Proponents of GM cite bogus research in anti-organics PR Campaign
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Is organic agriculture more risky than industrial agriculture as a whole
series of press articles and radio and TV programmes on both sides of the
Atlantic have recently been reporting?
Below are items in response to these reports, showing how they are stemming
primarily from proponents of GM and involve the citing of bogus research and
other false claims.
Interestingly, the circulation of such bogus research evidence critical of
organic farming hasn't been a phenomenon restricted to popular journalism.
There has been a concerted campaign of disinformation around the world with
GM proponents always to the fore.
Is organic agriculture more risky than industrial agriculture as a whole
series of press articles and radio and TV programmes on both sides of the
Atlantic have recently been reporting?
Below are items in response to these reports, showing how they are stemming
from GM proponents citing bogus research and making other false claims.
The circulation of bogus research evidence critical of organic farming
hasn't been a phenomenon restricted to popular journalism. There has been a
concerted campaign of disinformation around the world with GM proponents
always to the fore. In the UK senior academics have been involved in raising
concerns about the safety of organic food (eg Ben Miflin, former head of
the Institute of Arable Crops Research, Professor Alan Gray of the Institute
of Terrestial Ecology and ACRE, Professor John Hillman of the Scottish Crop
Research Institute). Information critical of organic agriculture has also
been published in a booklet promoting GM food from the Food and Drink
Such attacks have even appeared in articles in reputable science journals.
For example, in MUCH FOOD, MANY PROBLEMS (Nature 402, 231  -
18/11/99) by Anthony Trewavas of the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology
at the University of Edinburgh, there are repeated claims of substantial
problems. The trail of evidence for such claims almost invariably leads to
Dennis Avery, who has been at the heart of the disinformation campaign on
The pieces below not only explain the bogus nature of the claims being made
but point to those, many linked directly ot indirectly to a right wing
clique, who have been supporting the disinformation campaign.
What is revealing is the way in which senior academics have apparently been
happy to join in the disinformation process, thus lending it credibility,
apparently happy to repeat and promote such views without serious critical
scrutiny of the evidence on which they are based. Once again we pay the
price of science having become so industrially aligned that it is more
preoccupied with serving the private interests of industrial agribusiness
rather than the public good. For more on this see: Prof Bullsh*t
Anti-Organic Industry Groups Smear for Profit?
A new anti-organic report 'Organic Industry Groups Spread Fear for Profit'
was launched on September 21st 2000. A full copy of the report
is available on-line as a pdf file at NoMoreScares.com
NoMoreScares.com's members include the National Center for Public Policy
Research, from which one of the authors of the report comes, which is an
anti-environmentalist "think tank" advised by, amongst others, Dennis
very -- the big daddy of organic scare stories.
Another of the report's authors, Graydon Forrer, as well as being a former
USDA director of consumer affairs is also the current managing
director of Life Sciences Strategies, LLC which specialises in
"communications programmes" for the bio-science and pharmaceutical
The third of the report's authors is Alex Avery who is described as from the
Center for Global Food Issues. The latter is part of the right wing Hudson
Institute from whence Dennis Avery , Alex's father, has spread many of his
bogus organic attacks. The Hudson Institute's
sponsors include biotech corporations Aventis, Dow, Monsanto, Novartis and
The contact for NoMoreScares.com is given as the self-styled "Junkman",
Steven Milloy. Evidence exists that Milloy's internet mission against what
he terms "junk science"was founded with Philip Morris tobacco money as part
of their campaign to undermine industry-critical research. The Philip Morris
campaign was waged via front organisations such as The Advancement of Sound
Science Coalition, of which Milloy was director,
and which is listed as the originator of the Junk Science website.
Junkscience.com is the only other member listed for NoMoreScares.com, other
than the aforementioned National Center for Public Policy Research.
The reports' authors acknowledge editorial, writing and research support
from "the London Institute for Economic Affairs." A pro-GM clique
centred on the IEA has been the source for many of the anti-organic scare
stories on this side of the Atlantic, such as those put out in the
Counterblast TV programme, coordinated by Roger Bate Director of the
Environment Unit at the IEA.
Many GM proponents are quoted in the report. For example, Thomas J. Hoban of
North Carolina State University is quoted as saying, “This
anti-biotechnology campaign is a key marketing strategy for the organic i n
d u s t ry.” Hoban's GM promotion is so extreme and misleading that
he was the subject of a PR Watch article, "The Professor Who Can Read Your
Mind", by Karen Charman (PR Watch Vol. 6, No. 4 / Fourth
Quarter 1999 - link from http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/pblinks.htm)
Needless to say among the GM proponents the report quotes with approval is
one 'Sir John Krebs'.
FOE SLAMS KREBS OVER ORGANIC FOOD
[For more on the extreme views of Sir John Krebs - click here]
01 Sep 2000
2000 Press Release Archive
Friends of the Earth today hit out at Sir John Krebs, chairman of the
Government's Food Standards Agency, for telling the public that they were
wasting their money if they think that the organic food that they buy is
safer or more nutritious  than conventionally grown food. The comments
are due to be broadcast on BBC's Countryfile programme this Sunday.
According to data published by the Government last year  33% of fresh
fruit and vegetables(732 samples) contained pesticide residues. And 70 per
cent of conventionally grown carrots were found to contain pesticide
residues including organophosphates which are currently being reviewed
following concerns about their potential health effects .
Sandra Bell, Real Food campaigner for Friends of the Earth said: “We are
appalled that Sir John Krebs has launched this attack on organic food.
Organic food avoids synthetic pesticides, the routine use of antibiotics and
genetically modified ingredients. No-one knows what long term impact these
may have on human health. If there is no problem with pesticides in
conventionally grown food why does the Government advise people to wash and
peel vegetables before giving them to children? The truth is that organic
food is better for people and the environment. The Food Standards Agency
should be promoting it, not rubbishing it.
Sir John is however right when he says that much of the organic food we eat
is imported. Around 70 per cent of the organic produce bought in the UK is
imported from abroad, despite the fact that lots of farmers want to convert
to organic production. This is why FOE is backing the Organic Food and
Farming Targets Bill which supports a significant rise in UK organic
Sandra Bell continued:
“Sir John should be doing more to ensure that more organic food is produced
in this country. Why doesn't he ask the Government why they aren't doing
more to help British farmers to become part of the organic success story and
produce organic food that is affordable for everyone.”
1. New European studies suggest that organic food is healthier,
including research in Switzerland which found organic apples to have more
cancer fighting antioxidants. .
2. MAFF Annual Report of the Working Party on Pesticide Residues
3. Countryfile tested 3 carrots for pesticide residues. Only one was
conventionally grown. This is far too small a sample to draw conclusions
about carrots in general. All the carrots were pesticide-free.
4. In a NOP poll (2162 respondents) for Friends of the Earth, 86% of
people said they do not want pesticide residues in their food. Buying
organic is currently the best way to avoid pesticide residues.
[For more on the extreme views of Sir John Krebs - click here]
Soil Association responds to Food Standards Agency
The Soil Association is deeply concerned that Sir John Krebs of the Food
Standards Agency is failing to inform himself and be objective in the
on-going national food debate.
Just yesterday Swiss scientists released a statement saying that they
already have evidence that organically grown fruit and vegetables are
healthier than conventionally grown produce. This supports other promising
research already underway on nutritional value in Europe, for
example in Denmark. An United Nations FAO report in July also concluded
that organic practices can reduce e-coli infection that causes food
poisoning and also reduce the levels of contaminants in foods.
Harry Hadaway, Soil Association spokesperson, says, "A big problem in the UK
is the lack of expenditure on research into the benefits of
organic food. This should be a prime focus for the £20 million of tax payers
money that the Food Standards Agency was given for research."
"As a historic supporter of GM foods Sir John Krebs continues not to
represent the wishes of the British consumer, who have made it clear
that they reject chemical farming and GM food, due to the growing evidence
of environmental and health impacts of this type of food production."
