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Food Fears

all natural banana

A new Cornell University study examines the origins of food fears, and possible remedies. It’s a survey of 1,008 mothers asking about foods they avoid and why.

Food fears are a common topic on SBM, likely for several reasons. Humans have an inherent emotion of disgust, which is likely an adaptation to help avoid contaminated or spoiled food. In our modern society this reflex can be tricky, because we do not always have control over the chain of events that leads to food on our plates. Other people grow the food, transport it, process it, and perhaps even cook it.

Modern food technology can also involve many scary sounding substances and unusual processes. As the saying goes, you may not want to know how the sausage is made, as long as the end result is wholesome.

This leads to a second reason for modern food fears – we are living in an age of increasing transparency, partly brought about by the dramatic increase in access to information on the internet. I think ultimately this is a good thing – people are seeing how the sausage is made, which makes it more difficult to hide shady practices. This introduces a new problem, however. If you’re going to inspect the process of making sausage, then you need to know something about sausage-making.

In other words – people are obtaining a great deal of information about food, food ingredients, and manufacturing processes, which is a good thing. However, much of this information is coming from dubious sources – non-professional or academic sources that have not been peer reviewed in any meaningful way and may have ulterior agendas or ideological biases.

Further, it is not easy to understand any complex science, including chemistry and food science, which includes medical studies on ingredient safety. The Food Babe has essentially made a career out of provoking irrational fear of ingredients with unsavory sources and with scary-sounding, long chemical names. Neither of these factors have anything to do with actual food safety, but they make it easy to scare the non-expert.

Specifically this includes so-called “chemophobia” – which is the fear of chemicals. The problem with this “Food Babe”, chemophobic approach is that everything is chemicals. As the banana graphic above demonstrates, the formal chemical names even for everyday food molecules are long and unfamiliar to non-chemists.

The end result is that many people use shortcuts or heuristics to determine what food they trust and what food to avoid. One heuristic is the “natural” false dichotomy – if something seems natural it is healthful, and if it seems synthetic it should be avoided. This heuristic rapidly breaks down on two main counts. The first is that there is no good operational definition of “natural.” All food is altered by humans or processed in some way. Where do you draw the line? The second is that something occurring in nature is no guarantee of safety. Most things in nature will harm or even kill you. Many plants and animals have evolved toxins specifically to harm anything that tries to eat it.

Another food heuristic (one explicitly endorsed by the Food Babe) is the chemophobia heuristic – if it has a long chemical name that is difficult to pronounce, then it’s scary.

Yet another heuristic is to avoid anything about which anyone expresses fear or concern. This tactic is to essentially err on the side of caution in response to any expression of risk regarding a food. This strategy obviously occurs along a spectrum, but even a moderate degree of the precautionary principle can put a great deal of power in the hands of internet fearmongerers.

The fearmongering heuristic is also related to another one, which is to separate foods into “good” foods and “bad” foods. Bad foods are to be avoided all the time, in any amounts. This derives partly for a desire for simplicity and control – boiling all the complexity of diet and nutrition down to a simple list of naughty and nice. The reality is that the health effects of eating most food are all about proportions. Most things are fine in moderation.

Let’s get back to the recent survey – they found that food fears were associated with wanting others to know about your food choices and deriving food information from the internet rather than TV or other sources. One might conclude from this that the internet drives food fears, which would seem to be a reasonable conclusion. However, there are too many potential confounding factors to make any statements about cause and effect.

The survey also found that mothers with food fears were not more willing to pay more for food without the scary ingredient than mothers with less food fears. This again is difficult to interpret.

One potentially encouraging result of the survey is that the effects of food fears were mitigated by providing information about the food. This would suggest that attempts to educate the public about the real nature and scientific evidence regarding a demonized food could reduce irrational fears. The limitation of the survey was that the results were only assessed immediately, so it’s difficult to tell if there was any real long-term effect.

Conclusion

Irrational and faddish food fears now seem to be part of the culture, worsened by the immense flow of information over the internet, most of which is unvetted. This results in some people avoiding perfectly harmless ingredients based on unfounded fearmongering. As we have seen, this can also lead to pressure being placed on food manufacturers to eliminate the harmless ingredients (and their benefits) just to avoid the effects of a fearmongering campaign.

Further, irrational fearmongering about food provides unintentional cover for ingredients that should be limited or avoided. This results from two factors. The first is simply burying the useful information under piles of misinformation. The second is replacing a science-based assessment of reliable information about the real risks vs benefits of food ingredients, with sloppy heuristics that will tend to lead astray.

Internet food warriors are promoting an unscientific approach to food safety, based upon the naturalistic fallacy, chemophobia, the demonization of foods and ingredients, and a misapplication of the precautionary principle.

Image credit goes to James Kennedy

Posted in: Nutrition

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186 thoughts on “Food Fears

  1. Windriven says:

    I wonder if the food fear fantasy is any different from many of the other reactive responses some people have to insubstantial stimuli. One can sometimes observe schools of fish, flocks of birds, and herds of ungulates behaving in this way. A noise or a bee sting startles one animal, that animal starts moving away from the noise, and soon there is a stampede.

    Ours is a complex world and it is difficult to separate the useful from the frivolous. Therefore, many people rely on surrogates to puzzle through the complexities and give them clear and simple directions. Isn’t that some of the allure of religions?

    It is reasonable to rely on specialist elites to provide guidance. Unfortunately, sometimes some of these elites prostitute their positions for individual benefit of money, power, or notoriety. We then are faced with, say, Harriet Hall laying out the case that weight loss is a matter of calories in and calories out, and Mehmet Oz laying out the case that green coffee bean extract can peel off the flab without all the trouble of calorie counting or sweating to the oldies. And after all, Oz has a TV show.

    “[I]rrational fearmongering” will exist as long as there is profit or notoriety to be gained from it. The only antidote is solid education in science, logic and critical thinking. With that underpinning, selecting the surrogates to believe becomes clear and simple, and a bee sting does not become a stampede.

    1. Chuck Lasker says:

      Your comment is so well thought out, so well written, that it deserves to be a post all its own. “”and a bee sting does not become a stampede.” – excellent.

  2. Mike says:

    Unfortunately it is not just the internet fueling these food fears. The federal government is as well. The FDA seems to be holding the line by not defining “natural” or organic or allowing increased labeling of GMO. Unforutnately the USDA seems to be playing right into these food fears.

