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Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew


Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew Cover

ISBN13: 9780151011308
ISBN10: 0151011303
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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1. Humus Worshippers


The Origins of Organic Food


The birthright of all living things is health. This law is true

for soil, plant, animal and man: the health of these four is one

connected chain. Any weakness or defect in the health of any

earlier link in the chain is carried on to the next and succeeding

links, until it reaches the last, namely, man.


—Sir Albert Howard, ­1945


In 1998, Chensheng Lu, a researcher at the Department of Health at the University of Washington, began testing children in the Seattle area to see whether he could detect pesticide residues in their urine. He was looking for signs of organophosphates, a class of chemicals closely related to nerve agents developed during World War II, which subsequently came into widespread use as pesticides in a far less potent form, eventually accounting for half of all insecticide use in the United States. The chemicals inactivate enzymes crucial to the nervous and hormonal system, which, at high enough levels of exposure, can lead to symptoms as various as mild anxiety or respiratory paralysis. Long­-­term exposure increases the risk of neurobehavioral damage, cancer, and reproductive ­disorders.


        Lu and his colleagues thought that children living near farms would have the highest levels of pesticide residues, since they were subject to drift from nearby fields. But the 110 two­- to five­-­year­-­olds he studied in the Seattle metropolitan area turned out to have higher levels of pesticide metabolites (the markers produced when the body metabolizes the chemicals). This suggested that food residues or home pesticide use, not drift, were the primary path for ­exposure.


        The study also had a curious anomaly: One child out of the hundreds they had studied had no signs of any pesticide ­metabolites.


        “It was kind of surprising,” said Lu, who now directs the Pesticide Exposure and Risk Laboratory at Emory Universitys Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta. When the researchers interviewed the parents, they learned the family ate organic food almost ­exclusively.

         This provided the first hint of scientific evidence that an organic food diet reduced pesticide exposure in children. Another study looked at pesticide residue data from 94,000 food samples from 1994–1999 and found organic food had about two­-­thirds less residues than conventional food. This showed that organic consumers were getting what they paid for—lower pesticides in food—but the study looked only at what was in the overall food supply, not what people ate. By identifying metabolites in the urine—through a technique known as biomonitoring—the ­researchers had evidence of pesticides children had actually ­consumed.


        Cynthia Curl, another scientist then at the University of Washington, followed up on Lus finding and published the results in March 2003. She showed that a group of children who ate mostly organic food had one­-­sixth the pesticide metabolites of those who ate nonorganic food, but the study could not identify the pesticides, or determine their risk, since many different ones produced the same markers. The study only concluded that eating organic food reduced the childrens risk of exposure to harmful pesticides from an “uncertain” level to a “negligible” ­one.


        Lu, with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, has since buttressed this conclusion. When a research team he led substituted organic foods for a conventional diet in children for five days, they could find no evidence of pesticide metabolites in their urine. When they reintroduced conventional foods, the metabolites returned. The paper concluded that an organic food diet provided “a protective mechanism” against pesticide exposure in a manner that “is dramatic and ­immediate.”


        Although the potential risks incurred by pesticide exposures over a lifetime are unknown, people who choose to eat organic for this reason have, in effect, decided to opt out of an ongoing social experiment into whether pesticides are safe. Given the number of pesticides that were once freely used but have since been removed from the market for health reasons, this is not a wild or unreasonable choice. For children the reasoning seems even ­clearer.


        Chemicals are up to ten times more toxic in the developing bodies of infants and children than in adults, according to a 1993 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a nonpartisan, government­-­funded research body. At ages one to five, children also eat three to four times more food per pound of body weight than adults, and their diet is far more concentrated (infants consume seventeen times more apple juice than the U.S. average, for example). So not only are children subject to a higher dose of pesticides, but the chemicals also have a greater impact on their bodies. That conclusion, reached in the NAS study, led to an overhaul of U.S. pesticide laws in 1996, charging the EPA to consider the impact of pesticides on children, a reevaluation process that is still going ­on.


