The same right-wing think tank that conspired with John Stossel of ABC News, in an erroneous attempt to discredit organic food (subsequently forcing an apology from the network), is at it again. The Hudson Institute, and its father and son team of Dennis and Alex Avery, are attempting to spin a new report that actually concluded there was no “statistically different” risk in the pathogenic contamination of organic food verses its conventionally produced counterparts.
“For years, the Averys have been banging the drum trying to suggest to consumers that organic food is somehow dangerous,” said Mark Kastel, Director of the Organic Integrity Project at The Cornucopia Institute. “In this case, the study or any study is evidently enough ammunition for them to begin their indiscriminate potshots.”
The report in question, published in the May issue of Journal of Food Protection, looked at produce grown on conventional and organic Minnesota farms during 2002. Less than 5 percent of the produce from conventional and organic farms showed contamination with any of the tracked pathogens in question, and that was before washing at the wholesale level, peeling off outer leaves, or a thorough washing once the produce arrives in the home of the ultimate consumer.
“This study was primarily designed to look at the use of composted manure verses chemical fertilizers at the farm level. The authors of this report intentionally did not concern themselves with what happened once the produce was washed and left the farm,” Kastel said.
According to Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, the report’s chief author and faculty member at the University of Minnesota, “I had a very heated discussion with Alex Avery of the Hudson Institute. They were very dissatisfied with our findings and told me that our interpretations were not ‘correct.’ They told me I should have known better than to look for E. coli 0157:H7, because we wouldn’t find any.”
Dr. Diez-Gonzalez is not surprised to learn that the Hudson Institute, with its long record and the backing of agribusiness giants like Monsanto and DuPont, is now trying to use the independently funded, University of Minnesota data to discredit organic farming.
Commenting on the Diez-Gonzalez study, Alex Avery called eating organic food "a crap shoot" and warned that potential cases of diarrhea, typhoid fever and Reiters Syndrome await its consumers. "This statement is a total fabrication and a gross distortion of the Diez-Gonzalez study", charged Kastel. "Alex Avery will say anything in his petty little war against organic food and farming."
The only criticism of the research, levied by The Cornucopia Institute, was that nearly 80 percent of the samples taken during the study came from organic farms and only 20% from conventional operations. “If conventional produce was represented as a higher percentage of the total, maybe the findings would have looked even more favorable, in terms of the compareable safety of organic products,” said the Cornucopia’s Kastel. The conventional sampling was also extremely light in terms of the produce items that were most susceptible to contamination (leafy greens and lettuce).
According to Dr. Diez-Gonzalez, investigators are attempting to include more conventional produce in the second and third year of their research.
“One of the positive findings from the Minnesota study is that the potential for contamination on farms certified as organic by the USDA, under the federal supervisory program which went into effect in 2002, is demonstrably lower than for farms that call themselves organic but are not certified," noted Kastel.
Federal law now mandates that any commercial organic producer must be inspected on an annual basis. “It is not surprising that the best management practices take place on certified farms where the operators are highly engaged, educated and conforming to the strict regulations in terms of the use of composted animal manure," Kastel added. “The results are higher quality and safer produce for the consumer.”