    The USDA controls the Organic Program which is driven largely by chemophobia and the natural fallacy. Under their aegis, al “natural” substances are allowed and all “synthetic” substances are prohibited. they even have arcane methods to determine if something undergoes a scary chemical reaction making it bad and not allowed

    http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5103308

    The USDA also controls all meat and poultry labels through the Food Safety and Inspection Service. They have defined natural and regulate when a meat product is natural or apparently unnatural.

    1. Emily68 says:

      I understand that there’s no proof that organic food is safer for the person who eats it. But what about the person who works in the field? I buy organic because I think it’s better for the farm worker not to be exposed to pesticides. Is there any evidence about this?

      1. Windriven says:

        The evidence is not likely to be cut and dried. If the farm worker wears adequate protective gear I doubt there would be an increased risk. But do commercial farms provide the gear and enforce its use?

        Noise is a potential health hazard in some jobs in my company. We educate every worker about the importance of hearing protection and we provide lots of appropriate devices. But we still find workers who ‘forgot’ to put them on when using, say, the ultrasonic welder.

        1. Izzy says:

          Do you really want to eat something that has been coated in a pesticide that is toxic enough that the person doing the spraying has to wear protective gear?

          1. Andrey Pavlov says:

            Do you really want to eat something that has been coated in a pesticide that is toxic enough that the person doing the spraying has to wear protective gear?

            Well, that information alone is not enough to answer the question.

            Do you want to drink water that comes from a plant where people have to wear protective gear to protect them from the fluorine and chlorine that is put in it?

            You see, at the source those are very concentrated and highly active and can indeed kill someone. By the time it makes it to your tap, it is safe.

            Same with most pesticides. The tiny amount that remains on your food by the time it makes it to you is of no interest. A simple wash in the sink will take care of anything if you really feel the desire to do so, but there is no need.

            However, those applying it must necessarily carry around a large amount of it. And thus are prone to be exposed to vastly more than you ever could.

            So yeah, I suppose I would like to eat something where workers had adequate safety protection in order to yield a good crop at a price I can afford.

            1. MRG says:

              Washing your food is mostly useless in getting rid of insecticides like neonicotinoids, which are system insecticides. Enjoy your serving of imidacloprid.

              There are more than enough peer-reviewed, science based studies to indicate that there are some significant causes for concern with some of the chemicals manufactured for food production. ‘Chemophobia’ is in fact a byproduct of the deliberate mis-information campaigns waged by the chemical companies and big agra. The Food Babe is one example of the distrust generated by those actions.

              1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Neonicotinoids work primarily on pathways humans don’t have, because they are targetted at insects and, well, we’re not insects. We’re also considerably larger than insects, and have much, much larger livers. For tiny doses to be dangerous, they generally have to act like hormones. Neonicotinoids are related to nicotine, which is indeed lethal, but not at the levels consumed. Geez, you can smoke the stuff for years!

                The main concerns over neonicotinoids are regarding colony collapse disorder, not human health risks. Nonhuman studies indicated minimal threat even at high doses, so I’m not going to worry.

                The Food Babe isn’t concerned over neonicotinoids because of her broad understanding of the biochemical pathways involved, or even a shallow grasp of the scientific literature. She’s concerned because she can’t pronounce it. Hardly a gold standard.

              2. Windriven says:

                Do you have some citations on neonicotinoid persistence in foodstuffs after washing? In a quick Google I wasn’t able to find anything or that they present a threat to humans in the amounts found in pesticide residues on food crops?

                It seems that the impact of neonicotinoids on bee populations is a much greater and more significant concern.

          2. Windriven says:

            Continuing Andrey’s train of thought, many of these pesticides exhibit low persistence – they break down reasonably quickly.

            Beyond that, wash or peel. I don’t want to eat something that some wheezing househusband has handled right after wiping his runny nose or covering his mouth to hack up god knows what. Or wiping the nose of his mewling, unvaccinated progeny.

            1. irenegoodnight says:

              Oh Windriven, I get your intention, but as a long time full time homemaker, I am sad to see you disparage those who care for children and home–be they male or female. I could just as easily conjure up a similar scenario in an office or factory setting and I don’t see where those who make happy homes full time are more prone to spreading germs/disease, or having whiny children for that matter.

              1. Windriven says:

                Jesus Irene, cut me some slack! I meant no disrespect to home makers in your choice of genders and gender alternatives.

                I was at the local Fred Meyer (a unit of Kroger here on the West Coast) buying fruit yesterday and there was a guy sniffling and hacking and handling the apples that I wanted to buy. Makes me wish I had my own gamma sterilizer. And yes, he had a whining, filthy kid in his basket. I was never father of the year but my kids never went out looking like they’d just emerged from a pigsty.

                In China, chicken parts and pork cuts are dumped into waist-high bins and everyone in the market for animal protein handles the stuff. I kid you not. No packaging. No gloves. Raw pork and grubby hands. It was almost enough to drive me to KFC (they’re ubiquitous in China). At least the stuff was fried at thermonuclear temperatures.

                I digress. The hacking househerr was just the first example that came to mind. To any homemaker that I offended of any gender, race, height, weight, health condition, or religious conviction, I offer my more-or-less sincere apologies. But your filthy whining brats are just gonna have to get over it ;-)

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                The local Chinese mass-market grocery store also handles and processes raw chicken, either unpackaged or with a dripping plastic bag, which gets on the check-out belt, which appears to be constantly wet, which is wiped down with a cloth, that is re-used, and a spraybottle that appears to be water. It’s a little terrifying.

              3. Windriven says:

                @William

                “either unpackaged or with a dripping plastic bag, which gets on the check-out belt, which appears to be constantly wet, which is wiped down with a cloth, that is re-used, and a spraybottle that appears to be water.”

                Eeeew. I’ve written and erased a couple of other things. But none is quite as expressive or succinct.

              4. Kultakutri says:

                I hope this was sarcasm.

          3. Spankbiscuit McGillicutty says:

            I eat some food that I have to wear protective gear just to handle. I make my chili with the finest local organic beef, tomatoes from my neighbor’s garden, and fresh habanero peppers. They’re delicious, but you want to wear gloves when you chop them up.

            The necessity of protective gear is a poor measurement of a food’s safety.

            1. Windriven says:

              Spankbiscuit, I’m sure your chili is excellent. Habaneros aren’t my first pick but I understand the desire for heat. Chiles arbol are my favorite for running up the alarm count in chili. I find that they bring more to the party than just heat. But maybe I’m not getting the best quality habaneros out here.