The recently published Biodiversity Benefits of Organic Farming report
proved, using 23 separate studies, that organic farming would
significantly benefit wildlife in the UK. This report was supported and
endorsed by WWF-UK.
1.FAO report, "Food safety and quality as affected by organic farming",
presented at the 22nd FAO regional conference for Europe, Portugal,
24-28 July 2000
2.Organic Research Institute, Switzerland
3."The Biodivesity Benefits of Organic Farming" , published by the Soil
Association, May 2000
Krebs views "extreme" says Food Safety Authority head
The Guardian, 14th September 2000
Sir John Krebs, chairman of the government's food Standards Agency, made
few new friends recently when his organisation's report claimed there was
little difference between organic and conventially-grown food. Dr.Patrick
Wall, chief executive of the Irish counterpart agency, The Food Safety
Ireland, has now reminded people to buy organic food because it is more
"environmentally friendly, more wholesome, and better produced". He then
dismissed Sir John's views as "Extreme".
Krebs cronies and suppporters in anti-organic hype
Sir John Krebs' attack on organic food has provided a useful platform for
further attacks by cronies and supporters. Professor Philip Stott has
written to The Times warning of multiple problems from organic agriculture
such as "the faecal contamination of waterways from animal manures". Given
that conventional UK farmers use about 80 million tonnes of animal manure a
year as a fertiliser while under 10,000 tonnes goes on organically farmed
land, this is quite a worry!
Stott also warns that organic production exposes "produce to a range of
toxins" - an alarmingly vague statement. In fact, the United Nations Food
and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report in July of this year concluded on
"their relative presence in foods produced organically or conventionally has
been the subject of many studies. From these studies it cannot be concluded
that organic farming leads to an increased risk of mycotoxin contamination."
Indeed, the FAO report points out, "Two studies reported by Woess found
that aflatoxin M1 levels in organic milk were lower than in conventional
milk. This points to shortcomings in animal feeding practices in
conventionally raised livestock... As organically raised livestock are fed
greater proportions of hay, grass and silage, there is reduced opportunity
for mycotoxin contaminated feed to lead to mycotoxin contaminated milk."
So according to the FAO not only is there not evidence of greater
contamination of organic food, there is actually some evidence of less
contamination! See below for more excerpts from the report. The full FAO
report is available for download as a Word document from:
Stott is a highly active GM supporter running his own Pro-Biotech website.
Stott previously attacked organic food on the Counterblast TV programme,
coordinated by Roger Bate Director of the Environment Unit at the right wing
Institute of Economic Affairs, to which Stott also connnects -- see:
Bate incidentally presented the anti-organic Counterblast prog as the
Director of the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF), a position he
held until February of this year. According to the Australian journalist
Stewart Fist who has tracked corporate deception involving "sound science"
front organisations such as those founded with Philip Morris (PM) tobacco
money as part of their campaign to undermine industry-critical research:
"In Europe the PM-led task force also started (in 1996) a parallel
organisation to TASSC [The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition - a front
organisation] called the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF), also
with tobacco funding. And, in December 1997, ESEF and TASSC issued a joint
press statement in which both organisations have identical descriptions."
ESEF's own account of its origins and funding, however, do not agree with
this account: [eg http://www.esef.org/note.htm]
Also wading in to support Krebs has been the Independent's science editor,
Steve Connor. Connor's cleverly worded article says, "Even organic food"
contains naturally occurring "toxins". What Connor is talking about is a
risk with all vegetables however cultivated - eg if potatoes or carrots go
green. In other words, this universal issue has no specific connection with
organic food whatsoever!
Similarly, Connor tells his readers:
"Spreading manure on a field is good farming practice and improves soil
structure but it also carries a greater risk of food poisoning than spraying
with the recommended amounts of agrochemicals."
Well fine, but most conventional farmers do both and without necessarily
composting the manure first, as is required in organic systems. And the most
likely source of harmful E.-coli food poisoning is through meat and dairy
products with regard to which the FAO report says orgainc production is
It was Connor who in the run up to the Lancet's publication of the Pusztai
and Ewen paper showing ill-effects on rats from a GM food ran a spoiler
article based on an attack by Prof John Pickett, the only reviewer of the
paper arguing against publication. Connor's article appears to have been
part of a concerted campaign to discredit the Pusztai paper prior to
publication [http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/rs.htm]. Prof Pickett's
criticisms have been dismissed by Pusztai as so ill-informed as to suggest
Pickett had never actually bothered to read the paper he was supposedly
Connor himself is currently cooperating with Krebs and others in laying down
guidelines for the media on the accurate reporting of science stories -- for
more on this. He and Krebs are obviously the perfect standard bearers for
accurate science communication and the avoidance of scaremongering!
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation report exposes anti-organic
While GM proponents continue to smear organic farming, a UN Food and
Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report in July of this year concluded that
organic practices can actually reduce e-coli infection that causes food
poisoning (the exact opposite of GM proponent claims) and also reduce the
levels of contaminants in foods. The Food and Agriculture Organisation is
the largest autonomous agency within the United Nations.
Here are some excerpts from the report "FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY AS AFFECTED
BY ORGANIC FARMING"
The full FAO report is available for download as a Word document from:
Organic farming potentially reduces the risk of E. coli infection
"The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) identifies the main source for
human infection with E. coli as meat contaminated during slaughter. Virulent
strains of E. coli, such as E. coli 0157:H7, develop in the digestive tract
of cattle, which is mainly fed with starchy grain as research at Cornell
University has demonstrated . Cows mainly fed with hay generate less than 1
% of the E. coli found in the faeces of grain-fed animals. It is one of the
most important goals of organic farming to keep the nutrient cycles closed.
Therefore, ruminants like cattle and sheep are fed with diets with a high
proportion of grass, silage and hay. It can be concluded that organic
farming potentially reduces the risk of E. coli infection."
Organic agriculture contributes to cleaner drinking water and to higher
weed, insect and bird diversity
"The understanding of food quality has been expanded beyond mere definition
by chemical content, technical characteristics for processing and storage,
appearance and taste. Particularly in organic agriculture, but not
exclusively so, other considerations like ethical values and production
principles (environmental impact such as energy efficiency, non-pollution,
animal welfare, aim for sustainability and social impact) are gaining weight
as integral product values. In this context, organic agriculture's
contribution to cleaner drinking water, e.g. in Lithuania's Karst regions,
UK's environmentally sensitive areas and Germany's water protection areas,
and to higher weed, insect and bird diversity or general environmental
quality are positive values that are appreciated by consumers. Quality
issues are receiving increasingly more attention in the public debate..."
Organic farming enhances genetic biodiversity and helps recover indigenous
"Organic farming enhances genetic biodiversity including organisms living in
the soil, wild life, wild flora and cultivated crops. Organic agriculture
practices recover indigenous crop varieties and regenerate landraces with
distinct quality characteristics..."
Organically produced foods have lower levels of pesticide and veterinary
"The "organic" label is not a health claim, it is a process claim.
Nevertheless, in view of the reduced use of chemically synthesised inputs in
organic farming, many studies have been carried out to investigate safety
and quality implications of the production system. It has been demonstrated
that organically produced foods have lower levels of pesticide and
veterinary drug residues and, in many cases, lower nitrate contents. Animal
feeding practices followed in organic
livestock production, also lead to a reduction in contamination of food
products of animal origin. In addition, the "organic" label provides
assurance to consumers that no food ingredient has been subject to
irradiation and that GMOs have been excluded."
Organic milk less contaminated
"Two studies reported by Woess found that aflatoxin M1 levels in organic
milk were lower than in conventional milk. This points to shortcomings in
animal feeding practices in conventionally raised livestock... As
organically raised livestock are fed greater proportions of hay, grass and
silage, there is reduced opportunity for mycotoxin contaminated feed to lead
to mycotoxin contaminated milk."
