Strawman and Numbered Days: The Agrochemical Lobby and the Right Side of History

Is organic food “healthier”? If OCO had $5 for each time we’ve been asked this question, we could end our fundraising efforts tomorrow! A single recent study suggests copper and zinc is no higher in organic foods – and the agrochemical lobby falls over itself to ensure the conclusion is reported broadly in the mainstream media: organic isn’t any healthier than conventional foods…

“It’s the agrochemical industry’s straw man argument: ignore toxic and carcinogenic pesticides and their food residues, genetically engineered crops, synthetic fertilizers, fumigants, solvents, and all the other toxins used in conventional food production, and focus instead on levels of a handful of prevalent nutrients”, writes the Cornucopia Institute.

It is a strategy destined to fail…

If the agrochemical industry wants us to believe that organic food is not healthier than chemical food, they simply be deluded about what “healthy” means. There is a logical fallacy the agrochemical companies are overlooking in their arguments, and it is one driving thinking people toward organics.

If organic food isn’t any “healthier”, is chemical food then perfectly healthy? If we are to believe CropLife, does that mean the doctors and scientists who’ve concluded that pesticide exposure compromises health are wrong? Or lying? If agrochemical companies are right, does that mean we ought not believe the Ontario College of Physicians (whose 2012 study concludes pregnant women and small children ought to avoid ALL exposure to the neuro-developmentally disruptive neocotinoids used for 20 pests on 40 fruits and vegetables) or President Bush’s Cancer Panel (who conclude one of the 10 actions Americans can take to reduce the chances of developing cancers is to avoid chemicals in food and eat organic!) or Canada’s own Cancer Society? Ought we ignore new findings that correlate higher prevalence of food allergies amongst people with   higher levels of pesticides in their urine? Or systemic damage in lab rats due to GMO/ RoundUp exposure?

It is really quite simple: the agrochemical lobby wants us to believe organic is no healthier. What is their self-interest? Selling chemicals and their dependent seeds. The College of Family  Physicians in Ontario wants us to avoid an entire class of pesticides. What is their self interest? Improving health outcomes. Who ought we listen to?

OCO could be accused, then, of being a dismissible voice. After all, we speak on behalf of industry, just like CropLife speaks for biotech. What is it we as an industry have to sell? We sell alternatives to “business as usual” and “race to the bottom” approaches to agriculture. We sell an opportunity to come down on the right side of history.

Monocultural, chemically dependent agriculture doesn’t accept the physiological imperatives that require us to reduce our load of toxins for not only our own health but the health of our life support systems. Nor does it seem to want to deal with the reality that the chemical production system is based on dwindling sources of  cheap fossil fuels: the economic model for chemical agriculture (already questionable) collapses completely with a doubling of the cost of oil per barrel.

When a scientist or activist or business person is dismissed as being “biased” toward organic, what we are really saying is that person has a fundamental belief that our approach to food production needs to be sustaining. It is typical false equivalency that characterizes modern journalism, a “he said she said” environment in which anyone with an agenda is treated with equal suspicion.

So keep sending us the straw men, agrochemical lobby, and we will continue to address the fundamental, structural, ontological problems with the dominant food system. And we will continue with our “agenda” and place value in the results of credible researchers who take a meaningful approach to the question of food production and health. We hope you will employ your critical thinking skills and do the same. History asks it of us.

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