              Do you grind or chop your beef?

          4. retiti says:

            if you are worried about toxic pesticides, you’ll need to avoid organic produce too. the amount of BT toxin (a fully organic pesticide) that many organic producers use is obscene, and workers need to wear protective gear for that too. ‘organic’ does NOT mean pesticide free. it just means someone is using ‘natural’ pesticides, some of which are MORE toxic than man made ones.

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Bt toxins are selectively toxic only to a limited set of insects, not humans (or even mammals). They are extremely specific, and animals fed gram-amounts of Bt toxins show no ill effects. Sprayed on top of crops or eaten in the form of GMO crops that produce Bt toxin, either way you’re getting microgram-levels.

              Meanwhile, copper sulphate, an organic pesticide, is lethal in milligram quantities.

              1. Sawyer says:

                Dammit WLU, now you’ve triggered MY chemophobia. I used to do electrochemistry experiments with copper sulfate on a regular basis and it wasn’t on my radar as something that required excessive safety precautions. Now I’m not so sure.

                Though it would be nice if I could blame my lower tolerance for alcohol on copper sulfate poisoning rather than just getting old and being a party pooper.

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                May I suggest you avoid drinking it? :P

          5. Mike B says:

            Do you really want to eat something that has been coated in a pesticide that is toxic enough that the person doing the spraying has to wear protective gear?

            I am a licensed pesticide applicator, and I take care of 80 apples trees for our small farm CSA, so I might know a little bit of what you’re alluding to.

            “Coated.” Sprays are 99% water. Your food is not “coated” with pesticide. Also, there are pre-harvest intervals that have to be followed for different commodities. On my apples, the fungicide is so harmless is can be applied “up to the day of harvest.” One of my insecticides, Imidan, has a 14 day pre-harvest interval, but more like a month to six weeks pass before I harvest fruit.

            “Protective gear.” I use about six different materials–insecticides and fungicides–on my apple trees. The personal protective equipment for all of these–as listed on the label, might you–consists of long pants and shirt, rugged boots, and protective gloves. A face shield is required for overhead spraying. Aprons are required for those loading and mixing materials that might splatter or spill.

            We’re not wearing the hazmat suits that some activists think we wear.

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Very interesting, thanks for that. Are there long-term studies of the health of pesticide/herbicide applicators that you know of?

              1. Mike B says:

                I’m just a farmer and and English teacher. I don’t read studies because I don’t understand them.

                I do read pesticide labels, though!

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Aw :(

                But still, it’s interesting to see your perspective, so thanks again.

          6. streever says:

            Izzy, do you want to power your house with something that can kill 1000s of adults in just a second, causes lung cancer, emits massive quantities of radiation, and requires hazmat suits & expensive chambers to safely handle?

            I’m not trying to be snarky but realize I may sound that way; forgive my attempt at humor, please. I just think it’s worthwhile to point out that we drive cars, use electricity, and work/type on machines that require lots of safety precautions to engineer & operate.

            1. Scottynuke says:

              Hating on coal again, streever? :)

          7. Ken says:

            Organic does not mean pesticide free. Pesticides derived from plants… For example nicotine and BT are allowed.

            Often organic means more pesticides, because they aren’t as effective as synthetic pesticides.

            Some like nicotine are so toxic to people that it led to the development of the safer chemicals that organic farmers can’t use.

            Great system Huh?

            1. MikeB says:

              Actually, I’m pretty sure nicotine is illegal to use, organic or not.

              http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-PEST/2009/June/Day-03/p12561.htm

            2. n brownlee says:

              Nicotine is no longer sold as a pesticide- though some home gardeners soak plug tobacco and spray with the water.

              BT is a live bacteria preparation- only caterpillars are susceptible- or mosquito larvae, in the case of BTI.

            3. Frederick says:

              BT is indeed bacteria and is harmless to humans. It’s efficient against Mosquito, CDG enviroment, a company from my town, have lots of contracts to control mosquito infestations. They spray the stuff in swamps, and pool of water in some northern towns, I have a positive Bias for this stuff! Thank to it, we have less mosquito in Some place In Quebec.

              1. n brownlee says:

                I think it’s great stuff, too- I remember when BtI was a new discovery, just beginning to be used in the US. It was expensive- but the cost now is very modest.

      2. Mikeq says:

        Please remember that organic does not mean no pesticides. It means no synthetic pesticides. So organic regulations do prohibit the use of rotenone or pyrethrum or Bt pesticides because they do not undergo a chemical induced by humans.

        1. Mikeq says:

          do “not”prohibit.

          I am sorry for my error in the above post.

          1. anukexpat says:

            And of course you can still use all those natural fertilisers, like animal dung…

            1. Sean Duggan says:

              ^_^ Because who doesn’t want “natural” fertilizer with all of the attendant E. coli and parasites?

              1. Windriven says:

                My neighbor did me the favor of dropping two scoops of “natural” manure from his steer shed on my compost pile. The pH shock and/or the nitrogen shock promptly killed a cherry tree 3 meters away.

                Now I am a real believer in animal dung as fertilizer. Well composted animal dung. I mention this vignette only to underscore that “natural” does not automatically mean benevolent.

              2. DevoutCatalyst says:

                I used corn gluten meal on my lawn this year, at a high cost. But it’s such a pretty yellow ! I’m not sure how this computes environmentally — growing corn to fertilize your lawn — although it is a byproduct.

                The warning on the bag says not to apply when heavy rain is expected. It has a 10-0-0 NPK rating, nitrogen is nitrogen. “You’re the solution to water pollution.”

              3. Windriven says:

                @DevoutCatalyst

                I fertilized with cottonseed meal for a couple of years in the South. Then I found out that cotton is typically raised in something akin to a toxic waste dump of fertilizers and a boggling array of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, some of which supposedly persist in the meal.

                I am by no means a purist and I don’t hesitate an instant when pyrethrum or Bt or copper fail me. But I like to choose what I’m putting on my garden.

                So is nitrogen all that lawn needs? I am probably the shame of the neighborhood as the only fertilizer my lawn gets is where the dog happens to dump. But I keep promising myself that next year I’m going for the outfield at Wrigley Field. But then I realize that fertilizing will only make the stuff grow faster and then I’ll have to mow more frequently. :-(

            2. n brownlee says:

              @Windriven
              My first year of commercial market gardening, I killed a fifty foot row of tomato seedlings with hot compost – no one to blame but me. Dumb.

