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Turkeys Shun Business Class, Part Deux

August 23, 2009

First off, I’d like to thank the commenters on the previous post about organic farming.  Creating informed, interesting discussion is the entire purpose of this blog and you guys definitely encourage me to keep writing and learning from your feedback.

That being said, I think perhaps my actual stance on organic farming is a bit unclear.  Usually when I take a controversial stance I try to interject as much nuance as possible, but that can get tedious very quickly.  Hence why it seems like I am an uncaring monster.

Now, most people who’ve talked to me about this issue agree that at least in many cases the organic label is a marketing sham designed to boost profits not environmental responsibility.  In fact, 98% of products claiming to be eco-friendly make false or misleading claims about the supposed environmental benefits of their products (a handful of such products actually had completely meaningless labels).  It is also undeniable that the vast majority of popular organic food brands come from national corporations, not the local agriculture we typically imagine.

However, that doesn’t make it true that the organic label necessarily makes a given product unhealthy!  Of course there are honest farmers out there, and of course some of the organic onions we eat will actually come from Vidalia.  In these cases you are better off buying products from such sources given that you are more concerned with environmental impact than price.

What I take out of Cecilia, Heather, and Jason’s comments (which I recommend reading) is that if you do the research to find them, certain organic products really do contribute to a healthier lifestyle and a cleaner planet.  I’d be all for it if more farmers duplicated these practices.  Reality unfortunately shows that this is still much rarer than is commonly conceived.  The statistics show that people who eat organic foods are no healthier, and the average organic farm no better for the environment, no less corporately controlled.  Hell, people directly exposed to pesticides even show a lower cancer rate than the population at large!

Thus my point is that if we are looking to support local agriculture, eat foods without nasty biological contaminants, or eat meat from humanely slaughtered animals, it takes a lot more work than to simply shop at-will in the organic section in the supermarket.  More thorough research of even these brands is essential, as well as research into the suppliers of restaurants claiming to serve food with organic ingredients.  The idea of organic is wonderful (at least for those of us in rich world countries who spend less than 10% of our incomes on food), the practice of using labels to represent this idea is a convenient fiction for socially conscious types — at least until the government (or something like the ESRB) requires products advertised under these labels to actually use the methods imagined by the public. And I promise never to craft a sentence with not one, but two parenthetical remarks (plus a dashed aside) again.

As for the turkeys, I still think that as far as animals go, their main directive in life is to reproduce and survive at any cost.  I’ll grant that turkeys in the wild are smarter and more able to defend themselves, but they will likely all die early and brutally at the teeth and claws of another animal, or of natural diseases prevented by the antibiotics pumped into them by farmers.  There is of course a baseline level of respect for the animal that must be maintained, such as avoiding unnecessary cruelty.  But to imagine that the species of extremely stupid domesticated turkey that we are inheriting now would prefer free range (which really doesn’t amount to that much of an improvement, it’s not like they are running free in a natural habitat) enough to justify the cost increase for myself is a stretch, though I respect anyone who wishes to vote otherwise with his/her wallet.

UPDATE: Here is a fascinating page of charts hosted by Michigan State hoping to shed light on the corporate takeover of organics.

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