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Broken Clock Alert: Organic, Schmorganic

As Bill Clinton noted so eloquently on Wednesday night, even broken clocks are right twice a day. As I have written in the past, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen is rarely right twice a decade, let alone during a 24-hour period. But every now and then even he can score a bull’s-eye. Cohen has been deceived by some of the most transparent villains on the planet, such as the Islamist regime in Iran that he disgracefully sought to whitewash in 2009 and even claimed they were not anti-Semitic. Cohen is also a dependable supporter of the Palestinians and has little patience with measure of Israeli self-defense.

However, there are some frauds that Cohen is too savvy to accept. Though organic food is all rage among the fashionably liberal and precincts where his left-wing views are received with applause along with the rest of the output of Times writers, Cohen will have none of it. As he writes today, after four decades of research, Stanford University has issued a study declaring that foods labeled “organic” have no greater nutritional value than other food. The same is true for organic meat. Nor are any of these trendy items less likely to have dangerous bacteria like E.coli. As Cohen rightly puts it:

The takeaway from the study could be summed up in two words: Organic, schmorganic. That’s been my feeling for a while.

Cohen does have some nice things to say about the organic food movement. He likes the fact that it has encouraged small-scale farming, though I think here he is just falling prey to the usual romanticism about old-style agriculture that has little to do with common sense in terms of food production. He also extols its environmental impact, though he acknowledges that organic food requires more land to raise food and that cuts down production and efficiency. He’s right that the organic has led to better labeling and certification.

However, he pretty much nails the foolishness that is at the core of this phenomenon:

Still, the organic ideology is an elitist, pseudoscientific indulgence shot through with hype. There is a niche for it, if you can afford to shop at Whole Foods, but the future is nonorganic.

To feed a planet of 9 billion people, we are going to need high yields not low yields; we are going to need genetically modified crops; we are going to need pesticides and fertilizers and other elements of the industrialized food processes that have led mankind to be better fed and live longer than at any time in history.

I’d rather be against nature and have more people better fed. I’d rather be serious about the world’s needs. And I trust the monitoring agencies that ensure pesticides are used at safe levels — a trust the Stanford study found to be justified. …

Organic is a fable of the pampered parts of the planet — romantic and comforting. Now, thanks to Stanford researchers, we know just how replete with myth the “O” fable is.

Cohen is right on target when he places the welfare of mankind over the pointless and often pagan reverence for notions of nature that have little to do with science or sense. The point of the agriculture industry is to feed the hungry. Organic food may not do much harm but it is largely nonsense.

While I don’t place much hope in the possibility, a column like this leads one to imagine that it might be possible for Roger Cohen to see the light on other topics. Perhaps if we’re patient we may all live to see him right on something else sometime before 2020.



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