        “If you can reduce some risk from some usage or pathway, you actually reduce your overall risk,” Lu said. “And it just so happens, for kids, the majority of exposure comes from dietary intake. So the benefit can be quite ­overwhelming.”


        The curious thing about this conclusion was that the people who were buying organic food—largely women, who make most household purchasing decisions, and especially mothers—already assumed it was true. It was common sense. If you ate food from organic farms that shunned toxic pesticides, less residue would end up in your body. You might not know what substance you were avoiding, or what the actual risk was, but that didnt really matter. Why consume pesticides at all if they added no nutritional value and might be detrimental to health? And why not support a farmer who had figured out how to produce food without them? This wasnt a giant leap of faith but a conclusion consumers could easily reach, even if it required them to pay more for ­food.


amily: 'Times New Roman'"        Food scares have simply reinforced this conclusion, since they feed on consumer unease with the conventional food system. This became apparent in 1989, when CBSs 60 Minutes aired a report about Alar, a pesticide that the government kept on the market even though it was a probable human carcinogen. Sprayed on apples, the pesticide was converted into a potential carcinogen when apples were heat­-­processed into juice and applesauce, products largely consumed by children. In the spotlight, the EPA banned the substance, saying that “long­-­term exposure to Alar poses unacceptable risks to public health.” The entire episode created, as Newsweek put it, “A Panic For Organic,” which was a mixed blessing for the young industry, since stores soon faced shortages of organic food and fraudulent items appeared, leading Congress to pass national organic food regulations in ­1990.


        More recent scares, surrounding meat, have had a similar effect, notably in Europe. Mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) arose in 1986, it is believed, from animal by­-­products that were once routinely fed to livestock. By the mid­-­nineties, the British government acknowledged that people who had eaten the meat of infected animals were dying from a new variant of Creutzfeldt­-­Jakob disease, which began with depression or anxiety and progressed to a crippling of the brain and death. More than 150 people died and cattle herds across Europe had to be destroyed. In late 2003, the first case of mad cow appeared in the United States, several years after cattle feed rules were revamped. No human deaths were attributed to the disease, nor did meat sales suffer, but organic meat sales jumped 78 percent. While the risk of tainted meat may be infinitesimally small, that didnt really address the main fear. Why had the conventional food industry taken these risks, anyway, when the natural diet of cattle was grass, not other ­animals?


        Yet while a third of American women and a quarter of all men believe that pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics in food production pose a “high risk” to health, the growth of the organic food industry cannot be entirely attributed to food scares, which make headlines and then fade away. Nor can its rise be explained by fears about pesticides, although they, too, play a central role. Buying and consuming organic food has come to be viewed not only as a means of avoiding harm but as a benefit in itself, a personal way of aligning nutrition, health, and social and environmental well­-­being. A mother might buy organic apple juice for her child because she views it as healthier; a twenty­-­something single making a meal with friends might choose organic lettuce mix because she thinks its better for the environment; a couple planning to celebrate a special occasion with a fancy dinner at a restaurant might seek a chef who relies upon organic food grown by small farmers and harvested at its peak. Where food comes from, who grows and processes it, and what happens to people and the environment along the way can bestow attributes that make it extra appealing. “Consumers dont just taste food, they experience it, and knowing a product came from a food system that treats farmers well may well enhance its flavor,” researchers at Tufts University in Boston ­write.


        While critics often portray organic farming as a pre­-­industrial anachronism practiced by aging hippies, romantics, Luddites, and quacks who are incapable of feeding the world, this characterization never seems to get very far with consumers because it misses the central premise. Organic food exists because, like any industry, it fulfills a need, in this case arising from lapses in the perceived quality and safety of conventional food production, and from the desire for an alternative predicated upon personal and environmental health. This demand has not been manufactured (nor could it be—total U.S. sales of organic food in 2003 amounted to only a third of the $29 billion that conventional food firms shelled out for advertising that year). Demand has arisen because an alternative to the status quo implicitly made ­sense.

