic, I get one of two 
responses: they either stop buying it, or they continue to buy organic based 
on a strong gut feeling that food grown without the assistance of man- made 
technology has to be healthier.

I don't push it, but I wonder: Why do people apply that logic to 
agricultural products, but not to every other product we use in our daily 
lives? There are either no chemicals, or the minutest trace of chemicals in 
some of our foods. But other everyday products are full of chemical 
ingredients. Read the label on your artificial sweetener, antiperspirant, 
sun lotion, toothpaste, household cleaning products, soda, shampoo, and 
disposable diapers, for example. The medicines we administer to our children 
when they are sick are man-made substances. Chemicals aren't just used to 
make these products; they are still in these products in significant 
amounts. It just doesn't make sense to focus fear of technology on milk and 
fresh produce.

I say, bypass the expensive organic products in the grocery store. Buy the 
regular milk, meat and fresh produce. It is the right choice for the family, 
animal welfare and the environment.

Jackie Avner (jackie.avner at gmail.com) lives in Highlands Ranch.

More information about the Market-farming mailing list