Organic farming good for sustainable agriculture
"Considering the potential environmental benefit of organic production, its
suitability for the integrative role of agriculture in rural development and
its aptness to current farming input and production levels in many CEE and
CIS countries, organic agriculture should be considered as a development
vehicle in the sub-region. The FAO Committee on Agriculture agreed in 1999
that properly managed organic farming contributes to sustainable agriculture
and therefore organic agriculture has a legitimate place within sustainable
Cultivating the Truth About Organics
The San Francisco Chronicle
AUGUST 21, 2000,
BY Brian Halweil
I WATCHED IN DISBELIEF as John Stossel, co-anchor of ABC's "20/20,"
delivered a half-hearted apology August 11 for falsifying evidence in a
report that claimed organic produce is potentially more dangerous than food
raised using toxic agrochemicals, antibiotics, added hormones,
genetically engineered seeds and massive animal-feeding factories.
In his apology, Stossel did admit that some tests he relied on to support
his conclusion had never been conducted. But he shrugged that off as a minor
oversight, maintaining that because organic farmers favor manure and other
natural fertilizers over synthetic chemicals, organic produce carries a
greater risk of E. coli infection and "could kill you."
What wasn't mentioned is that most of the manure spread on land in the
United States is, in fact, used by conventional farmers. The difference
is that organic farmers are the only ones required to farm in a way that
might minimize the risk of E. coli or other food-borne illness. Organic
certification standards require that all raw manure is applied to the fields
or orchards at least 60 days, and sometimes as many as 120 days, before the
produce is harvested -- a period that allows for ecological processes that
eliminate harmful microbes. (The pathogens become food for other soil
organisms or degrade from exposure to the elements).
Conventional growers, in contrast, can spray on raw, uncomposted manure
(even on fruits and veggies that are but days from being harvested), in
addition to human sewage sludge and slurry from industrial animal farms --
all practices that are explicitly forbidden under organic regulations.
There has been no systematic analysis of whether organic or nonorganic foods
carry a greater risk of E. coli O157 -- the particular strain that is
so deadly to humans and that we hear so much about in the news -- but the
prevailing epidemiology of this bug points to the safety of organic over
conventional farming. Nearly all cases of E. coli 0157 result from
consumption of contaminated meat, a function of the conditions of industrial
factory farms and meat processing plants. For livestock that are used to
eating mostly grass and straw, the feedlot diet of grain concentrate
encourages the proliferation of E. coli 0157 in the animal's gut, while the
highly confined and unsanitary conditions facilitate transmission of the
bugs between animals. At the same time, overuse of antibiotics in the
feedlot diet virtually ensures the potency of emerging microbes. Meanwhile,
meat packing at breakneck speed, often in close proximity to animal
carcasses and feces, paves the way for additional contamination.
In those cases that do occur in produce, the E. coli generally enters the
food chain at the packaging and handling stage, not the farm environment.
Here are a few other things that weren't mentioned:
ABC's false claims relied almost exclusively on testimony of Dennis Avery of
the agribusiness-funded Hudson Institute, whose thoughts on pesticides
and food-borne illness have already been widely discredited. Last year,
Avery manipulated data from the Centers for Disease Control in order to
back his claim that organic produce carries a greater risk of E. coli than
nonorganic produce. CDC officials have stated that their data do not support
Avery's claims -- a fact that might deter most journalists (even TV
journalists) from relying on Avery as a source.
The report also played down the risk of pesticide residues, claiming (with
data that did not exist) that organic produce has no fewer pesticide
residues than nonorganic produce. In truth, organic produce -- from bananas
to peppers to strawberries -- has been consistently shown to carry fewer
toxic pesticide residues than nonorganic produce. Some of the more recent
evidence includes the January 1998 issue of Consumer Reports, which tested
1,000 pounds of organic and nonorganic produce, and found that organic
produce consistently carried the lowest, and least-toxic, pesticide
residues. (The fact that even foods grown without pesticides may contain
trace pesticide residues is the unfortunate consequence of past pesticide
use which has left background pesticide levels in the soil, water supply and
even our bodies.)
Perhaps the most basic oversight of the report was the failure to mention
that organic farming -- the fastest growing sector of the food economy --
offers tremendous hope for reconciling the toll that industrial,
chemical-dependent farming has taken on rivers and streams, topsoil,
wildlife and the environment in general. By relying on a sophisticated
understanding of crop diversity, nutrient cycling, predator-prey
interactions and other ecological processes occurring in the field, instead
of chemical quick-fixes, organic farming provides a model for improving the
way we currently grow most of our food.
The fabrication of information on an ABC news report -- not to mention the
neglect of extensive evidence disputing its conclusions -- raises serious
questions of journalistic integrity. According to Brill's Content magazine,
over the last two years, Stossel has collected hundreds of thousands of
dollars in speaking fees from various industry and conservative groups,
including agribusiness interests. At the very least, this gives the
appearance of a potential conflict of interest, and with the organic food
market in this country growing by more than 20 percent a year, there is no
shortage of groups who feel threatened -- agrochemical companies, biotech
companies, and nonorganic food manufacturers and retailers.
"All we have in this business is our credibility -- your trust that we get
it right, Stossel reminds the audience in his apology. Unfortunately, for
his and ABC's reputation, this realization has come too late.
The writer is a staff researcher at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington,
Report on Organic Foods Is Challenged
New York Times
July 31, 2000
On Feb. 4, the ABC News correspondent John Stossel hosted a report on
"20/20" that probably surprised many viewers. It made the case that organic
food is not necessarily healthier than conventional food -- and might
actually be dangerous.
Citing research he said was commissioned by ABC News, Mr. Stossel said that
organic food seemed more likely than conventional food to be contaminated by
E. coli bacteria. He also said that conventional produce does not
necessarily have more pesticide residue than organic produce, contradicting
one of organic food's primary selling points.
"Our tests, surprisingly, found no pesticide residue on the conventional
samples or the organic," he said in the report.
But the two researchers who were commissioned to do the testing -- Dr.
Michael Doyle, a scientist with the University of Georgia, and Dr. Lester
Crawford, director of Georgetown University's Center for Food and Nutrition
Policy -- said they never tested produce for pesticide residue for ABC. ABC
executives are now looking into whether the statement about produce, a key
premise on which Mr. Stossel built his case, was made without any basis in
"All I agreed to do was test for indications of pathogens," Dr. Doyle said.
"I didn't do tests for pesticides."
Dr. Crawford said that while he did not test produce for pesticides, he did
test chicken -- and found residue on the samples of conventional poultry but
not on samples of organic poultry. Those findings were not mentioned in Mr.
The doctors' denials were first brought to light by the Environmental
Working Group, which supports the consumption of organic produce. Members
talked to the doctors after the report. In a letter to Mr. Stossel, the
group asked for an explanation.
The producer of the segment, David W. Fitzpatrick, responded in a letter by
saying that the pesticide tests were done and that the results had been
forwarded to the Organic Trade Association, a group that spoke in defense of
organic produce in the segment. The executive director of the association,
Katherine T. DiMatteo, said Friday that the organization had not received
results from any tests for pesticide residue on produce.
Despite being told by the environmentalists of the doctors' denials, ABC
showed the report again on July 7. During an on-the-air conversation with
Cynthia McFadden, a "20/20" anchorwoman, Mr. Stossel said, "It's logical to
worry about pesticide residues, but in our tests, we found none on either
organic or regular produce."
Last week, ABC News executives still could not address the questions raised
in February. They, at first said pesticide tests were performed on produce
by Dr. Crawford. Told that Dr. Crawford maintains he did not do such
testing, they later released a statement saying they would look into the
matter and "if a mistake was made, we will correct it." Mr. Stossel had no
comment and Mr. Fitzpatrick was on assignment in Africa and unavailable.