              1. Windriven says:

                Exactly how I feel. This was a mature cherry about 25 years old. I never even thought about it.

                Tomatoes are my favorite and are a little difficult in the PNW. Sungold yellow cherry tomatoes are prolific. We also grow a Czech variety called Stupice (pronounced, improbably, stew-PEACH-ka) that produces smallish fruit with excellent flavor. San Marzano and most of the other plums do fine but they harvest late. I also plant a Celebrity for old times sake (they were bitchin’ when I lived in the South). This year I’m also trying a Japanese variety, the name of which escapes me at the moment. The plant is lush and verdant and loaded with flowers but hasn’t set fruit yet.

                I now grow only a Korean cucumbers and some bush picklers. The Korean cukes resemble English cucumbers but have a thinner skin. They are prolific producers and maintain excellent flavor and texture, even when allowed to get a little long in the tooth. Like English cukes, they have few seeds.

                I don’t know if you grow leeks. I’ve taken to cutting the bottoms out of 12 or 16 oz plastic Dixie cups, slipping them over the seedlings, and filling them with soil once the greens have cleared the top (actually the bottom of the inverted cup). Works great resulting in a fairly long, white tender portion.

                Texas is a very different gardening climate but if you have any favorite varieties I’d love to hear them.

              2. n brownlee says:

                @Windriven

                I’m picking little yellow lightbulbs and Sweet 1000s. I usually plant them upside-down in white plastic hanging pots, the stem of a bedding-size plant inserted through the bottom hole- filled with good potting soil. It’s so much easier than patio pots- just hang them up, water and feed. The roots stay cool and well watered, the plant is a little shaded, and I pick bushels of small fruit. Sometimes the plants reach 6 feet long. It works for peppers and eggplants, too. For the bigger tomatoes- I love San Marzano, too, and Celebrity- but my all-around old favorite is called Porter’s Pride, and offspring Improved Porter. Not everything grows well in the heat here- I’m sure you remember- almost all tomato varieties stop setting fruit once the daytime highs hit 90. The exception is tomatillo and the yellow fruited babies- they’re so close to wild Mexican tomatoes that they stagger on, sometimes leafless, with shriveled stems- still setting fruit.

                Don’t really have much garden here- just a few beds and a lot of potted stuff, and Old Roses, pecan trees- a botanical zoo.

              3. n brownlee says:

                Oh, leeks… wish I could still have them. I had a 5 foot square leek plot, more or less. Just for us. We ate a LOT of potato leek soup, and braised leeks. And I planted Egyptian Walking Onions by the creek and cooked with them all winter long. Old southern favorites.

                You, of course, have access to gallons and gallons of blackberries, practically free. I miss the Brazos berries I grew, and the wild dewberries that also grew creekside. The fire ants got them all.

              4. Windriven says:

                @Nancy Brownlee

                I love the idea of the upside down tomatoes and peppers. I have a fairly large garden, about 150 square meters, but I’m always looking for a new space for … something. A new garlic to try or a Korean plant my friend calls sesame but isn’t or some crazy pepper plant that someone gave me. I’ll try this for sure – though probably not till next year as anything planted now will freeze off before producing anything.

                Lots to love about living here. But it is a fairly compact growing season.

              5. Windriven says:

                @NancyB

                Victory Seeds has the Porter’s Pride – an open pollinated heirloom variety! It is Texas born and bred so I have my doubts. But it is worth $2.25 to find out.

                The size and color is much like the Stupice that I grow now. At 80 days I should be able to harvest fruit with no problem. I use water walls and plant in mid to late April – very early for these parts.

        2. Windriven says:

          Abundantly true, Mikeq. But rotenone must be used carefully as it is an irritant to skin, eyes and respiratory tract with potentially powerful adverse effects. Pyrethrum seems less dangerous but should not be applied on a commercial scale without protective gear.

      3. CC says:

        Certified organic doesn’t mean no pesticides are used. There are a large number of pesticides approved for use in organic food production.

        They’re just “natural” pesticides, like pyrethrin (highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates, sourced from chrysanthemum).

        1. Mike B says:

          Not only that, there is a whole list of “synthetic” materials approved for use in organic farming, further evidence of the absurdity of the organic movement.

          Synthetic.

      4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        I understand that there’s no proof that organic food is safer for the person who eats it. But what about the person who works in the field? I buy organic because I think it’s better for the farm worker not to be exposed to pesticides. Is there any evidence about this?

        There is evidence to the contrary actually, the “natural” pesticides used by organic farmers are more toxic, often are applied in much larger amounts, linger longer in humans and the environment, and break down much more slowly. RoundUp is actually quite safe for humans (we lack the enzyme it systematically attacks in plants, because we aren’t plants) and it breaks down very, very quickly – but it’s not considered “organic”.

        Also, chances are most pesticides in large moncultures are applied by tractors, with air conditioning and GPS sensors, in which the driver sits in a sealed, air-filtered cab and thus is exposed to no pesticides.

        If you’re that concerned about labour health and safety, you’re probably much better off supporting stronger health and safety regulations (and immigration reform so illegal immigrants aren’t exploited and then dumped) than you are buying organic.

        1. Greg says:

          Round up is supposedly causing a lot of health problems in communities near to fields planted with Roundup Ready crops particulary the soybean crops in Chile. I wish I could find a link to a reliable source, however it was profiled in a news documentary – apparently the fields are too close to the residences and there’s a lot of contamination from spraying. IMO Roundup Ready crops are an abomination of the worst kind – engineering a plant to withstand a non-discriminating pesticide is just wrong, No matter how safe it is to us it is going to have effects on non-target species. RR crops are a perverse application of GE technology.

          1. AdamG says:

            “engineering a plant to withstand a non-discriminating pesticide is just wrong”

            Why?

          2. Andrey Pavlov says:

            Well Greg, to my knowledge there is zero evidence that the levels reached in humans is even remotely near what is required for having health problems. If it does, then that is indeed cause for improving usage practices.

            As for the idea of it being “just wrong,” I’m AdamG – why? There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong about doing anything. There must be some reason for it. If it turns out that this leads to massive collateral damage to the ecosystem then yeah, sure, that is a reason. And there are some cases where there is a little evidence that is happening. Once again, that is indication for changing usage not just stopping use altogether.

            In fact, in premise, the idea is fracking fabulous. Glyphosate binds quite avidly to soil and degrades in just a few days in sun and water. Which is why it has such a small ecological impact. Creating an immune plant so as to be able to get rid of plants in a specified and desired location is, put simply, genius. If it is not adequately confined to those specific areas, for whatever reason, then that is a cause to examine it further. Either change usage patterns or develop a different product that have the desired properties. But it is just downright silly to say that it is somehow inherently wrong.

