by Marion Nestle
May 1 2014

A Roundup (no pun intended) on organics

It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the organic front.

To put the events in context:Organics cost more.

  • Consumers spend about $30 billion on organics each year, and the numbers are rising.
  • Industrial food companies are cashing in on the market by buying up organic companies.
  • Big Organics want the rules to be as lenient as possible to all them to follow the letter of the organic standards without having to adhere to their spirit.
  • Organic production, which uses only approved pesticides and fertilizers, is an explicit critique of industrial food production methods.

The White House non-organic garden

I think this photo comes from Jerry Hagstrom who must have seen it on the day of the annual Easter egg roll.

New Picture (2)


Sam Kass denies that the White House garden is organic.  He told Hagstrom that “the sign was part of the Easter Egg Roll, not part of the kitchen garden…The planners of the Easter Egg Roll put up the sign…and he did not see it until he went down to the South Lawn during the event.”  The garden uses “organic practices.”

The “academic” attack on the integrity of organic certification

A report from something called Academic Reviews draws a conspiracy-theory picture of organic farmers:

Our review of the top 50 organic food marketers….reveals that anti-GMO and anti-pesticide advo­cacy groups promoting organic alternatives have combined annual budgets exceeding $2.5 billion annually and that organic industry funders are found among the major donors to these groups…These findings suggest a widespread organic and natural products industry pat­tern of research-informed and intentionally-deceptive marketing and advocacy related practices that have generated hundreds of billions in revenues.

Finally, the findings strongly suggest that this multi-decade public disinformation campaign has been conducted with the implied use and approval of the U.S. government endorsed USDA Organic Seal in direct contradiction to U.S. government stated policy for use of said seal….As a result, the American taxpayer funded national organic pro­gram is playing an ongoing role in misleading consumers into spending billions of dollars in organic purchasing decisions based on false and misleading health, safety and quality claims.

Michele Simon points out that the report is the work of the two founders of the publication, which is supported by an impressive list of food and biotechnology industry supporters.

The authors  make no statement about conflicts-of-interest.

What Americans really think about organics

Consumer Reports has a new survey of the attitudes toward organics of 1,016 adults.  The survey found:

  • 84% buy organic food and 45% but them at least once a month.
  • 81% think organic means no toxic pesticides (there are exemptions for some for up to five years).
  • 91% think organic produce should not use pesticides.
  • 61% think no antibiotics are used (there’s an exemption for streptomycin on apples and pears).
  • 86% think antibiotics should not be used.
  • 92% want a federal organic standard for fish.
  • 84% think the use of artificial ingredients in organic products should be discontinued, if not reviewed, after 5 years.

The fight between Big and Small Organics over the organic standards

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is meeting in San Antonio this week.  Advocates for maintaining the highest possible standards for organic production are worried about the NOSB’s notice last September to eliminate the rule that synthetic materials approved for the organic production be reviewed every five years (see Federal Register).

Advocates for Small Organics worry that the NOSB’s actions will damage the credibility of the USDA organic seal.  Some members of Congress agree.

the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and March Against Monsanto San Antonio (MAMSA) staged protested the sunset of the 5-year rule at the meeting.

OCA says the NOSB made the change

Here’s a photo of the protest.  Things must have gotten hot and heavy.  The political director of the Organic Consumers Association was arrested.  The group issued this statement:

When the bureaucrats running the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) call in the police to remove the political director of the Organic Consumers Association for protesting an illegal policy change, and continue to ignore the expressed concerns, and block her from attending the public meeting today, it’s clear that we need a new balance of power between the organic community and the organic industry.

This is the price of success for organics.  Everyone wants to cash in.

Addition: Ellen Fried reminds me of this terrific graphic of who owns what in organics.

