The Organic vs Non-Organic Debate: Know Your Sources

Posted on May 11 2011 - 2:34am by Mike Lieberman

One of my imaginary friends on Facebook, Michael Martz, said that he was listening to a local SoCal radio station. They were discussing how organic food wasn’t as nutritious as non-organic and that the farming practices couldn’t sustain the world.

He wanted my thoughts on this.

The show was titled The Non-Organic Future. I’ve heard these arguments and read these reports plenty of times before.
It all comes down to the same thing -

  • Who are the people making these claims?
  • What’s their affiliations?

Doing some quick research this is what I came up with.

Who is Pedro Sanchez?
The first “expert” was Pedro Sanchez, Director and Senior Research Scholar of Columbia University’s Tropical Agriculture & Rural Environment Program. He claimed the following:

If you ask me point blank whether organic-based farming is better than conventional, my answer is no.

Now coming from a professor at an Ivy League school this surely is a credible statement and one that we should trust. Let’s look deeper at Columbia’s affiliations.

Who funds Columbia University?
Back in 2006, Columbia University was awarded $15 Million to support science-based effort to end poverty in Africa from the Gates Foundation.

Ok, so this sounds great. What’s wrong with that? Let’s look into the Gates Foundation now.

What’s The Gates Foundation have to do with Monsanto?
According to this article the Gates Foundation was under scrutiny for heavily investing in Monsanto stock.

Ahh, now it makes sense why Sanchez would be saying that. He works for a University that has accepted money from a Monsanto backer. What do you expect him to say?

Who is Marks Rosegrant?
Now let’s move on to the other guest, Mark Rosegrant with the International Food Policy Research Institute.

When asked about organic farming he said:

It’s not an important part of the overall process to feed 9 billion people.

Who funds FPRI?
Let’s take a look into Rosegrant’s background. If you look a the very bottom of The International Food Policy Research Institute’s website it says, “IFPRI is supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).”

What is CGIAR?
CGIAR, “…is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for sustainable development with the funders of this work.”

This sounds great and wonderful, but after doing a quick search, I came up with this article from InMotionMagazine titled CGIAR Turns to Outsourcing.

The opening paragraph of the piece starts out with:

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), once the harbinger of green revolution that swept through parts of Asia and Latin America in the early 1970s and 1980s, is in an advanced stage of decay. In a desperate effort to survive against all odds, the 16 international agricultural research centers that operate under the aegis of CGIAR, have therefore donned a new role – to serve as an agricultural research outsource for the multinational corporations.

It then goes on to explain that one of the people in control of one of CGIAR’s main projects is an old Monsanto executive.

The USDA ain’t helpin
We shouldn’t be too surprised by this type of research and studies finding such information. An article in The GMO Journal titled Regulatory Independence Myth Lives On At USDA explains how the USDA is allowing these companies to perform the safety studies themselves or allow them to fund the studies. So what would you expect the results to be?

What to do?
When listening to the “experts” weigh in on such issues or when you are reading reports, do a little digging and see what the connections are. Don’t just take them at face value.

What are your thoughts on the organic vs non-organic debate?

  • Carle_mae

    My thoughts are poo on them. Lets continue to spray chemicals all over our plants so we kill off more honey bees then are already dying en masse. Great idea?! Also lets have Monsanto continue to drive oversea and foreign farmers into more desperate poverty that will fix global hunger…

    My boyfriend doesn’t believe in organic farming, however he still loves the idea of cooking with my own fresh vegetables I grew especially for him (he comes from a super Italian family).

  • Aliceannlincoln

    Cabbages: A few years back… Brother-in-law planted a huge feild, using chemical fertilizers, sprays, and all the stuff recommended = blight, club root, pests, big loss of $$$. Me in back yard in tires filled with composted chicken and hog manure; pest control by free range hens, lizards, and such = nice heads(3 to 6 per tire), with only a couple lost to hungry hens. Added crushed dry wall to soil at a couple of weeks old, and sprikled wood ash over and around a week after that. Out produced his “professional” feild that year, with 2 dozen tires filled with manure. I KNOW they’re full of fertilizer when they downgrade organics! Have never used a lot of chemicals because my children and animals were always around.