E coli risks of organic food - pure propaganda
TITLE: CDC has never compared E. coli risks of organic, traditional food
SOURCE: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, North Carolina State
University, USA by Nancy Creamer, Extension Specialist
DATE: February 1999
CDC has never compared E. coli risks of organic, traditional food
Contrary to a well-circulated article written by Dennis T. Avery, the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has never conducted
a study that compares the risk of contracting E.coli bacteria in both
conventional and organically grown food. Avery is the Director of Global
Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, which is "a research organization
dedicated to thinking about the future from a contrarian point of view,"
according to its literature.
Avery published an article entitled "The Hidden Dangers in Organic Food" in
the Fall, 1998, issue of American Outlook, a quarterly publication published
by the Hudson Institute. Avery's article began, "According to recent data
compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who eat
organic and natural' foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the
population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E. coli bacteria
A statement from Dr. Mitchell Cohen of the CDC last month states that:
"Since 1982, most of the outbreaks of Escherichia coli 0157:H7 have been
associated with foods of bovine origin (e.g. - ground beef). In recent
years, a wider spectrum of foods, including produce, have been recognized as
causes of outbreaks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
has not conducted any study that compares or quantitates the specific risk
for infection with Escherichia coli 0157:H7 and eating either conventionally
grown or organic/natural foods. CDC
recommends that growers practice safe and hygienic methods for producing
food products, and that consumers, likewise, practice food safety within
their homes (e.g., thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables). These
recommendations apply to both conventionally grown and organic foods."
Sharon Hoskins of the CDC told Alternative Agriculture News that the CDC did
not have any such research currently in the works, nor was it planning to
conduct any in the future because such research was "not warranted." "We are
not planning any research on organic and natural foods," she said. She also
said, "We have tried to contact the magazine and have never been able to
speak with anyone at American Outlook, including the editor. There has been
Avery's article has been excerpted in several other publications, including
The Wall Street Journal, whose excerpt included these sentences from the
American Outlook article: "Consumers of organic foods are also more likely
to be attacked by a relatively new, more virulent strain of the infamous
salmonella bacteria. Salmonella was America's biggest food borne death risk
until the new E. coli 0157 came along. Organic food is more dangerous than
conventionally grown produce because organic farmers use manure as the major
source of fertilizer for their food crops. Animal manure is the biggest
reservoir of these nasty bacteria that are afflicting and killing so many
people. Organic farmers compound the contamination problem through their
reluctance to use antimicrobial preservatives, chemical washes,
pasteurization, or even chlorinated water to rid their products of dangerous
No documented research sources were given to support these assertions. The
Organic Trade Association has also disputed Avery's article, reporting that,
"According to Robert Tauxe, M.D., chief of the food borne and diarrheal
diseases branch of the CDC, there is no such data on organic food production
in existence at their centers....Let the record show that manure use is a
common agricultural practice for conventional and organic food
production....Any organic grower that uses the certified organic label must
abide by safe food production standards, and, as with all food producers,
must be in compliance with their local and state health standards."
Organic Trade Association Speaks Out About Safety of Organic Foods
GREENFIELD, Mass., August 27 /PRNewswire/ -- In response to numerous recent
articles and television reports on the "dangers of organic foods," the
Organic Trade Association (OTA) wishes to set the record straight.
"We can no longer sit back and look the other way as these reports continue
to misrepresent organic food production," says Katherine DiMatteo,
executive director of OTA. "Organic stands for a production system that
strives to work in balance with nature, using methods and materials that
are of low impact to the environment. It does not mean that organic foods
are produced in a haphazard or unsafe manner."
Reports citing that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published data
showing organic foods are more likely to cause food borne illnesses,
especially illnesses carried by E. coli bacteria, are misleading. According
to Robert Tauxe, M.D., chief of the food borne and diarrheal diseases branch
of the CDC, there is no such data on organic food production in existence at
their centers. In fact, Tauxe states that these claims are "absolutely not
"The goal of the CDC is to ensure food is produced using safe and hygienic
methods, and that consumers also practice safe and hygienic methods in food
preparation, regardless of the source, be it organic, conventional, imported
or otherwise," says Tauxe.
These concerns center on farm fertilization methods. The fact is that both
conventional and organic agriculture use manure as a part of regular farm
soil fertilization programs. Certified organic farmers, however, must
maintain strict farm plans detailing the methods used to build soil
fertility, including the application of manure as mandated by the Organic
Foods Production Act of 1990. No other agricultural regulation in the United
States imposes such strict control on the use of manure. Additionally, any
organic grower who uses the certified organic label must abide by safe food
production standards, and, as with all food producers, must be in compliance
with their local and state health standards.
The National Organic Standards Board, a 14-member panel that advises the
United States Department of Agriculture on national standards for organic
production, recommended at its meeting in February, 1999 that in no case
shall raw manure be applied less than 120 days prior to the harvest of
products likely to be eaten raw, or less than 90 days prior to harvest or
products protected by a husk, pod or shell. Certifiers and scientists
recommend the use of well-composted manure to reduce the incidence of E.
Some reports have inaccurate statements about organic producers' use of
pasteurization or chlorinated water to rid their products of bacteria. The
fact is that pasteurization, chlorinization and other food safety practices
are allowed in organic production. There are dozens of pasteurized certified
organic products currently available, including juices, milk, butter and ice
cream; and chlorinated wash water is used in certified organic production,
e.g. in the washing cycle of salad greens.
One of the major opponents of the organic industry, Dennis T. Avery, author
of Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastics, and director of Global
Food Issues for the Hudson Institute stated in a February 17, 1999, New York
Times article that " 'organic' and 'natural' are distinctions without
significant differences in terms of public health."
The terms "organic" and "natural" are not the same. Certified organic
producers and processors must adhere to rigorous standards verified by a
third party, either an independent or a state certification organization. In
contrast, the term "natural" may have little or nothing to do with
agricultural practices, nor does it indicate the use of independent
inspectors. There are currently no agricultural practice standards in place
for the term "natural." Organic farmers must adhere to strict growing and
processing regulations to help ensure that the resulting food is safe for
Avery also claims that "the ugly secret of organic farming is that its
yields are only about half as high as those of mainstream farmers." However,
The Rodale Institute of Kutztown, Penn., recently completed a 15-year study
comparing organic farming methods to conventional methods. Its findings were
published in the November 11, 1998, issue of the journal Nature. The study
concluded that yields from organic farming equal conventional yields after
four years. Experts have shown that using pesticides does not guarantee
increased yields. According to David Pimentel, professor of insect ecology
and agricultural sciences atCornell University, "Although pesticides are
generally profitable, their use does not always decrease crop losses. For
example, even with the 10-fold increase in insecticide use in the United
States from 1945 to 1989, total crop losses from insect damage have nearly
doubled from 7% to 13%".
For more information on these topics and others, please contact Barb Haumann
at the Organic Trade Association at 413-774-7511 or visit the organization's
Web site at www.ota.com.
SOURCE Organic Trade Association CO: Organic Trade Association ST:
Massachusetts IN: FOD SU: 08/27/99 08:00 EDT http://www.prnewswire.com
The following is from the article Saving the Planet With Pestilent
Statistics by Karen Charman available at:
A Publication of the Center for Media & Democracy
Vol. 6, No. 4 / Fourth Quarter 1999: Engineering Opinions on Engineered
Dennis T. Avery, author of the tract "Saving the Planet with Pesticides and
Plastic," proudly describes himself as a missionary. His mission: to protect
and promote "high-yield farming to save wildlife."
Besides writing a nationally syndicated weekly column for the financial
newswire Bridge News, Avery is also the director of the Hudson Institute's
Center for Global Food Issues. He travels the country and the world
preaching his gospel of biotechnology, pesticides, irradiation, factory
farming and free trade.
According to Avery, it is the greenies and "organic frenzies" who threaten
the world with famine and loss of habitat for their sacred wildlife. Why?
Because farming without synthetic pesticides, petrochemical fertilizers and
biotechnology would require too much land.
Avery sees no problem with agricultural pollution, be it groundwater
contamination, pesticide and fertilizer runoff, or even the mountains of
stinking manure produced by the huge cattle, chicken and hog operations that
plague increasing numbers of rural communities. He denies that there is any
link between pesticides and cancer or other illnesses. In fact, he says,
organic food is what will kill you.
