Mr. Avery clearly spells out the facts and statistics that have been absent in the "organic food" conversation for so long. These are the issues that must be weighed and considered when contemplating alternative agriculture methods. As one can clearly see throughout the ratings on Amazon, negative rating is almost exclusively driven by political bias and emotion; criticisms of the book rely on outright dismisal of Avery's data without providing a single rebuttal, rather resorting to personal attacks and cliche anti-isms common among the hipster organic movement.
Avery provides research and insight into a field of study often overlooked - overlooked out of ignorance or willingness, one can only assume.
With an easy to read style, this may be the best book for laymen who are interested in agriculture since Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies." The author begins with a short history of agriculture, explaining how we are able to produce nitrogen -- the most important plant nutrient -- from air (a renewable resource), allowing us to feed the 6 billion human inhabitants on earth while leaving rain forests and natural lands intact.
Ironically, the organic food movement, which claims to care dearly for the environment, wants us to stop using nitrogen fertilizer. Since doing so would lower crop yields, the only way to sustain the current human population would be to convert more nature regions into farmland, which should be the worst nightmare of a true environmentalist.
The author's tracking of the semi-religious roots of the organic movement also makes for an entertaining read, with anecdotes about Rudolph Steiner, one of the movement's founding fathers. It's difficult not to chuckle when reading Steiner's advice on how to enhance the cosmic, ethereal "life force" of manure by burying it in a bull's horn. Who knew the hippie movement began in Germany back in the 1920s?
The author also takes on the notion that organic food is somehow more nutritious than non-organic, citing quotes by the British Food Standards Agency and the USDA. For example, Dan Glickman, President Clinton's Secretary of Agriculture, said, "The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety ... Just because something is labeled as organic does not mean it is superior, safer or more healthy than conventional food. All foods in this country must meet the same high standards of safety regardless of their classification.Read more ›
My wife and I found this book to be highly enlightening. We had been buying organic foods ever since our first child and lamenting the significant increase in our food budget. Now we're a lot more at ease with "the food supply" having finally gotten some concrete answers to some pretty complex questions. In researching these issues before, we mostly found more ominous warnings and "we don't know's" from health websites.
For example, now we know that there isn't any substantive difference in "organic" milk vs. regular milk - not even the best lab can tell the difference because hormone levels are the same and all milk is tested several times for even the tiniest traces of antibiotics. If any one of those tests is positive for antibiotics, the milk has to be thrown away. The government scientists even complained that the problem is that the antibiotic test is too sensitive, with too many "false-positives" causing needless waste of milk! We still prefer a local non-organic brand that is not homogenized and comes in glass bottles, but now we're confident that it's as safe and nutritious as organic milk.
The chapter on the history of organics was REALLY interesting - who knew that the organic movement got started way back in the 1920s? Or that doctors and scientists were debating whether organic food was more nutritious way back in the 1940s? Or that organic groups' own research found no nutritional differences in the 1970s? Who knew that 25% of organic fruits and veggies have synthetic pesticide residues and that they're still sold as "organic" because the standards require no testing? (This surprised my wife and I the most, as before we thought residue testing was mandatory before food could be sold as organic - it's not!Read more ›
Organic foods are quite in vogue--they constitute the fastest-growing segment of the food industry. Food markets from Whole Foods to Wal-Mart are trying to capture part of this burgeoning market.
The reason for this is that the public thinks organic foods are more nutritious, less toxic, and better for the environment than conventionally produced foods. Alex Avery's new book will convince you that these claims are all false.
Organic Production Inadequate
Avery traces the roots of the organic movement to its earliest days, when all foods were organically grown. Prior to 1909, when the Haber-Bosch process first produced free nitrogen for agricultural application, and before science and technology gave us the fertilizers that now make our food both healthier and more plentiful, all foods were produced through the methods now called organic.
Prominent Agronomist Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba tells us less than half the population of today's world could be fed even the inadequate diet of 1900 without today's manufactured fertilizers. Thus, more than half the humans alive today owe their existence to conventional fertilizers.
In turn, wildlife conservators should be equally grateful, Avery notes, for without fertilizer much of the world's wildlife habitat would have been sacrificed to grow crops and animal feed.
Health Benefits Unsupported
Organic foods are widely marketed by companies as healthier and better for you than conventionally produced foods. There is no scientific evidence to support those claims.Read more ›