  • Skacadelik

    your boyfriend is an idiot.

  • Carle_mae

    Blindly labeling people idiots because they don’t do research into ONE particular issue is idiotic (because if you haven’t been watching the news, there are a lot of things going on in the world right now). Especially when said person works 12 hours a day landscaping sometimes 7 days a week. We are two young people working fulltime jobs, don’t do drugs, don’t gamble(despite living 5 minutes away from Atlantic City), don’t blow our money on silly things, don’t procreate out of boredom, and handling minor debt in a responsible manner BY PAYING IT OFF AND NOT MAKING MORE PROBLEMS FOR OURSELVES. You cannot blame people that bring in low income and choose to purchase something that might look exactly the same as something with such a higher markup out of faith that it is healthier. Especially since those people are still eating ‘slow food’ and cooking primarily from scratch which is far more substantial then the food in boxes we could just as easily purchase…there are many things you can choose to respect and appreciate in a person.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Nice Alice. Love hearing about all that you do.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    That ain’t cool. It would be appreciated to avoid comments like that or at least give some context to your claim.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    All good. Ignore the comment. Haters gon hate. For some it is an ignorance thing and for some it’s that they don’t or want to care.

    We are all going through our own experiences, and have to make our own choices. It’s all good. Good for you and your boyfriend for doing whatever you choose to do.

  • Somaraz

    Thanks for posting this info – why we always have to be sure to know who the sources are –and who’s funding them.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Interesting. Thanks for the link.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    No doubt. Gotta.

  • Mister Swervon

    Personally I struggle with the organic vs. non-organic debate when it comes down to purchasing locally or shipped in from a far-away land. I tend to choose local over organic (local and organic is clearly the best option).

    I completely support organic foods, but I also fear that giant organic producers will end up as greedy and manipulative as big agri-business now. My ideal situation is local, small-scale and organic.

  • Lex

    This quote “If you ask me point blank whether organic-based farming is better than conventional, my answer is no” is funny, because organic-based farming IS conventional farming. Conventional taken from Encarta – usual or established: using well-established methods or styles.

    (snicker, snicker…)

  • http://patiogardener.blogspot.com Chris

    Nice work Mike! The so-called experts have also come up with “healthy eating disorder” if you are too concerned with eating nutritious vitamin rich food and not crappy MSG junk so I think we can all take the “experts” claims with a grain on toxic iodized salt.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Hahhaa. Now just gotta keep letting others know too.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    True. True. Good point.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I hear that. Gotta find that balance of what works for you. It’s what you do 90% of the time that matters. Can’t worry about being perfect.

  • Kristin Overton

    Good on ya for digging around to follow the money trail! I read his “point blank- no” article & could only disagree, but now I understand why he said what he said. So many people think that I’m some kind of conspiracy theorist when I throw stuff like this at them, but when you’re got the sources to throw back at people, the “conspiracy” certainly holds more water.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    People think the same about me. All good though. The open dialogue and discussions are fun. It’s when people start getting on their soapbox and preachy that’s mad annoying.

  • Edward

    When I see organic food in a supermarket that comes from somewhere far away though, I have to wonder how many of the benefits are lost by the item being picked and having to ripen in a truck/plane somewhere. No matter where they’re grown, I’ve yet to eat a store-bought strawberry (conventional or organic) that tastes better than ones I’ve grown with compost in my backyard.

  • Mister Swervon

    That’s why my 20′ x 20′ backyard works best. Eating a salad with my homegrown organic kale now.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I hear ya. Gotta find that balance that works for you. Been interested in growing my own strawberries lately…

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Rub it in. Rub it in. 

