The campaign against organic farming


Richard Moore

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While the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reports 
numerous environmental and health benefits from organic farming practices, 
including reduced levels of contaminants in foods, a whole series of press 
articles and radio and TV programmes around the world have been reporting the 
exact opposite: that organic agriculture is actually more risky than industrial 
agriculture. The items in the column below show how these reports are part of an
orchestrated campaign of disinformation involving industry-backed proponents of 
GM and how they are grounded in bogus research and a series of false claims.

The circulation of bogus research evidence critical of organic farming hasn't 
been a phenomenon restricted to popular journalism. There has been a concerted 
campaign of disinformation around the world with GM proponents always to the 

In the UK senior academics have been involved in raising concerns about the 
safety of  organic food (eg Ben Miflin, former head of the Institute of Arable 
Crops Research, Prof Alan Gray of the Institute of Terrestial Ecology and 
formerly head of ACRE, Prof John Hillman director of the Scottish Crop Research 
Institute). Information critical of organic agriculture has also been published 
in a booklet promoting GM food from the Food and Drink Federation.

Such attacks have even appeared in articles in reputable science journals. For 
example, in MUCH FOOD, MANY PROBLEMS (Nature 402, 231 [1999] - 18/11/99) by Prof
Anthony Trewavas of the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology at the 
University of Edinburgh, there are repeated claims of substantial problems. Yet 
the trail of evidence for such claims often leads back to Dennis Avery, the man 
at the heart of the disinformation campaign on organics.

The pieces opposite not only explain the bogus nature of the claims being made 
but point to those, many linked directly or indirectly to a rightwing network 
and a loose coalition of 'think-tanks' supported by agribiz and the biotech 
corporations, who have been supporting the disinformation campaign.

What is revealing in all this, is the way in which senior academics have 
apparently been happy to join in the disinformation process, thus lending it 
credibility, by repeating and promoting such views without serious critical 
scrutiny of the evidence on which they are based. This once again points to the 
price we pay for science having become so industrially aligned that it is more 
preoccupied with corporate interests than with serving the public good. For more
on this see: Prof Bullsh*t

More organic attacks in UK press
John Vidal, GUARDIAN (London),
Tuesday May 16, 2000

The Daily Mail has been doing some good muckraking. Yesterday, it led its front 
page with a nine-month-old scientific report suggesting that lettuces and 
sprouts grown to organic standards with the help of farmyard manure had 100 
times more E coli cells than conventionally grown ones. Shock. Was not E coli 
responsible for all those deaths in Lanarkshire? "The findings will alarm 
millions who switched to organic foods following the BSE crisis and concern over
the safety of GM foods," said the Mail.

But should it? Is organic farming inherently more risky than conventional 
farming, as a stream of articles and TV programmes in the past six months on 
both sides of the Atlantic have suggested? Unhappily for the Mail, the answer is
no. E coli is one of the commonest microbiological organisms on the planet. It 
is everywhere. On your coffee cup, your pencil, your hands, in everybody's 

The Daily Mail report glossed over the fact that the E coli found in the 
organically grown lettuces was totally harmless and indeed rather welcome. 
Without E coli and other micro organisms our immune system would be in tatters. 
Indeed, it would have been far more surprising if the Atlanta veggies did not 
show higher numbers of E coli cells. At least they were being grown in 
biologically alive land.

But one strain of E coli - 0157 - can indeed be virulent and deadly, and the 
Mail was quick to report that Tesco had recently withdrawn all its organic 
mushrooms after a routine check by environmental health officers found one with 
0157. But not with the deadly strain known as 0157:H7. It went on to say that 
the strain found in the Tesco mushroom was completely harmless.

So where are all these organic scare stories coming from? What's new about muck?
As the Soil Association, which sets UK organic standards points out, animal 
manure has been used for thousands of years as an essential component to 
maintain the organic matter content, biological activity, fertility and 
structural stability of agricultural soils. Moreover, conventional UK farmers 
use about 80m tonnes of it a year as a fertiliser. Just 9,000 tonnes goes on 
organic land and crops. So why the attacks on organic foods and not conventional

Enter the highly charged and politically motivated industry of environmental 
"contrarianism". It questions accepted eco "truisms" which suggest that global 
warming, holes in the ozone layer, large dams, intensive farming, nuclear power 
and GM foods are major problems. However, it frequently uses extremely selective
scientific studies, funded by industries with strong vested interests in keeping
the status quo, to rubbish governments and environmentalists. They are, 
variously, "negative", "against progress", "luddite", "making the poor poorer" 
and "peddling bad science".