            1. Jason says:

              This is why SBM is my favorite site. It allows me to learn things based on science and not on fear mongering.

              I had no idea this is how round up works. If you listened to the “natural” crusaders, you would swear Round Up was a deal by the devil and Monsanto and that it releases demons into the atmosphere that eat your children while they sleep.

              1. Andrey Pavlov says:

                I agree Jason. It is a great site. But I may be biased. :-)

                But yeah, Roundup binds to an enzyme that is only in plants. Roundup Ready plants have an intentionally mutated enzyme that still functions normally, but the Roundup can’t bind to it. It also has the added benefits of binding very tightly to soil so the vast majority of it that runs off the plants gets bound up and can’t do anything. As it leeches out slowly, it degrades spontaneously in sunlight and water, rendering it inactive. There is a legitimate concern that too much Roundup will leech out far enough and last long enough that it can harm native plant ecology. There is also the concern that undesired plants can mutate themselves and become resistant. But so far there is little evidence that actual practices leech much at all and none (to my knowledge) that any plants have spontaneously developed resistance.

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Nathanael Johnson’s grist series on gmos indicated resistance has been developing, iirc.

              3. Andrey Pavlov says:

                Nathanael Johnson’s grist series on gmos indicated resistance has been developing, iirc.

                Fair enough. I’d be downright shocked if it never did. Evolution is a helluva thing. If bacteria can develop nylonase completely de novo, it shouldn’t be that hard to develop resistance to glyphosate. I’ve actually spent some time arguing with those moron “moms” that Dr. Novella wrote about at NeuroLogica and so I delved into the evidence more than I had before. I didn’t come up with any specific examples of definitive resistance in wild plants, but plenty of (legit) worry about it happening. Which is why I said to my knowledge none had actually developed, because I figured it would have popped up even though I wasn’t specifically searching for that.

              4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Check the series to be sure, if you haven’t read it already it’s definitely worth the time. Even if you learn nothing new, it ties together many threads and is at a level that you can send it to nearly anyone and they would be able to understand the issues.

              5. Mike B says:

                I use Roundup to kill the invasive weeds that grow along the stone walls near my apple trees. If I don’t kill these weeds they twine around the trees and climb up into the crowns.

                I absolutely love Roundup for this reason alone. I’m 54 and don’t wish to crawl around on my hands and knees digging out Virginia Creeper.

          3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            There’s a fair number of systematic reviews that argue it’s not toxic until it gets to concentrations where it’s actually killing cells:

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23480780
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23286529
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22683395
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22202229

            Sure, if humans drink enough of this stuff, it might be bad for them. The same could be said of nearly anything.

            And I have to agree with AdamG, I can’t see an inherent harm in the development of RR crops. I mean, I think it’s pretty far from the ideal use of genetic modification tools and technology – but that’s mostly a problem of consumers pretending it’s pure concentrated hell-juice on a Satan-cock sandwich, and demanding absurdly high standards such that the only entities who can afford to develop GMO crops are massive multinational corporations more interested in profits than health.

            Anyway, humans don’t have the enzyme that RoundUp inhibits, that’s a pretty big argument against it being toxic. And on top of that, weeds are starting to develop resistance to it – which will just lead to greater levels of application or the development of more toxic herbicides.

            1. Greg says:

              For anyone wishing to delve further into the use of glyphosate – this seems to be a pretty good resource – http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC33138

              On the site it specifically mentions lab findings of non-toxicity to humans aren’t based on actual studies of human exposure – they are extrapolated from animal studies which means they are not entirely reliable, as effects on humans can be quite different from rats, dogs, monkeys, etc. I’m sure most of you know this, but I hadn’t really given it much thought, but it puts any assertions regarding actual safety in a different light.

              1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                That site also points out that toxicity is extremely low. Most people who object to RoundUp do so because they object to Monsanto, methinks, not because of specific fears about RoundUp. And while animal trials do not give exact information about what happens to humans, trials in multiple species as well as any acute, massive exposure case reports in humans, do give considerable weight to glyphosate’s safety. At some point the precautionary principle has to be seen as addressed, otherwise no innovations or progress can be made.

              2. Windriven says:

                Greg-
                You need to check out the parent organization PANNA .

              3. Greg says:

                Yes a lot of people are fearful of Monsanto’s corporate agenda. And with good reason, from what I have read.

                Thanks Windriven – I see your point.

              4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                The funny thing is – yes, Monsanto has some tremendously unappealing practices to support their intellectual property rights (some of which I’m actually on their side – for instance, the farmer who deliberately, knowingly and illegally saved seeds in violation of the contract he signed), but all the protests and fearmongering kinda plays into their hands. It means the entry barriers for the GMO marketplace are insanely high, so only multinational companies with massive legal departments can afford to introduce new crops or conduct research. The protests ensures they have a near-monopoly on the market (along with other multinational giants) and it means the only genetic modification that gets serious play are the types that support their profits. RoundUp-Ready crops which lets you pay for crops and more RoundUp! Meanwhile drought-tolerant, vitamin- or vaccine-enriched, disease-resistant or even (glory of glories) self-fertilizing crops are expensive pipe dreams stuck in a forest of regulations.

          4. Anita says:

            Round up is supposedly causing a lot of health problems in communities near to fields planted with Roundup Ready crops particulary the soybean crops in Chile. I wish I could find a link to a reliable source…

            There is no reliable source because Roundup doesn’t make people sick. Other commenters have explained it well. Anybody claiming they got sick from being near an area where Roundup was applied just wants to complain about a company they have heard is evil. In many cases, they don’t even know why they should think Monsanto is evil.

            Roundup Ready crops are an abomination of the worst kind – engineering a plant to withstand a non-discriminating pesticide is just wrong, No matter how safe it is to us it is going to have effects on non-target species…

            Pesticides such as herbicides (fertilizers, too) are applied with precision, in the right place at the minimum rate to do the job. By the way, they are applied at much lower rates than they were 40 years ago. They do not affect non-target species because they are applied only when it is safe to apply them. In the case of Roundup, it is sprayed from inches away. Farmers do not spray when it is windy or even breezy; that is when there could be issues with drift. Most farmers live where they farm; do you think they’d use a product that would harm their families and pets? I’ve interviewed a lot of farmers on their farms and I know they would not and do not.