  • http://www.jonathansanders.net Jonathan Sanders

    Thanks for the article, Mike. I can’t agree more about vetting these “experts” in our own mind before we just take what they say. 

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Gotta know your sources. 

  • http://red-icculus.com Mr. Icculus

    Whether it is organic or inorganic, it boils down to the availability of metal salts available to a plant.  They are the exact same chemicals, so why fuss about how they get there?

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Ok. Not sure what you are saying. All I know is that I don’t want chemicals and synthetics near my foods. 

  • http://twitter.com/Greensteader Greensteading.org

    Great research Mike, unfortunately you are going to find examples like that everywhere. You could really spin science to support anything these days.  Like you, I just want my food like nature intended it to be

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I hear that. 

  • http://twitter.com/Greensteader Greensteading.org

     I’m trying to grown my own strawberries too. I have 3 little ones and they put them back with a quickness. At $5 bucks a pound for organic its a killer.

    You could probably do one of these on your balcony

    http://www.greensteading.org/2011/04/strawberry-pyramid-planter/

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Interesting. Thanks for sharing. 

  • http://twitter.com/Greensteader Greensteading.org

    Monsanto is scary.  We watched a movie on Netflix called “Food Matters” pretty much dedicated to telling the story of how Monsanto extorts from farmers that dont use their GMO seed.  I didnt know you could patent a seed but I guess you can.

  • Russell Franke

     I do a mix of both organic and non-organic.  My garden is all organic, but it can’t feed my family for the year on its production.  I do buy organic produce from our farmers market and from our super market, but the choices are limited.  I am interested in supporting local farmers and I am thinking of joining an organic CSA.  The problem with this issue is weather mass production organic gardening can keep up with world demand for food.  Let’s be honest, gardening is not for everyone (I started 3 years ago at 38).  Many people do not have the means to raise their own food.  That is why we have farmers.  Organic farming is labor intensive and therefore more costly.  That can really hurt a struggling family.  

    I am by no means supporting big agri-farms or the use of chemicals.  I am supporting the feeding of an ever expanding population.  I think we need non-organic farming for that reason.  Those of us that can grow, or buy, organic foods should.  Especially if it supports the small, local farmer.  I think your research shows potential bias by these “experts”, but they do have a point about feeding 9 billion people.     

  • Edward

    Get some plants going now in a bed, and pinch off (as painful as it is) any flowers or new fruit to give the plants time to work on root & leaf development. Plant them in a container where the strawberries will hang off of the sides. If they lay in the soil bugs will get to them. After that it’s all about applying some compost and you’ll get some lovely berries. Good luck my friend. :)

  • Edward

    *Pinch blossoms and fruits the first year, then let them roll the 2nd year.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    I hear ya Russell, but that the fact that organic farming can’t feed the world is a huge misconception. 

    Back in the 60s, conventional farming promised to feed the world and 50 years later, there are even more people starving and malnourished. All conventional farming does is make the chemical companies that are producing the chemicals richer and us poorer (on many levels).

    Plus something like 80% of the grain that is grown is unaturally fed to cattle to fatten them up. If feeding people was really the reason, why not supply that to people instead?

    Maria Rodale wrote a great series of articles on @farmkitchenblog how organic farming can feed the world: http://www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com/why-modern-organic-farming-is-the-only-thing-that-can-feed-the-world-reason-1-of-5/

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Awesome. Appreciate the tip. 

  • Russell Franke

    I agree with the feeding of grains to animals.  It seems wasteful to say the least.  

    I would disagree with you still on the other point.  The  world’s population has nearly tripled since the ’50s and we do a good job at feeding the masses.  A hundred years ago the Irish lost nearly 25% of their population to a potato disease that can be treated with chemicals.  In other words, organic farming has its limitations.  If organic farming had the potential of non-organic, we would see far less starvation in third world countries, as they use far less chemicals than the more “developed” countries.I am all for organic gardening/farming, but are we willing to take the risk for potential disaster with our food?  Not when our planet is approaching 9 billion people. 

