Ron Smith 1, Senior Content Director

June 6, 2014

4 Min Read

Below is an email I received yesterday, apparently in response to an article or commentary I wrote on the merits of organic versus conventional agriculture. Following the email is my response.

Dear Mr. Smith,

Why should you eat organic? A couple of quick responses might be it tastes better, is better for you and it’s better for the environment. All true, but there is so much more!

Andre Leu, in his new book The Myths of Safe Pesticides (Sept. 2014), explains in laymen’s terms why organic is best and more than worth it. Leu is the President of International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) and an internationally recognized organic agriculturist. He annually speaks and presents at conferences, workshops and organic industry events throughout the world.

“My biggest concern,” says Leu, “is people are not aware of the numerous harmful effects of pesticides and are relying on data free assumptions when setting ‘safe’ levels of residue found on our food,”

Please contact me to request an advance reader’s copy of The Myths of Safe Pesticides. Leu is available for interviews and to provide exclusive articles. The full press release is posted below for your convenience.

Sincerely,
Lynn

Contact: Lynn Coppotelli
856-489-8654, ext. 312
[email protected]

 

Dear Ms. Coppotelli,

Well, some of these “facts” are simply incorrect. No legitimate scientific study has shown organic food to be significantly better for you and it certainly can’t be said to be better for the environment. Organic food production may use fewer “synthetic” pesticides but they can use natural ones, such as copper sulfate and rotenone. Also, since “synthetic” fertilizers are not allowed, organic fertilizers, including animal manure, is applied to food crops.

In only rare cases have organic producers been able to match yields of conventionally produced foods; more acreage is required to produce the same amount of food, which requires more energy and more water, all of which will become increasingly scarce and expensive as the world population reaches 9 billion souls. So far, no one has shown that organic agriculture would suffice to feed the world’s rapidly growing population.

The safety of registered pesticides has been tested for many years, and when used according to label crop protection materials have shown no significant threat to human health. A new pesticide goes through years of testing before it is cleared by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those materials are also re-evaluated regularly.

For the latest on southwest agriculture, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.

Organic may taste better to you, but I suspect most people can’t tell the difference. I think consumers will believe most locally grown produce tastes better, mainly because it ripens naturally and does not travel long distances to get to the consumer. And farmers’ markets are just fun places to buy produce. However, if I want to eat a cantaloupe in February I will not find one locally grown in Dallas, Texas.

Let me also admit to my bias. I have worked with traditional farmers for almost 40 years and I trust them to follow sound environmental principles to grow food. They eat the foods they grow and breathe the air around their farms and swim and fish in the streams nearby. They are the best environmentalists because they understand soil and water and work hard to make every acre they own or lease better than it was when they took it over. That’s my bias. I know these people. I respect their ethics. I know their commitment to providing the safest, most affordable food in the world.

I also see a strong bias from Mr. Leu, who has a vested interest in making organic agriculture sound better than it is. He’s pushing his organization and promoting his book. That’s a far stretch from an unbiased source. Your bias is also showing since your agency promotes his book.

I recommend reading other studies by the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, USDA and other non-industry and non-association sources to get a less biased view of agriculture.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with organic agriculture. It has a place in our overall production system. It’s part of what we need to feed 9 billion people, but we can’t rely on organic alone to feed them all. And pitting one part of the food industry against another is absurd.

Thank you for your interest and your comments. I agree with you that consumers should learn about their food production system. And they should seek reliable sources for their information.

 

Ron Smith

 

 

 

About the Author(s)

Ron Smith 1

Senior Content Director, Farm Press/Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 40 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. More recently, he was awarded the Norman Borlaug Lifetime Achievement Award by the Texas Plant Protection Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Johnson City, Tenn. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and three grandsons, Aaron, Hunter and Walker.

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