Last Fall Avery began claiming that "people who eat organic and 'natural'
foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the population to be attacked
by a deadly new strain of E. coli bacteria (0157:H7)." This happens, he
says, because organic food is grown in animal manure, a known carrier of
this nasty microbe. He says his data comes from Dr. Paul Mead, an
epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the federal
agency that tracks outbreaks of foodborne illness.
Avery continues delivering this message with op-eds that bear titles such as
"The Silent Killer in Organic Foods" and "Wallace Institute Got it Wrong:
CDC Data Does Indicate Higher Risk From Organic and Natural Foods." These
editorials are diseminated by Bridge News to between 300 and 400 newspapers
throughout the country and approximately 500,000 other subscribers here and
abroad including government departments, central banks and businesses.
I heard Avery's sermon live in June 1999 at the National Agricultural
Biotechnology Council meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska. After his talk I asked
him why he quoted the CDC as the source of his information when they deny
having data attributing E. coli 0157:H7 outbreaks to organic food. He
accused CDC of engaging in a "cover-up" due to pressure from
Back home I noticed more than a couple of similar stories popping up in
various venues. One particularly sloppy story, titled "Organic Food Creates
Higher Risk for Food Poisoning," was posted on August 25, 1999 on USDA's
National Food Safety Database by US Newswire, a service that electronically
disseminates news releases. Though this story doesn't quote Avery, it quotes
the CDC's Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch chief, Dr. Robert Tauxe,
saying, "Organic food means a food was grown in animal manure."
Tauxe denies ever making that statement and says he believes the rumor
originated with Dennis Avery. After fielding numerous media queries on the
subject, CDC took the unusual step on January 14, 1999 of issuing a press
release stating, "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not
conducted any study that compares or quantitates the specific risk for
infection with E. coli 0157:H7 and eating either conventionally grown or
organic/natural foods." In addition, Tauxe says he called Avery to tell him
to stop claiming that the CDC was the source of this allegation. Avery
responded by telling Tauxe, "That's your interpretation, and I have mine."
Avery's newest version of what happened with the CDC is that Dr. Paul Mead,
an epidemiologist who works in Tauxe's division, gave him the information.
Absolute bunk, says Mead. "What happened is that he called me up and
announced that eight percent of the outbreaks of foodborne illness were from
organic food. I took some exception to that and said I didn't know him and
what his purpose was, but our data don't support that." Mead was chagrined
to hear that a year after this conversation took place, Avery is still
sourcing this phantom data back to him.
Contrary to Avery's claim, E. coli 0157:H7 contamination from manure is less
likely to occur on organic farms than in the factory farming system that
Avery supports. Fred Kirschenmann is an organic farmer and board chairman of
the private organic certification company Farm Verified Organic. He points
that a single cow produces approximately 10 times as much fecal matter as a
human being. This means that a feedlot of, say, 5,000 head of cattle would
produce the same amount of manure as 50,000 people. Yet modern conventional
agriculture does not regulate the use of raw manure in food crops,
Kirschenmann says, and farmers are spreading increasing amounts of it on
their fields because it is too expensive to truck away and they don't have
anywhere else to put it.
Kirschenmann serves on the National Organic Standards Board which was
charged by Congress to advise the USDA in formulating its legal standards
defining organic food. "In organic systems, most animals have to have access
to pasture, so they can't be concentrated in huge feedlots," he says, adding
that Avery's charge that organic food is grown in manure is misleading, at
best. "Organic farmers use manure, but virtually every certification
organization I know of doesn't allow raw
manure. Raw manure must either be composted or applied long enough in
advance that the bacteria is no longer active," he said, adding that this
requirement is being written into USDA's proposed rules.
Dr. Robert Elder, a research microbiologist at the USDA's Meat Animal
Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska, specializes in measuring E. coli
0157:H7 in cattle. He says this deadly bacteria could be prevented from
contaminating meat carcasses before they are ground into hamburger. "If you
took meticulous time with every single carcass to vigorously clean it, scrub
it, and wash it down, you could probably eliminate it," he said. But, Elder
added, considering that the bigger
plants are processing 3,000 to 4,000 animals a day--about 300 an
hour--adequate cleaning is impossible. And that is a huge problem for the
public. Elder's soon-to-be published research shows that in the summertime,
when E. coli 0157:H7 levels peak, 80 to 100 percent of the feedlot cattle he
tested carried the deadly 0157:H7 strain.
Despite a public debunking of Avery's statements in the New York Times last
February, his bogus claims continue to spread and appear to be gaining
momentum. U.S. newspapers like the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Investor's
Business Daily, and the Journal of Commerce have run stories about killer
organic food. The story has also made its way to Canada and Europe, under
headlines such as, "Organic just means it's dirtier, more expensive,"
"Organic food--'It's eight times more likely to kill you'" and "Organic food
link to E. coli deaths."
Even E. coli expert Rob Elder said he wouldn't eat organic food or feed it
to his family because it was more pathogenic. When I asked where he got that
information, he sent me a copy of an Avery piece, "Organic food? No thanks!"
that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last December. Upon further
questioning, Elder said a colleague had given it to him and said that Avery
worked for the CDC, so he thought it was a credible source.
I asked Sally Heinemann, the editorial director of Bridge News, if its
syndicated columnists had to meet any particular criteria and whether Bridge
checked the accuracy of Avery's columns. Instead of answering, she began
shouting, "Who are you? Who do you represent? What do you really want to
know? Go find
it on the web!" before slamming the phone down.
Avery says he can pretty much say what he likes, because he works for
himself as an economic forecaster to farming organizations and doesn't have
to worry about anybody firing him. Referring to his past employment with the
US State Department and USDA, he adds: "I have full federal retirement, and
I already own the prettiest small farm in America." He considers the $35,000
a year he gets from the Hudson Institute to be very little, and says he only
needs money "to carry on
Avery acknowledges that Hudson is corporate-funded. Looking over the roster
of companies that have supported its work--agrichemical heavyweights like
Monsanto, Du Pont, DowElanco, Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy and agribusiness giants
ConAgra, Cargill, Procter & Gamble, among many others--Avery likely has no
reason to fear the axe. His mission is their mission.
Right wing clique behind organic attacks: ngin article
In the wake of the massive defeats suffered over their promotion of GM
foods, pro-GM lobbyists in the UK have regrouped and with the help of a
clique of right wing journalists and academics are coordinating a still more
aggressive campaign of disinformation.
BBC coverage well illustrates what's been going on. Three very recent BBC
programmes have given prominence to extreme anti-organic views ('Costing the
Earth', 'Counterblast', and, to a much lesser extent, the 'Food and Drink'
It appears that a strategy proven effective in the US is being carefully
replicated here: the use of right wing journalists and academics to smear GM
critics and alternatives to agricultural biotechnology. In the US figures
like Dennis Avery, Michael Fumento and Henry Miller have helped fulfil this
role. In the UK significant use is now being made of a similar clique of
extreme anti-environmentalists who draw heavily on the ideas and tactics of
Avery, in particular.
A key contributor to each of the BBC programmes raising questions about
organic food has been Julian Morris, the Director of the right-wing think
tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs. One of the programmes
('Counterblast' broadcast on BBC 2 TV on 31 January 2000) was presented by
Roger Bate who was said to be the Director of the European Science and
Environment Forum. Although the Forum describes itself as "a non-partisan
group of scientists", in reality it appears to be highly partisan and very
closely linked to the Institute of Economic Affairs, of which Bate is a
leading member. Bate is also linked to right wing groups in the US.
Although this fact was not disclosed at any point in the programme, several
other contributors to the Counterblast programme (notably Prof Phillip Stott
and the journalist Richard North) also seem to be associated with the same
IEA-connected right wing clique.