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Conventional farming has it’s limitations as well. It’ll keep us on an endless cycle of chemicals and sprays. The soil is getting depleted and there is nothing being done to replenish it. That’s not sustainable.

    I think there is more potential for disaster with our food when it comes to conventional and GMO farming than organic.  

  • http://elevenfourteen.com 1114organic

    The more you look into it the more it reminds me o peeling an onion.  once you find one bad apple in there you can peal another layer back and find another.  The big guys don’t like organics because it takes the power away from them.  We can all garden and feed ourselves and save the planet at the same time.  Just like 20 million people did back with the Victory gardens back in the 40′s

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Great analogy and very true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Radicaldreamer2012 Maurice Turner Jr.

    They are the reason why cancer is at an all time high…Poor food quality means a unhealthy body… The system is greatly flawed…

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Ain’t that an understatement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/GeekNeko Kitty Price

    *sigh* you can’t escape them.  I feel as though Monsanto is a powerful disease with many fingers, quietly infecting every asset it can before anyone notices.  Unless there is  180-degree change from the way we all live, it’s only a matter of time before they really do own everything, without exception… :(

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Then maybe people will care…

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    It’s amazing what a lot of slick marketing and lots of money can do and convince people of.

  • Cbradley12

    Totally agree w u. One positive step at a time. I think too many green ppl out there want others to go all ou or go home. That’s not right. We all do what we can. I grow what I’m not willing to sell whole foods a kidney for. That’s guys ‘greener than thou’ attitude helps no one.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    All or none anything isn’t a reasonable request of anyone. Except being all true to yourself. I just do my best to open the dialog and raise awareness about what’s going on.

  • Shejustis

    There is a HUGE difference between the two, regardless of the
    nutritional content between the two growing methods; conventional food
    contains 72 different types of pesticides as well as things like ROUND
    UP and defoliants…. We are people – lots bigger than bugs – but our
    intestines are loaded with helpful organisms that are destroyed or
    seriously altered by these chemicals. Over time we too, like the
    insects, end up rolling around in the throws of death – called cancer or
    chronic degenerative disease.

  • Shejustis

    You are correct.  I lived on an organic cattle farm for several years.

    The money they “save” by feeding animals in feed lots  is spent and more by trucking in  the food and trucking away the waste.  Not to mention the damage to ground water supplies by the massive waste release.  Organic cattle farms spread the waste evenly and naturally all over the farm – no expense and the animals are happier, healthier and taste much better.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    True dat.

  • http://twitter.com/drummerisagrl Michelle Geiger

    My biggest issue is when people claim organic farming practices will not be able to sustain the world.  Why don’t these people look at all the food that goes to waste each year from grocery stores and our homes?  It seems we have more than enough food in this country, we just need to learn better practices on how to allocate it to get the most out of it.  If people were more responsible and felt food was worth more, maybe waste wouldn’t be as high.  Eating locally grown, organic food, gives you a better connection to your food and you appreciate it more.  You are more aware of where it came from and the work that it took to get it on your table.  That is where the money should be spent.  Maybe the future will bring this awareness and we will all want our money to be spent on the best quality food possible.  Organics will be the norm and where the money is at.  Farming (organic) will be the choice profession!

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Very well said Michelle.

  • http://www.livenakedly.com/ Chris Webb

    This is what I talk about on my blog a lot – connecting the dots back to seeing why things are being manipulated the way they are.  Good stuff.  You’re much more succinct, Mike. My “How to Create a Sick Society” about dieticians, GMOs, and everything in between was over 3000 words!  

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Nice bro. I do my best to keep things in easily digestible bite sized info, especially for people who are just becoming aware. Sounds like your kind of writing would be better suited for someone like me ;-)