        2. Janis S. says:

          Glyphosate, the active herbicide used in Roundup, is non-toxic to humans. Roundup kills weeds by disrupting the shikimate pathway, a pathway involved in the biosynthesis of several crucial amino acids. Human cells are relatively unaffected by the herbicide because our cells don’t use the shikimate pathway.

          Bacteria, however, do employ the shikimate pathway, and we’ve got an awful lot of them living inside our bodies and handling some very important tasks, including a great deal of our immune function, digestion, production of neurotransmitters, etc. Simply because Roundup isn’t processed by our own cells, doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting other organisms within us that are almost every bit as important.

          1. Andrey Pavlov says:

            Bacteria, however, do employ the shikimate pathway, and we’ve got an awful lot of them living inside our bodies and handling some very important tasks, including a great deal of our immune function, digestion, production of neurotransmitters, etc. Simply because Roundup isn’t processed by our own cells, doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting other organisms within us that are almost every bit as important.

            An excellent point. The question is, does it matter?

            And the answer so far is – no. Firstly and most importantly, the levels in humans are order of magnitude less than necessary to actually affect the bacteria.

            Secondly, we give people antibiotics that are much more potent, in much more appropriate doses, and also specifically target bacteria. Clearly our bodies can withstand such insults to our native flora. No doubt, long term antibiotic use has huge negative effects. But not all people have those effects and we know a fair bit about what they are. And people around glyphosate crops are not exhibiting such effects.

            So you are left either saying that the effect is not happening or it is so small as to not matter.

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Not to mention – as far as I know, glyphosate is used to “sterilize” a field, to ensure that no other plants compete for nutrients and water. Glyphosate prevents non-RR plants from sprouting so only RR corn (or whatever) is left. By the time the food reaches the consumer, there’s very little left.

              I could be wrong, but my understanding is that’s how it’s used. Perhaps Mike B could enlighten us?

              1. Anita says:

                Not to mention – as far as I know, glyphosate is used to “sterilize” a field, to ensure that no other plants compete for nutrients and water. Glyphosate prevents non-RR plants from sprouting so only RR corn (or whatever) is left. By the time the food reaches the consumer, there’s very little left.

                Weed plants compete with crop plants for sunlight, nutrients and water. Sterilize isn’t really a term used in weed control. Glyphosate has to touch some part of a plant in order to kill it. It’s a systemic herbicide, meaning it’s absorbed into the plant tissues and translocated throughout the plant. It’s used postemergent, meaning it’s applied after the plants have emerged from the soil.

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Ya, not knowing the technical term I used sterilize in quotes – but thanks for the mechanism. The overall point is farmers use RR crops and glyphosate to produce fields that contain only monocultures to reduce and eliminate competition from non-crop plants (weeds).

      5. Paula says:

        Organic farms do use pesticides so I’m not sure why that would be a reason to buy organic.

      6. Nathan says:

        The problem is that “organic” for the most part, simply means that the pesticides, fertilizers, etc. were originally derived from a “natural” source. So one starts out with a raw “organic” ingredient, such as manure, but then processes it into the very same chemical that the non-organic fertilizer is composed of, then spreads that “organic” fertilizer across the field, and it’s indistinguishable from the non-”organic” fertilizer. Often “organic” and non-”organic” produce are grown in the exact same fields. So unless one is only using completely natural agricultural products (such as manure or lady bugs for pest control”, there is no difference in what the workers are exposed to, and no difference in the produce that finds or doesn’t find it’s way to your table.

        1. Jon says:

          It’s important to note that it follows the letter of the law and no farther. You’ll find ‘free-range’ chickens that are let out for a couple hours. When it comes to organic meats, it’s worse still: They try the exact same dense concentration of animals…with no antibiotics.

      7. Dave Brown says:

        Organic farmers also use pesticides, organic pesticides, often more toxic than synthetic pesticides.

        http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.html

      8. i need to start reading this blog again says:

        organic does NOT mean its free from pesticides, only synthetic pesticides

        and the “natural” pesticides are often less effective and so you need to use more of them…..

    2. Jon says:

      What’s funny is, there’s virtually no enforcement on ‘natural’, so if you’re buying ‘natural’, it doesn’t matter.

      You’ll find most marketing gimmicks are like that.

  3. n brownlee says:

    I’m having a little trouble understanding the percentages of the ingredients listed for the all-natural banana, since the first four ingredients add up to 175%. I mean, percentages of what?

    1. Windriven says:

      @Nancy Brownlee

      Some of those percentages are breakdowns of composite groups like sugar = glucose+fructose+maltose, etc. Still the numbers don’t add perfectly to 100% but it is much closer. So the 12% that is sugar is comprised in part of 48% glucose, therefore the glucose content of the banana is .12 * .48 = 5.76% (beware precision without accuracy in this result).

    2. Angora Rabbit says:

      Nancy, the boldface values should total to 100%. The font following each boldface breaks that boldface down. So for example, 12% is carbohydrate, and of that 12%, nearly half of it (48%) is glucose, etc. Does that help?

      1. n brownlee says:

        Thank you! (Derp.)

    3. amy says:

      I think you’re counting the first 4 products as “Water, Sugars, Glucose and Fructose”? Actually Glucose, Fructose, Sucrose, Maltose and Starch are types of sugar. So of the 12% of the banana that is sugar, 48% is glucose, 40% fructose etc.

    4. Calli Arcale says:

      The poster is one of a series, and on his website, the artist explained that there is rounding involved and consequently things won’t always add up to exactly 100%. It’s like how 2 + 2 = 5 for large values of 2. ;-)

  4. Cervantes says:

    Unfortunately, I think it’s unrealistic to expect most people to have “solid education in science, logic and critical thinking” any time soon. And as a matter of fact, I have a Ph.D. and I read a lot of medical literature, but I don’t have the knowledge needed to evaluate the safety of most food ingredients. I mean, I get the basics — low salt and sugar, whole grains, fruits and vegetables are good, etc. But if I see a chemical name on a label what do I know?

    That’s why we need a regulatory system we can trust. Food ingredients need to be evaluated and bad stuff needs to be discouraged or banned. Public educational campaigns about a manageable number of specific issues are feasible — e..g. it worked with trans fats, which manufacturers have removed because the public is now averse to them. The fact is some chemicals with long unpronounceable names have turned out to have adverse effects, others have not been properly tested, others are completely benign, many are essential nutrients. Consumers can’t possibly sort this out.