Both the Forum and the Institute are vague about their current sources of
funding. Equivalent right wing think tanks in the US, such as the Hudson
Institute, are known to receive funding from the usual A-Z of biotech
interests: from AgrEvo to Zeneca. Whatever its current funding, the IEA has
since its inception had good reason to have the interests of industrial
agriculture very close to its heart.
The Institute was started in the 1950s by one Anthony Fisher out of a
fortune he had made from industrial agriculture. Fisher had successfully
founded Britain's very first broiler chicken farm. It is perhaps not so
surprising then that, having been established by a pioneer of factory
farming who was also an extreme free marketeer, the Institute promotes the
view that unregulated industrial agriculture and unfettered free trade are
both of great environmental benefit.This is a somewhat extreme perspective
for an organisation based in a country like the UK where in the period of
the Institute's existence more than 30 million wild birds have been lost,
more than 100,000 miles of hedgerows removed, woodlands cut down and flower
meadows ploughed up, all as a result of industrial agriculture. The idea
that this situation would somehow be improved by unfettered free trade and
direct competition with the huge industrial farms of North America also
seems a pretty doubtful proposition!
The Institute's extremist disdain of any protection of the environemnt is
well reflected in its various publications and, needless to say, the pro-GM
lobby are prominent amongst its published authors. For instance, a book on
tropical rainforests by biotech supporter and Counterblast contributor Prof
Phillip Stott, claims to debunk "the eco-imperialist vision" which threatens
the world, while a pending working paper attacking the Biosafety Protocol is
being authored by none other than Henry Miller, the rabid deregulator who
once presided over the FDA's Office of Biotechnology. Biotech propagandist
CS Prakash, who organised the recent petition among US researchers in
support of GM foods, is another contributor to an IEA publication and has
more recently spoken from an IEA platform.
Bate and Morris have also edited a recently-published book, 'Fearing Food:
Risk, Health and the Environment', amongst whose contributors is Dennis
Avery. Avery, of the Hudson Institute, has of course been at the very heart
of the anti-organic smear campaign - see: Saving the Planet With Pestilent
Bate and Morris, needless to say, appear entirely unembarrased by the
dubious quality of Avery's scholarship or the bogus nature of his claims -
claims from which the US's Centre for Disease Control and the FDA have both
disassociated themselves, despite the fact that Avery says that it is their
data on which his health warnings about organic agriculture are based!
Bate and Morris, far from disassociating themselves from Avery's smears,
have revelled in his assertions - not just repeating them in the various BBC
programmes they've contributed to but even using his bogus e-coli claims in
a publicity stunt to launch their book. According to right wing columnist
Matt Ridley of the Telegraph, part of the stunt involved telling people that
"according to the United States Centers for Disease Control, people who eat
the products of...[organic agriculture] are eight times more likely to
contract the strain of E-coli that killed 21 people in Lanarkshire in 1997"
['Unsavoury facts about organic food' August 16, 1999] This despite the fact
that, as Bate and Morris must surely know, the CDC has stated, "The Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention has not conducted any study that compares
or quantitates the specific risk for infection with E. coli 0157:H7 and
eating either conventionally grown or organic/natural foods." [see: Saving
the Planet With Pestilent Statistics ]
In a press release ('Londoners demand regulation of potentially deadly
organic food') to accompany the book's launch, and their
organics-are-dangerous-survey stunt, Bate and Morris wrote, "organic food
may well present a danger to children, the elderly and the sick... such
people should be discouraged from eating so-called 'organic' or 'natural'
foods." The underlying antipathy of Bate and Morris to organic farming, and
the real reason for their concerns, is best captured in an article on The
European Science and Environment Forum website which refers to organics as
"a mainstay of the Luddites these past decades and... a staple of the
It is obviously no surprise that the likes of Matt Ridley (another associate
of the IEA clique, with 2 volumes of his anti-environmentalist articles
amongst the Institute's publications) should be pleased to publicise the
IEA's disinformation campaign. What is more revealing is the way in which
the BBC's science and technology unit and senior academics like Prof Hillman
or Prof Anthony Trewavas, another contributor to Counterblast, have
apparently been happy to promote such views without serious critical
scrutiny of the evidence on which they are based.
Prof Trewavas, for example, has made repeated reference to Avery's claims,
as made in Avery's chapter in the Morris' and Bate's book, in an article
published in the scientific journal Nature (Nature 402, 231 ). Thus,
Prof Trewavas tells us:
"Going organic worldwide, as Greenpeace wants, would destroy even more
wilderness, much of it of marginal agricultural quality15."
"Mycotoxin contamination, and infection from the potentially lethal
Escherichia coli O157, are additional problems15."
"average crop yields [for organics] on a variety of soils are about half
those of intensive farming15-17"
Avery's chapter is the reference (15) given for all three points: "15.
Avery, D. in Fearing Food. Risk, Health and Environment (eds Morris, J. &
Bate, R.) 3-18 (Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford, 1999)" However, anyone who
actually follows up this reference discovers that all Avery's highly
partisan claims about organic agriculture lack specific references to
supporting evidence. In other words, Trewavas's trail of evidence leads
nowhere but to Avery's assertions!
Nothing could expose more starkly the bogus nature of the biotech brigade's
claims to base their promotion of GM crops on sound science, nor the vacuous
nature of their complaints against Pusztai, and other researchers that have
raised questions about GM crops, not to mention their fury with journals
that have published such papers.
If such scientists are really so passionate about "sound science" as they
claim, why haven't they been busy denouncing the bogus claims of Avery and
his admirers (claims, after all, that seem to involve a far more outrageous
treatment of research evidence than anything of which scientists critical of
GM have been accused) ?
The answer, of course, is all too plain. They've either been too busy
repeating these bogus claims themselves and trying to lend them credibility,
or else they recognise that as these claims forward rather than hinder their
own interests it is better to remain silent and not enquire too deeply into
them. Either way, we once again pay the price of science having become so
industrially aligned that many of its practitioners are preoccupied far more
with serving private interests than with the public good.
The Bate and Morris book also contains a chapter on GM by Prof John Hillman,
who has also engaged in highly dubious public criticism of organic
agriculture (see: Professor Hillman and his associates! and FIRST THEY TRIED
TO MISLEAD US OVER GM - NOW IT'S ORGANIC ) One of Hillman's co-author is
none other than Professor T Michael Wilson, whose highly inaccurate public
promotion of GM has also drawn criticism - see false reports . Wilson and
Hillman's chapter contains very similar claims of benefits from GM to the
ones which have already come under fire for their lack of substantiation -
see false reports . Hillman and Wilson actually describe these claims as
"now proven," though they produce no new evidence in support of this, and to
cap it all, Wilson and Hillman end their chapter with a prolonged rant about
"disinformation." That Hillman who has made the most lurid claims in
relation to organic farming (see: FIRST THEY TRIED TO MISLEAD US OVER GM -
NOW IT'S ORGANIC ) can complain, as he and his co-authors do, without any
apparent sense of irony, about those "who raise speculative risks" and
"promote public fear", or that he and Wilson can complain about "media
disinformation" (see: false reports ) is quite remarkable.
And yet there is something peculiarly fitting about these GM zealots having
found such a comfortable home among the radical right, not only in the light
of the latter's passion for unbridled capitalism and antipathy to
environmental protection, but also a tendency to "contrarian" assertion of
causes that are often ludicrous, lost, or even downright dangerous.
For more on: industrial alignment of public science in the UK
More organic attacks in UK press
commentary by John Vidal
GUARDIAN (London) Tuesday May 16, 2000
The Daily Mail has been doing some good muckraking. Yesterday, it led its
front page with a nine-month-old scientific report suggesting that lettuces
and sprouts grown to organic standards with the help of farmyard manure had
100 times more E coli cells than conventionally grown ones. Shock. Was not E
coli responsible for all those deaths in Lanarkshire? "The findings will
alarm millions who switched to organic foods following the BSE crisis and
concern over the safety of GM
foods," said the Mail.
