Palaces For The People
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
 
Food Safety Crisis in the USA: Organics Under Fire: The U.S. Debate Continues -- by Ronnie Cummins / Rural America / In Motion Magazine

The Hard Kill: "Organic Food is Dangerous"

Increasingly in 1998 and continuing in 1999 these anti-organic special interests -- enraged by the mass consumer rejection of the USDA's proposed organic rules and fearful of long-term market trends -- have hired PR firms and right-wing think tanks to go on the offensive. Placing numerous articles and opinion pieces in the mass media and influencing others (Knight-Ridder Newspapers, PBS, Farm newspapers, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today online, etc.) they have hardened their propaganda message: not only do they claim that organic is not safer than conventional -- now they're saying, through mouthpieces such as Dennis Avery of the corporate funded Hudson Institute, that organic food is actually dangerous. The Hudson Institute's Board includes James H. Dowling from the multinational PR firm Burson-Marsteller, Craig Fuller (who led the PR firm Hill & Knowlton's Gulf War front group Citizens for a Free Kuwait), and Kenneth Duberstein (who runs a top DC lobby firm with a host of corporate clients). Hudson's generous funders include the Archer Daniels Midland Corporation.

"Mad dog" Avery has picked up the industrial agriculture mantle, claiming that "Organic foods have clearly become the deadliest food choice." Avery argues that selfish organic consumers and farmers would rather watch millions of poor people in the Third World starve, or else sit by while desperate peasants destroy the remaining rainforests, rather than admit that genetic engineering and pesticide and chemical use in agriculture are necessary and safe.

Avery is a former government official during the Reagan era and author of the book Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic. An economist by trade, Avery has touted the virtues of global warming (it's better for farmers), staunchly defended factory-style hog farms (they're good for the environment because they save space), and pushed for food irradiation (it preserves the freshness of food while killing bacteria).

What makes Avery confounding (and dangerous) in his often widely-reprinted newspaper articles and opinion pieces is his skill at manipulating statistics and his bold willingness to not only fudge facts, but to literally make them up. Here are a few of the gems from Avery's pen:

"People who eat organic foods are eight times more likely to be attacked by the deadly new E. coli bacteria... Organic consumers are at increased risk from natural toxins produced by fungi, some of which cause cancer. Organic foods carry far more of the dangerous bacteria (salmonella, campylobacter, and Listeria) that kill thousands of people every year." (Syndicated article in Knight-Ridder newspapers Aug. 3, 1998)

Avery likes to claim his statistics come from the Centers for Disease Control and the FDA. But spokespersons from both agencies told a reporter last fall from the respected Congressional Quarterly Researcher (a research publication in Washington) that this was not true. As Larry Slutsker of the CDC told the CQR, "I cannot confirm [Avery's] numbers. We don't have routine data collection on whether things are organic or not." In a similar vein Robert Lake, director of policy planning at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition told CQR "I'm not aware that there's a particular problem with organics and aflotoxins [a type of fungi]."

As organic farmer and National Organic Standards Board member Fred Kirschemann of North Dakota pointed out to CQR, Avery's claims are "outrageous and undocumented. I don't know of a single case to date where food coming from a certified organic farm has been contaminated by a food-borne illness. All of the cases have been traced to either imported foods or food from large industrial operations."

(All quotes are taken from the CQ Researcher September 4, 1998).

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