    1. Windriven says:

      “I have a Ph.D. and I read a lot of medical literature, but I don’t have the knowledge needed to evaluate the safety of most food ingredients.”

      Precisely! My point is that solid education in science, logic and critical thinking equip you with the tools to select appropriate surrogates to believe. Your grounding in those areas points you to, say, Angora Rabbit rather than FoodBoob for guidance on issues of diet and nutrition.

      No one is going to have encyclopedic knowledge of everything. The trick, if you will, is separating useful guidance from the babbling of idiots. The tools are critical thinking and a solid grounding in science.

    2. WScott says:

      “That’s why we need a regulatory system we can trust. ”
      I think that’s the key point – a lot of people don’t trust our regulatory system. Personally I think their fears are blown way out of proportion, but that’s the core concern we need to be addressing IMO.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        But how to increase trust, when the fears that erode the trust are irrational?

  5. Cervantes says:

    Mike, the debate over organic farming and GMOs is not mostly about the safety or nutritive value of the food. It’s about environmental externalities and the social and economic consequences of industrial farming. Consumers have a right to know how their food was produced, not just because they want to know what’s in it, but because they want to understand the social and environmental consequences of their consumption choices. I think people who hang out here generally miss that.

    1. Mikeq says:

      But organic has nothing about social values. It has minimal rules about the environment. Most of the rules and the biggest differences between conventional organic are based on chemophobia and the naturalistic fallacy.

      1. Cervantes says:

        That’s a criticism directed at actual existing organic food labeling rules — which means you accept that there are legitimate issues at stake, no?

      2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Then part of the problem is the way organic is portrayed and perceived as having social values, isn’t it? i used to buy organic, it’s treated as a movement, not a type of inefficient farming. And really, it’s mostly marketing anyway.

        1. Anita says:

          To me, organic seems more like a religion than anything else.

    2. simba says:

      You’re right Cervantes- this kind of debate is often not so much about the specific issues being debated, but more about the surrounding issues and the baggage that comes with those.

      I agree completely with some of the ideas that are upheld by those who argue against GMOs and for organics: farming should be sustainable, we should promote ecological diversity and reduce pollution, and we should have the right to know these things before we buy, because in buying we may be supporting practices we’d rather not. The point where I get off the wagon is the point at which they start arguing that ‘natural is good and sciencey is bad.’

      I dislike the way this complex issue gets oversimplified and co-opted. GMO-free factory farms, or organic farms with underpaid workers, for example, would not be an improvement. But people like to think that it’s just two or three things that need to be changed, and if you can buy the food with the right buzz word all will be well.

      1. n brownlee says:

        “I dislike the way this complex issue gets oversimplified and co-opted.”

        It certainly is complex- and many of the complexities are thoroughly ignored by middle class American foodies. First among them is the fact that most of the people in the world cannot afford organically grown food, period. It’s too expensive. Production farming means cheap food, and that means that more people get enough to eat. More babies don’t die; more children don’t go blind from vitamin A deficiency.

        I had an organic market garden and orchard (5 acres) for years – before there was any ‘certification’ available except, I think, a state certification in California. I live in a state that has an 8 – 9 month growing season and was surrounded by free sources for manure and other soil amendment. I had no problem growing beautiful fruit and vegetables. I made, I figured, about a dollar an hour for my labor.

      2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        People who argue that organic promotes sustainability, diversity and less pollution are either being disingenuous or are underinformed though. It takes more land, fertilizer and water, meaning you have to plow more forests and swamps to feed the same number of people. That means less habitat to support the same number of species. The pesticides and herbicides permitted are not less toxic, and often will linger even longer, in part because they are natural and thus may have evolved to persist (guess, not fact). You need to get fertilizer from somewhere, but where? More cattle? How do you feed the cows? You need more pasturage, or you draw upon nonrenewable sources. Organic is very far from the panacea it is marketed as.

        You know what is a panacea? Vat meat.

        Vat meat! Vat meat!

        1. DevoutCatalyst says:

          WLU, how about vat veggies, vat grains, vat fruits ? If I go up in a light plane in my rural Midwest surroundings, it’s not toxic landfills that dominate the landscape, it’s farm fields. Hardly benign at current population levels if wild things mean anything. Is there a way out in a vat or is that just too way out ?

          1. Andrey Pavlov says:

            LU, how about vat veggies, vat grains, vat fruits ? If I go up in a light plane in my rural Midwest surroundings, it’s not toxic landfills that dominate the landscape, it’s farm fields. Hardly benign at current population levels if wild things mean anything.

            I’d be interested to hear if WLU has a vat veggie solution.

            But I’d offer this: we need better energy and synthetic capabilities and that will alleviate a huge amount of the problem. Vast swaths of corn and soy are grown for ethanol and long-chain hydrocarbon production. If we find better ways to get that energy, those will go away pretty rapidly.

            Another huge swath is animal feed. So vat meat will fix that.

            And just like that, we’ve taken out somewhere around a third to a half of all those farm crops you are talking about.

            The rest can be managed better, with (IIRC) somewhere around 2/3 of farms using less efficient methods and about 1/3 still using flood irrigation.

            Next we get some good GMO tech to increase yields per hectare and to increase stability of the product off the plant.

            And without any vats we could conceivably decrease the land space needed for farming by as much as 2/3 in my off-the-cuff guesstimate.

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              I’ve never heard of vat veggies, but given the relative efficiency of plants in general, particularly if GMO technology can be used to greater effects, I’m quite sure even more efficient crops can become a reality. The problem with vat veggies is you need sunlight, and it’s hard to get sunlight through the walls of a stainless steel vat. Probably the closest equivalent are greenhouses and hydroponic farms.

              The thing about modren farms is as well – they’re monocultures (somewhat bad) which allow much, much more compact fields and higher yields per acre (very good) because they grow at the same rate with the same properties. This allows considerable land to be spared elsewhere, even if the local farms are sub-optimal. But again, allow GMO to be used more rationally and you could drive up the yields even more – perhaps free up enough space for forests to grow between corn fields…

              But as with Andrey, I am most excited about the environmental potential of vat meat. Just Food talks about how eating meat is incompatible with being an environmentalist, which gives me guilt every time I make a rack of ribs.

        2. n brownlee says:

          What are they going to make it from? And will it be a cheaper source of protein than rice, corn and beans?