But should it? Is organic farming inherently more risky than conventional
farming, as a stream of articles and TV programmes in the past six months on
both sides of the Atlantic have suggested? Unhappily for the Mail, the
answer is no. E coli is one of the commonest microbiological organisms on
the planet. It is everywhere.
On your coffee cup, your pencil, your hands, in everybody's stomach.
The Daily Mail report glossed over the fact that the E coli found in the
organically grown lettuces was totally harmless and indeed rather welcome.
Without E coli and other micro organisms our immune system would be in
tatters. Indeed, it would have been far more surprising if the Atlanta
veggies did not show higher numbers of E coli cells. At least they were
being grown in biologically alive land.
But one strain of E coli - 0157 - can indeed be virulent and deadly, and the
Mail was quick to report that Tesco had recently withdrawn all its organic
mushrooms after a routine check by environmental health officers found one
with 0157. But not with the deadly strain known as 0157:H7. It went on to
say that the strain found in the Tesco mushroom was completely harmless.
So where are all these organic scare stories coming from? What's new about
muck? As the Soil Association, which sets UK organic standards points out,
animal manure has been used for thousands of years as an essential component
to maintain the organic matter content, biological activity, fertility and
structural stability of agricultural soils. Moreover, conventional UK
farmers use about 80m tonnes of it a year as a fertiliser. Just 9,000 tonnes
goes on organic land and crops. So why
the attacks on organic foods and not conventional ones?
Enter the highly charged and politically motivated industry of environmental
"contrarianism". It questions accepted eco "truisms" which suggest that
global warming, holes in the ozone layer, large dams, intensive farming,
nuclear power and GM foods are major problems. However, it frequently uses
extremely selective scientific studies, funded by industries with strong
vested interests in keeping the status quo, to rubbish governments and
environmentalists. They are, variously, "negative", "against progress",
"luddite", "making the poor poorer" and "peddling bad science".
The spate of recent "organic scare" stories probably started with Denis T
Avery, Director of Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, a rich and
powerful US free-market, pro-globalisation think tank funded, amongst
others, by chemical companies, agribusiness and biotech companies - all of
whom have taken a battering in the global GM furore.
In 1998, Avery published "The Hidden Dangers in Organic Food" in American
Outlook, a quarterly Hudson Institute publication. It began: "According to
recent data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who
eat organic and 'natural' foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the
population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E coli bacteria
The trouble was, the CDC denied ever having done the studies. But the Hudson
and its British counterparts such as the European Science and Environment
Forum, and the Institute of Economic Affairs, have been peddling variations
of the story to shock-hungry journalists, notably at C4, Living Marxism, a
BBC Counterblast programme, and even the Wall Street Journal.
No one denies that farmyard manure carries dangerous pathogens. But not even
the most naive vegetarian would suggest that you should ignore fundamental
rules of hygiene like washing fruit and vegetables before eating them, or
cooking meat thoroughly.
Rebutting the myths: ‘Couterblast’ programme on BBC 2 TV (broadcast 31
The Soil Association
Rebutting the myths
In response to the ‘Couterblast’ programme on BBC 2 TV (broadcast on Monday
31 January) which allowed, Roger Bate, Director of European Science and
Environment Forum, half an hour to air his negative opinions about organic
food and farming, the Soil Association has produced the following
information sheet to look in detail at his allegations.
Rebutting the myths:
The first myth is that ‘E.Coli can be passed into the food chain via animal
manure used on organic crops’. E. coli 0157:H7 first emerged in 1986. It is
thought that it developed as a direct result of intensive farming practices,
such as the use of dried poultry manure in livestock diets (as a protein
source), the use of in-feed antibiotics (as growth promoters) and the close
confinement of farm animals in factory farming conditions. Organic farming
is less likely to be a source of E. coli contamination and should therefore
produce safer food, because organic livestock is far less likely to harbour
these pathogens, which are not favoured by the low stress, healthier
lifestyles inherent in organic farming. Organic standards require that
manure must be composted, which kills harmful bacteria. Well managed organic
soil is a hive of biological activity, which creates conditions that fight
against pathogenic bacteria.
The second myth is that ‘organic vegetables contain myco-toxins resulting
from fungal infections’. Organic vegetables are actually far less prone to
fungal diseases than those grown with nitrogen fertilisers. Artificial
nitrogen speeds up growth resulting in the thinning of plant cell walls
which are then far more prone to fungal attack.
The third myth is that in conventional farming ‘the total amount of
pesticide residues that a person will consume in a year is equivalent in
toxicity to one cup of coffee’. There are no grounds to make this statement
especially in the light of growing evidence that pesticide residues are a
serious cause for health concern and pesticides like Lindane have been
linked, for example, to breast cancer. A report from the Institute of
Occupational Medicine in 1999 reported that 20% of sheep farmers suffered
long term health damage from Organo Phosphate (OP) exposure.
The fourth myth is that ‘a wide scale switch to organic farming will
necessitate the cultivation of additional wild lands to compensate for low
yields’. The author has forgotten that for the last decade conventional
farming has caused such over production in food that between 10-20% of UK
crop land has been left fallow (set aside) at the taxpayers expense in order
to reduce food mountains.
The fifth myth is that there have been ‘various studies comparing
organically produced and conventional food that show that there is no
difference in the nutritional benefits’. It is true that more research needs
to be done to explore the nutritional benefits of organically produced food.
However research from the University of Copenhagen into secondary
metabolites indicate that these secondary compounds which are known to
fight cancers, are more common in food produced organically without
The final myth is that ‘the developing world needs industrial farming
technology to feed their growing population’. This opinion is shown to be
based on ignorance. Those charities and experts who work in the developing
world actively support organic farming due to the fact that efficient
organic methods can equal the yields of intensive systems without relying
on the capital hungry and debt inducing dependency on expensive chemicals.
It is commonly accepted that feeding people in developing countries is
reliant upon greater economic and political equity, not technical fixes.
Our farming community is currently facing the worst economic crisis since
the 1930’s caused largely by a succession of food scares (all of which are
related to over intensive farming), this has undermined consumer trust in
The one ray of hope in this otherwise bleak landscape is organic farming
which is based on a production system avoiding the use of artificial
fertilisers and pesticides and instead is based on crop rotations, sound
husbandry and good management to promote health in crops and livestock (and
ultimately people). Organic farming now has the support of the overwhelming
majority of the consuming public and was mentioned three times in the Prime
Minister’s address to the NFU AGM on Tuesday 1 February (possibly for first
time by a British Prime Minister). Yet Counterblast still insisted on
undermining the credentials of a farming system which is hallmarked by
integrity through its very core.
The programme makers may be interested to know that more than 160 MPs are so
convinced of the ability of organic farming to protect the environment and
improve public health that they have signed the Organic Food and Farming
Targets Bill committing the government to set a target of 30% of farmland in
England and Wales to be organic by 2010.
[For more about those behind the Counterblast programme see: Right wing
clique behind organic attacks]
FIRST THEY TRIED TO MISLEAD US OVER GM - NOW IT'S ORGANIC
Professor John Hillman, director of the Scottish Crop Research Institute
(SCRI) in comments in the SCRI's annual report released in February 2000 ,
and evidently hyped to the media, claims that organic farming poses
considerable (though very non-specific!) risks to human health. In fact,
there is more than just a lack of evidence for claims such as Hillman's as
Hillman directly repeats Avery's bogus e-coli assertion (see OTA Speaks Out
About Safety of Organic Foods)
Hillman paints a lurid picture
"Organic farming raises risks of faecal contamination not only of food but
also of waterways, food poisoning, high levels of natural toxins and
allergens, contamination by copper and sulphur-containing fungicides,
production of diseased food, low productivity, and creation of reservoirs of
pests and diseases."
These lurid sounding claims follow the typical pattern of such attacks.
"Faecal contamination" relates to the use of manure by organic farmers but
what is ignored is that many conventional farmers use manure in addition to
agrochemicals. As John Vidal notes, "conventional UK farmers use about 80m
tonnes of it a year as
a fertiliser. Just 9,000 tonnes goes on organic land and crops. So why the
attacks on organic foods and not conventional ones?"