  • Duck N Cover

    Organic, small as it is, has become a lucrative market sector created by
    USDA. People seem to enjoy paying more for organic. And they seem to
    enjoy arguing about it. In the end organic is only something like 2% of
    US agriculture. But what a lot of noise and commotion! Whenever facts are released true believers always work their undershorts into a wad. They extend their fangs and pump up the venom glands. This report is absolutely correct about organic supporters marketing their stuff by demarketing ordinary stuff. No conflict of interest in reporting this. In fact, Simon’s reflexive conspiracy theorizing and demonizing is a wonderful illustration of the phenomenon being reported. In the end organic supporters are really not very nice people, always bashing and trashing others. It reflects badly on all of us who favor sustainable production. Why support this sort of nasty behavior by organic fanatics? Boycott organics and the 2% until the haters find another target for their rage!

  • RobertWager

    The irony of this article is overwhelming.

    has the author read these quotes:

    “How – and how quickly – can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming?
    “The first step is to change our labeling laws.
    – Ronnie Cummins 2012

    “Personally, I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labeling is the most efficient way to achieve this”
    – Dr. Joseph Mercola

    “We are going to force them to label this food. If we have it labeled we can organize people not to buy it.” Andrew Kimbell-Center for Food Safety

    “Asked whether the ultimate objective is transparency in labeling (what the Just Label It campaign is calling for) or elimination of GMOs, she said:  ‘Our objective is to eliminate GMOs [from the US food supply] but we also see [mandatory] GMO labeling as a useful tool in the meantime because we know that transitioning to a non-GMO supply chain will take time.'” Elizabeth O’Connell, Campaigns Director for GMO Inside/Green America

    Probably not.

  • Jennie Schmidt

    As a practitioner of both, there are more similarities than differences between organic and conventional farming practices.

  • Karl Haro von Mogel

    Marion, you claimed that there was no conflict of interest statement. I’m not sure how you missed this statement on the press release page:
    “Note: Academics Review does not solicit or accept funds from any source
    for specific research or any other activities associated with any
    products or services. Academics Review has no conflicts-of-interest
    associated with this publication, and all associated costs for which
    were paid for using our general funds without any specific donor’
    influence or direction. Academics Review is an independent IRS
    registered 501c3 non-profit organization which only accepts unrestricted
    donations in support of our work.”
    This statement is found here:

    I think you are an accomplished researcher and academic, and you should investigate things yourself, rather than relying on others to provide talking points who have misrepresented the financial links of others and themselves in the past. Please don’t stoop to crawling in the political mud like that yourself.

  • Lorraine Lewandrowski

    Some of the organic marketeers are really not very inclusive or gracious towards farmers who are not certified organic. Their way of talking makes me feel that their first priority is profit and not trying to keep family farms, encourage more environmentally sound agriculture or encourage dialog. Here in NY , we have 7.2 million acres of farmland. Of that, some 167,000 acres is certified organic according to last figures I saw. The farmers working the 7 million acres are cast pejoratively as “conventional” no matter what our practices are. About. 1/3 of NY farmland is devoted to perennial pasture, wood lots, wild lands with many ecosystem services provided. It has been shocking to see urban food groups who have never really been upstate calling us “monsantoMilk ” producers , labeling us as GMODairy , telling us that our products are no good…while lauding Stonyfield who hauls organic milk in from California to stock stores upstate or Organic Valley who is long hauling Australian meat into the US. It just seems like the marketeers are winning and the actual farmer voices are receding now that the Farm bill is over. It was also amazing to see food movement leaders cheering cheaper Walmart organics . We are headed towards more imports of organics as corporates “scale up ” and continued erosion in numbers of mid sized farmers. Thanks for nothing , marketeers.

  • edianes

    It’s especially fun that Michele Simon, who counts the Center for Food Safety (one of the anti-GMO organizations that the paper reveals is financially supported by organic industry donations) as one of her clients, is the one darkly suggesting that the study was funded by “food and biotechnology industry supporters,” without citing any evidence or naming those supporters.