Copyright © 2006 by Samuel ­Fromartz


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced

or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system,

without permission in writing from the ­publisher.


Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should

be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887­-­6777.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Bookwomyn, November 13, 2006 (view all comments by Bookwomyn)
This book changed the way I look at "organic" food. It's a real eye-opener! I feel as if I am a well-informed consumer but I learned a lot by reading this book and doing some subsequent research. If I had small children I'd be very diligent about every mouthful of food they consumed. While one can say that organics are not as important for us 'oldsters' I'd disagree with that too because the stuff that is in our food is scary. While this is just one person's take on things I feel it's a very important book - one which everyone should read. I have friends who say they cannot afford to eat organic foods . . . I feel we can't afford NOT to eat organic. Read this book, read other books like this and tell your friends!
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Product Details

Natural Foods and How They Grew
Fromartz, Samuel
Mariner Books
Marketing - General
Natural Foods
Industries - Agribusiness
Green Business
Natural foods -- Marketing.
Farm produce -- Marketing.
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
April 10, 2006
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
9 x 6 in 1.26 lb

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Related Subjects

Home and Garden » Sustainable Living » Food
Science and Mathematics » Agriculture » Organic

Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$3.38 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Harcourt - English 9780151011308 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In recent decades, organic food — the idealistic, natural alternative to industrial agribusiness and processed packaged foods — has grown into a multibillion-dollar business. Fromartz's portrait of the adolescent industry reveals that that success has prompted an epic identity crisis. Big corporations like Kraft and General Mills own the bulk of the market, and half of all organic sales come from the largest 2% of farms, alienating those most committed to producing chemical-free fruits and vegetables on small family farms, and selling them locally. Business journalist Fromartz uncovers the trailblazers' tactics: how Whole Foods Market developed a religion of 'moral hedonism,' how Earthbound Farm launched a revolution with bagged salad mix and how Silk soy milk became 'the number one brand in the dairy case, among all milk and soy milk brands.' But if big business is now the muscle of the organic industry, Fromartz demonstrates that small growers remain at its heart. Fromartz's profiles — of pioneers who sell their produce at farmers' markets and foster cooperatively-owned, local distribution networks — deftly navigate the complexities of pesticide issues, organic production methods and the legal controversies surrounding organic certification. This is a pragmatic, wise assessment of the compromises the organic movement has struck to gain access to the mainstream." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "[D]emonstrates how the skills and perspective of journalists can produce in-depth accounts of social, political and economic phenomena that go beyond mere reportage, or 'he said/she said' accounts of controversial issues. Fromartz...effectively integrates interviews with key actors in the corporate, government, and organic farming sector, along with savvy analysis of the economic, regulatory, and consumer dynamics that are in play. He also personalizes the book with accounts of his own quest for healthy food while shopping, testing organic food for attractiveness and taste, while maintaining a certain distance as an 'objective' surveyor of a remarkable story." (read the entire VQR review)
"Review" by , "Fromartz makes it clear just how precarious this movement has been....Despite the perils facing the industry, the tone of Organic, Inc. is much more upbeat and optimistic."
"Review" by , "In Organic, Inc., Samuel Fromartz gives us a uniquely American story — the emergence of Big Organics from humble origins in small, counterculture farms. Fromartz writes with the passion of an organic partisan but his account of the pros and cons of Organics, Big and Small, is unusually balanced, honest, and compelling."
"Review" by , "Unfortunately, this is an author who forces you to eat your spinach — and eat it and eat it — before you get to the meat of the matter, much less the dessert. Instead of spinach, read baby lettuce leaves. Instead of meat, read organically raised free-range chickens."
"Synopsis" by , Business writer Fromartz traces organic food back to its anti-industrial origins more than a century ago. Then he follows it forward again, casting a spotlight on the innovators who created an alternative way of producing food that took root and grew beyond their wildest expectations.

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