The spate of recent "organic scare" stories probably started with Denis T Avery,
Director of Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, a rich and powerful US 
free-market, pro-globalisation think tank funded, amongst others, by chemical 
companies, agribusiness and biotech companies - all of whom have taken a 
battering in the global GM furore.

In 1998, Avery published "The Hidden Dangers in Organic Food" in American 
Outlook, a quarterly Hudson Institute publication. It began: "According to 
recent data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who eat
organic and 'natural' foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the 
population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E coli bacteria (0157:H7)."

The trouble was, the CDC denied ever having done the studies. But the Hudson and
its British counterparts such as the European Science and Environment Forum, and
the Institute of Economic Affairs, have been peddling variations of the story to
shock-hungry journalists, notably at C4, Living Marxism, a BBC Counterblast 
programme, and even the Wall Street Journal.

No one denies that farmyard manure carries dangerous pathogens. But not even the
most naive vegetarian would suggest that you should ignore fundamental rules of 
hygiene like washing fruit and vegetables before eating them, or cooking meat 


More organic attacks in UK press
An article by John Vidal in THE GUARDIAN (London)
THE GODFATHERS: who's behind organicised crime?

Excerpt from 'Organicised crime: The backlash against organic food has begun. 
But who is behind it?', Andy Rowell's report on how a loose network of rightwing
think-tanks, supported by agribiz and the biotech corporations, have worked 
together with GM-supporting scientists to slander organic food.

Dennis Avery: Big Daddy of the!

Reports on the bogus research with which Dennis Avery has originated much of the
anti-organic propaganda in recent circulation, and how his work is supported by 
Monsanto, DuPont, Novartis, ConAgra, DowElanco and others who profit from the 
sale of products prohibited in organic production.

John Stossel slanders organic farming

Reports on how ABC News correspondent John Stossel misled viewers in a report on
"20/20" implying organic food was dangerous. Includes articles from The New York
Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Nation.

Prof Trewavas requires a health warning

Reports on the media-war waged against organics by a scientist renowned for his 
extreme, unsupported and unfounded assertions. Includes an article with detailed
criticism of a Trewavas' piece in Nature.

Lord Haskins: merchant of doom

According to Blair advisor Lord Haskins organic food is not only risky but if 
organic farming were widely adopted it would lead to mass starvation!

Prof Hillman attacked for promoting bogus claims

How Professor John Hillman, director of the Scottish Crop Research Institute 
(SCRI) used the SCRI's annual report and the media to promote bogus smears 
against organic farming. Professor Hillman is on the Board of Directors of the 
BioIndustry Association, whose tagline is "Encouraging and Promoting the 
Biotechnology Sector of the UK Economy".

Sir John Krebbs slammed over organic food attacks

How Sir John Krebs and his supporters are using the UK Food Standards Agency to 
promote the interests of the biotechnology industry.

Anti-Organic Industry Groups Smear for Profit

Exposing the industry groups behind '' and its anti-organic 
report 'Organic Industry Groups Spread Fear for Profit'

Rightwing clique behind organic attacks
Rebutting the myths: the ŒCouterblast¹ programme on BBC 2 TV

A Soil Association response to the propaganda attack of a Big Tobacco funded 
rightwing clique

United Nations FAO report exposes anti-organic propaganda

A UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report concludes organic practices 
actually reduce e-coli infection that causes food poisoning (the exact opposite 
of GM proponents' bogus claims) and they also reduce the levels of contaminants 
in foods. Among the FAO's other conclusions:

€  Organic agriculture contributes to cleaner drinking water and to higher weed,
insect and bird diversity

€  Organic farming enhances genetic biodiversity and helps recover indigenous 
crop varieties

€  Organically produced foods have lower levels of pesticide and veterinary drug

€  Organic milk is less contaminated
€  Organic farming is good for sustainable agriculture

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