Similarly, claims of "high levels of natural toxins and allergens" tend to
be based on potential problems (eg potatoes going green after exposure to
light ) that in reality could affect vegetables grown with any type of
agriculture ie once again there is no specific connection with organic
Such dubious attacks have even started turning up in scientific journals.
In a recent edition of the journal Nature an article, MUCH FOOD, MANY
PROBLEMS (Nature 402, 231  - 18/11/99) by Anthony Trewavas of the
Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology (predictably!!) at the University of
Edinburgh , made repeated claims of substantial problems with organic
agriculture based on Avery - for more on this.
There are obvious parallels between the way Avery and friends have attacked
organic agriculture and the ways in which GM has often been promoted - in
many cases by scientists from exactly the same institutes! As we detailed in
'False reports and the smears of men', the former deputy head of Professor
Hillman's institute, the SCRI, cited research evidence in the press showing
GM to be a beneficial technology - research which turned out in reality:
• not to be from the source he claimed;
• not to be independent in the way he implied; and
• not to contain evidence he claimed it did.
Other equally dubious public claims involving reference to research that
either doesn't exist or has been seriously misdescribed have also been
made - see http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/false.htm
It is particularly amazing that Professor Hillman in the SCRI report
combines his emotive and apparently unsupported catalogue of lurid claims
against organic farming (eg "diseaesed food", "reservoirs of pests and
diseases") with a call for the ditching of "unhelpful and unjustified
language"!!! Hillman tells us:
"Deliberately pejorative language is obscuring the debate and encouraging
people to pre-judge the issues before they have heard all the facts."
Once again, improved standards of discourse are being demanded of the
critics of GM while they are completely ignored in relation to scientists
making statements supportive of GM or which are anti-organic.
Pro-GM scientists claim the moral and intellectual high ground, saying they
base their views and pronouncements solely on sound science. To judge by
their behaviour, however, Professor Bullsh*t is closer to the mark when he
says that the truth is that "anything goes!"
The BBC report mentions that "The Scottish Crop Research Institute, based at
Invergowrie, is a major international centre for research into agricultural,
horticultural and industrial crops", it doesn't mention the extent of
industrial-sponsorship of institutes like Hillman's SCRI or the JIC, nor the
way in which the committees of their public funding bodies are loaded with
industry linked figures - see: scientists gagged by public funding body with
big links to industry
See also Professor Hillman and his associates!
Prof Hillman attacked for promoting bogus claims
The Director of Scottish Crops Research Institute had to defend his pro-GM
statements and his attack on organic farming in the SCRI annual report. A
scientist responded to the good Professor criticising him for promoting
bogus research. There has been no reply to this accusation suggesting
Hillman may have decided it is time he stopped digging!
The Dundeee Courier and Advertiser, 4th April 2000
Professor Hillman, Director of the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI)
at Invergowrie, Dundee in his letter to your paper, asks all correspondents
to state their affiliations, so let me state mine. I obtained a doctorate in
plant genetics from the John Innes Institute (now John Innes Centre),
widely regarded as Europe's leading institute for plant biotechnology, and
as you might expect I am a strong supporter of science in agriculture.
I do, however, worry about the overcommitment of some scientists to GM
technology. Given the inevitable uncertainties about this technology at this
stage in its development, such levels of commitment and certainty are simply
inappropriate. I also worry about the degree of corporate influence on
independent research - something I have witnessed at first hand.
Prof Hillman' s own contribution to the GM debate well illustrates my
concerns. In his recent Director's Report in the SCRI's annual report, he
attacks organic agriculture in lurid terms, making much of research claims
by the right wing American academic Dennis Avery that organic crops carry
higher risks of e-coli contamination.
Yet Avery's research claims, allegedly based on Centers for Disease Control
(CDC) data, have repeatedly been exposed as bogus. According to Robert
Tauxe, M.D., chief of the food borne and diarrheal diseases branch of the
CDC, there is simply no such data on organic food production in existence at
their centers! Tauxe has gone so far as to state that Avery's claims are
"absolutely not true."
Yet Prof Hillman in his report and elsewhere, has complained, in relation to
GM crops, about those "who raise speculative risks" and "promote public
fear" without a sound scientific basis.
Could anythingbetter illustrates the need for a little humility and calm
reflection in the GM debate, rather than a continual and unconvincing
dismissal of pefectly reasonable public concerns and caution as mere
Dr Jeremy Bartlett
Hillman and his associates
This is taken from the Genetically Modified Food website:
The myth of Escherichia coli / Faecal
A number of advocates of biotechnology would like us to believe that eating
organic food somehow exposes us to a greater risk of food poisoning through
consumption of Escherichia coli bacteria which might be present in organic
In fact, organic argriculture does make use of composted animal dung as a
fertiliser. However, conventional, non-organic agriculture makes use of
animal dung, human waste plus many chemical compounds as fertilisers,
pesticides and herbicides. Thus, conventional agriculture exposes the
consumer to exactly the same risk of Escherichia coli, plus the added risks
incurred through possible consumption of human waste, chemical fertilisers,
pesticides and herbicides used on these products.
Furthermore, in using Genetically Modified produce, the consumer is exposed
not only to the dangers of consuming pesticides and herbicides, but also to
foreign genetic material in the plant, whose effects have not been properly
For more information about the issues of Genetic Modification see "What's
Wrong with Genetic
Two examples are of biotechnology advocates who perpetuate the "Faecal
Contamination" or "Escherichia coli" myth in trying to discredit organic
farming are :
*Professor John Hillman
*Dennis T Avery [see: Saving the Planet With Pestilent Statistics ]
Professor John Hillman
Professor John Hillman is Director of the Scottish Crop Research Institute
(SCRI) at Invergowrie, Dundee.
In this article which appeared on the BBC website on 2 February 2000,
Professor Hillman is quoted in his Director's report as stating "Organic
farming raises risks of faecal contamination not only of food but also of
waterways, food poisoning, high levels of natural toxins and allergens,
contamination by copper and sulphur-containing fungicides, production of
diseased food, low productivity, and creation of reservoirs of pests and
What is not made clear is that Professor Hillman is also on the Board of
Directors of the BioIndustry Association, whose tagline is "Encouraging and
Promoting the Biotechnology Sector of the UK Economy".
A list of members of the BioIndustry Association can be found here -
[FOR MORE ON HILLMAN SEE ITEM BELOW]
The Independent (London) - Tues 8 Feb 2000
Nearly one in three now eats organic products by Maxine Frith
More than one person in four now eats some organic food, although higher
prices are still dissuading many customers, according to a survey published
Organic food is seen as healthier, safer and tastier in the light of the BSE
crisis and fears over genetically modified ingredients.
The survey of 2,000 people for HEALTH WHICH? magazine, published by the
Consumers' Association, found that 29 per cent of people now replace some of
their staple food with organic alternatives.
Fruit and vegetables are the most popular organic purchase, with 18% of
those questioned saying they sometimes buy them. One in 10 people
occasionally buys organic meat, dairy products and bread, the survey found.
Of those who did opt for organic alternatives, 60% gave health as their main
reason, while half said they were attracted by the lack of pesticides in
Just under half (46%) thought organic food contained more vitamins and
minerals, while 9% were worried about genetic modification, and 6% by the
link between BSE, mad cow disease, and its human form CJD.
More than a quarter - 29% - thought that organic alternatives simply tasted
The higher price of organic food was the main reason for customers sticking
to other products; 45% were put off by the cost.
Supermarkets insist that they do not mark up prices on organic foods to make
extra profits, saying the higher cost is because farming methods are more
Mary Weston, co-ordinator of the Organic Lifestock Marketing Co-operative
said: "Availability is quite low and it does cost more to grow and farm
things organically. But demand is shooting up, and while it may take a long
time, if customers stick with it prices will come down."