  • Lorraine Lewandrowski

    Yes , Jennie, we practice both as well. We graze extensively , we try to help every farmer in our neighborhood survive to fend off sprawl from Utica , we are fighting for grassland bird habitat. However , we do not want to be certified organic dairy because it means if a cow treated even once with antibiotics , she must then be ejected from herd . Most ejected organic dairy cows in my area ending up in slaughter ring at auction. Unfortunately, some listen more to professional marketeers who will push out every falsehood and spin if they get paid to do so. So many farmers tell me they are opposed to destroying their neighbors but don’t know how to stop the marketing train.

  • detribe

    The items featured here and published at Academics Review are not being read or considered very accurately by Marion Nestle and Michelle Simon, and since I am personally being misrepresented as a result of this carelessness, I would value some corrections appearing at this site.
    e.g. A note that there are in fact disclaimers prominently displayed at the site and I have no conflict of interest in either (i) acting as a reviewer, not author, of the Organic Marketing report or (ii) providing analysis and articles at Academics Review.
    Note that the featured Academics Review report is NOT about certification or organic farming as such but the practices used in MARKETING of organic produce

    David Tribe Ph.D., University of Melbourne, Department of Agriculture and Food Systems,
    And Academics Review (which is not affiliated with the University of Melbourne.)

  • mem_somerville

    It’s funny to me how much the organic purity trolls hate the government standards, while clamoring for a government labels. This is precisely why a 3rd party label system like Kosher is exactly the way to go. The govt will never be pure enough, nor fast enough, to keep up with the new technologies you will want to hate as soon as they come along.

    But the additional irony of Marion suggesting conflict by Academics Review, due to lack of COI (despite the statement), while regularly flogging all sorts of intertwined folks who make money off the organic industry and labeling efforts is hilarious.

  • Michael Bulger

    Karl, that merely says that donations don’t come with specific instructions regarding the research. It doesn’t say whether the authors/publishers receive funding from industry sources. Even “no strings attached” funding can have a negative effect on their objectivity.

    But let’s be honest with ourselves. David Tribe writes only pro-GMO/anti-Organic pieces. If you were a donor, you would be sure of what you were getting before Academics Review even began the process of putting out a report.

    Michele Simon or David Tribe, it doesn’t matter who is the kettle and who is the pot. Let’s not kid ourselves and think that Academics Review would publish anything but a slam of the organic sector. “Academics Review” sounds authoritative, but “Advocates Review” would be more honest.

  • Pingback: TEN THINGS - Canada Crop Protection May 01 2014 |()

  • Michael Bulger
  • Karl Haro von Mogel

    Apparently you would prefer to make cynical ad hominem arguments rather than address the factual claims. Marion Nestle lobbed the accusation that they were funded by vested interests without evidence. David Tribe has responded below that he has been misrepresented. Your frustrations should directed at the author of the accusation.

  • Pingback: A Roundup (no pun intended) on organics | WentGood()

  • tgifreytag

    The “Addition” link is broken for me — I believe you’re trying to link to

  • Let Science Rule

    Don’t hold your breath Doc. You will get no reply and certainly no
    retraction. Nestle & Simon are definitely not in the business of
    ethical reporting. Besides you and other good honest academics like
    yourself are prime targets for Nestle, Simon, Bulger and other
    ideologues’ negative marketing crusade. Too bad these sold out hacks
    didn’t sign on to market a product that has solid differentiating
    merits. Nope, instead they’ve tied their future to the ditzy organic
    bandwagon where the only real value is snob appeal. Stand your ground
    Doc and stay on the right side of professional ethics — don’t do an Oz
    or a Nestle, shameless mercenaries who’ve only succeeded in devaluing
    and embarrassing science in order to fan the flames of popular
    misconception. Hey, it sells books, procures snake oil grants and
    generally keeps these hacks sweating away in the propaganda mines.

