Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Is organic safer?

Kim Severson and Andrew Martin take up this question in the New York Times this morning.
Although the rules governing organic food require health inspections and pest-management plans, organic certification technically has nothing to do with food safety.

“Because there are some increased health benefits with organics, people extrapolate that it’s safer in terms of pathogens,” said Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist and policy analyst with Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “I wouldn’t necessarily assume it is safer.”

But many people who pay as much as 50 percent more for organic food think it ought to be.
Now that organic food is a big industry, with big companies on a national scale, the distinction between organic food and conventional food should be understood precisely as the list of food qualities protected by the federal government's official definition of organic. This list includes a restricted menu of permitted pesticides, no GMOs, and several other qualities that are important to many consumers. Because increased pathogen monitoring is not one of the elements of the official definition, I would expect modest but not dramatic food safety advantages from food certified as organic.

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