  • Myrto Ashe

    What a strange thing, that Marion Nestle’s blog would have attracted such a large number of people who don’t believe that the organic food movement is offering benefits!
    Even the Stanford study, which officially concluded that organics are no better, actually published data supporting the conclusion that they are probably safer (fewer pesticides, lower doses, less dangerous pesticides). Meanwhile, there is no question that organic agriculture protects agricultural workers and people living in agricultural areas. NPR reported that California’s Central Valley has air quality better only to that of Los Angeles. Kids there are suffering very high rates of asthma, and we know pesticides are partly to blame. It is intolerable that we would sit here and defend that system.
    Finally, we know pesticides are harmful to our environment. This was one of the reasons for the standards we developed. It is still an important one, as more species extinction proceeds apace.
    It is very hard to show bias in a short blog piece. We should keep the ultimate goal in mind: it’s not cheap food, not given the environment–and food environment–it helps build for us.

  • Pingback: The Week in Food Politics, Cinco de Mayo Edition | the diligent dilettante()

  • Tammy B.

    And none of those are scientific articles. Meanwhile, it’s disturbing how under-regulated organic food is. There’s no evidence that organically grown food has any added nutritional benefit as compared to traditionally grown foods.

    So here’s something interesting. Go to the FDA’s website, and do a search of food recalls involving the word “organic”. 192 results as of 5/7/2014 come up. Do a recall search using the term “GMO”. 9 results hit, BUT ALL OF THOSE RESULTS say either NON-GMO or GMO-FREE. And for whatever reason, you’ll keep eating organic food simply because you’re under the impression that because it has a green sticker on it, that somehow means that it’s healthy, and not unsafe.

    Your proposal to making GMO’s illegal is akin to proposing making vaccinations illegal. If you’re afraid of using vaccines under the unsupported presumption that it’s dangerous, fine. But don’t you dare bring your unprotected disease ridden self anywhere around me. If you don’t want to eat GMO foods, fine. But don’t deprive me of the ability to eat foods that have been treated to deter bacteria, insects, rodents, and other disease-carrying vectors because you think it’s wrong because you don’t understand what genetically modified means or how it’s done. You probably don’t even realize that selective breeding practices have existed since humans first raised crops and livestock thousands of years ago. It’s called “evolution”.

    There are dozens of scientific articles and and studies scrutinizing GM foods because of public fear perceptions like yours. The USDA, FDA, CDC, WHO, OECD, the The Australia New Zealand Food Authority, UK Food Standards Agency, the Association of German Agricultural Analytic and Research Institutes, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the European Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Scientific Advisory Panel, the British Crop Protection Panel, Health Canada, the Europe Novel Food Task Force, the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment, the Nordic Working Group on Food Toxicology and Risk Assessment, and the various academic scholars of the world researching GMO’s have not only set up a stringent series of standards to assess and regulate the introduction of foreign genes into an organism, and how to monitor it in the future. So, for instance introducing gene that produces beta-carotene into rice, like the devil “Golden Rice” (that surely you’re opposed to), in order to address malnutrition due to Vitamin A deficiency has been presently shown to be safe under the assessments and research performed by ALL of these organizations.

    On the other hand, almost nobody is doing the same for the organic food industry. There have been 8 organic foods recalls over the last 2 months, and no one questions it, and no one has made any proposals of how to regulate it to prevent more from happening in the future. It is the foremost epitome of hypocrisy in the world today. The oil industry should be taking notes on how the organic food industry is not only able to get away with its so-called “self-regulation”, but on how it’s able to decry alternative consumable supplies scientifically proven to be safe by using misleading media scare tactics. Enjoy.

  • organic production and dissemination is very important, in terms of health significance should be expanded further with the public spotlight. Whether the increase in production has to increase consumption to the same extent. ukash detailed articles on the blog page I’ve read about it.

  • I like to believe that organics are healthier on an energetic scale.

    Food transfer its energy to us and pesticides zap that energy.

    Agree that it’s better for the environment.

    In my years as a massage therapist recommending organic food to client’s I notice the difference in their bodies and energy level when they switch to organic food.
    With organic food the body does not have to work so hard to process so many toxins and that healthy energy can be used for health and vitality instead.