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            They graft stem cells onto bits of velcro, then essentially exercise the muscle by stretching and rebounding it. It uses osmotic gradients to transfer nutrients, including presumably amino acids, so they have to be quite small and thin. You get, at the end, what is essentially ground meat.

            Given the low and incomplete nature of protein in rice, corn and beans, as well as the considerably higher amount of sugars to be found, I would expect it to be advantageous, but I doubt it’ll ever be cheaper, at least not for a while. But meat is mostly about flavour, texture and cuisine, not being a cheap source of protein, and that’s where the appeal is for me. You can create environmentally-sustainable sources for the flavours of meat.

            My next great hope is a chicken tree. That would be some awesome mad science.

        3. simba says:

          That’s what I mean- people argue for organic, and think they’re arguing for sustainability, less pollution, better soil, fairer prices, safer produce, longer healthier lives, and just about everything good. It’s like the converse of the ‘gluten is everything bad’ sketch

          Then it’s easy not to think about those problems because we have a solution already- go organic! And they think that if they buy food with the right label those problems are solved, or at least they’re not contributing to them.

          http://www.ota.com/organic_and_you/10reasons.html

      3. Anita says:

        GMO-free factory farms, or organic farms with underpaid workers, for example, would not be an improvement.

        The term “factory farm” is just as problematic as anything discussed on this page. It’s generally used to disparage large family farms (virtually all U.S. farms are family farms). Big does not equal bad. In fact, research shows that the larger farms tend to do a better job of managing manure than do smaller farms.

        All animals are factories (making meat, eggs, wool, milk, etc.). Plants are factories; green plants use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. So the term “factory farm” doesn’t make sense to me.

        1. simba says:

          The likes of the ‘battery farm’ for hens is what I was going for: intensive livestock production, which is what I understand by the term ‘factory farm’. I wasn’t necessarily talking about large-scale, more about the density of the animals and their treatment.

          Googling it now I can see that it’s also used for large-scale animal farming, so I want to clarify that that isn’t what I meant.

        2. Harriet Hall says:

          I just learned of another food fear in my local newspaper. A community is debating whether they should discontinue water fluoridation, and the reporter interviewed a woman who is growing food in her own organic garden because she is concerned about her children’s health, and she is afraid watering her garden with fluoridated water will make her produce unhealthy.

    3. egstras says:

      True … I’m a vegetarian, not because I believe it’s healthier for me, but because I deplore feedlots, the over-use of antibiotics, and have concerns about the environmental adpevcts of meat production.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Plus, meat is murder.

        Delicious, delicious murder.

        I wish I could stop eating meat, but pigs taste really good.

    4. Vicki says:

      The marketing for organic food doesn’t seem to mostly be in those terms, though. It’s not “avoid XYZ for the sake of the people picking your vegetables” or “buy this to help conserve topsoil and reduce dead areas in the Gulf of Mexico” (which are societal or environmental goods). It’s “Protect your/your children’s health by buying this and avoiding that,” which is a rather different claim. Something that is harmful to the person eating it might be fine for the topsoil; something that leads to massive erosion won’t necessarily harm the end user. Chemicals that I can wash off before eating a vegetable might get into the farmworkers’ water supply.

      1. simba says:

        Exactly, and then that becomes ‘the conversation’ and other issues get sidelined or ignored.

    5. Frederick says:

      Yeah and organic farmer cannot use “synthetic” pesticide, but they can use natural ones. those are often less effective but as toxic, for human and for the environment. And since hey are sometimes less effective, they use more of them But since they are “natural” they are not tested, and the final product are also not tested for them. Dr. Novella also did a excellent article on that subject on his blog.
      http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/dueling-narratives-on-organic-farming/

      I’m not against Organic farming, I have organic ( and local farmed) vegetable each week, and some of them taste better than the green house counter part, vegetables with a harder life, generate more molecules to defend themselves against attacks, and those taste good to us! Like the grape in wine. Field tomato are tastier than green house tomato! :-) But with that sai, I care more about them being Local than organic ( In french it is the word “biologique” that is used, it is as vague as Organic)

      1. Cervantes says:

        I have a friend who is an organic farmer, who uses no pesticides at all. He is very tactical with crop rotations, interplanting, maintaining healthy soil and hence strong plants, using pest resistant cultivars, and all that. But he has to be really smart, study hard, and work harder. Still, it can be done.

        1. CC says:

          There certainly are farmers (Certified Organic or not) who also use no pesticides and run their farms in the most environmentally benign way possible. Having a “Certified Organic” label doesn’t tell you that one way or another.

          One of the farmers at my local farm market said that they don’t use pesticides and they grow their produce using organic farming practices but they aren’t Certified Organic because they can’t afford the certification.

        2. Frederick says:

          Cool, I know some do that, and it is a hard job. But the problem is that the organic labelling do not guarantee that. So some might use pesticide anyway. I have respect for people like you friend, it is a lot of hard work!

        3. rork says:

          I use no pesticides other than manual death-dealing, have a huge garden, and the transportation costs to the kitchen are low. I don’t find it “hard” except for eggplant, and my rather complicated solution was to quit growing them. I don’t get why more of my neighbors don’t grow food. I’m also lucky to be able to obtain allot of calories from the wild (berries, mammals, fish, nuts, greens, shrooms) and in exchange for animal care and butchering at a neighboring farm (turkey, rabbit, lamb, chicken).
          But it’s not from some naturalistic fallacy, it’s just culture, hating the taste of much popular US food (barbaric), and a rare variant at the dopamine receptor enslaving me.

          1. n brownlee says:

            You’re absolutely right- it’s not extremely hard to grow enough food for yourself, or even a sizable family. Provided, that is, that the climate and soil type are congenial to the effort, that the weather cooperates and you get enough rain but not too much, enough sun but no excessive heat, no unseasonable snow or ice or hard frost, no intractable diseases or pests, no intractable soil infestations, – and that it happens every year, without fail. With those guarantees, you can provide a reasonably healthy diet for a family of four on a city lot. I’ve done it.

            But you’ll have no grain, no flour, no sugar, no coffee, no tea, almost surely no fruit, and a very narrow selection of vegetable choices, strictly seasonal. You may be able to store some stuff to last through the dormant season, you may not. If self sufficiency isn’t your aim, no problem.

            Doing it full time, as a profession, is different. And yeah, it’s hard.

            1. rork says:

              Last point very much taken. My neighbor farmers have had troubles this year (wet), and 2012 was horrible (dry). If frost kills my squash seedlings, it’s 5 minutes and 75 cents to fix. If it’s dry, I turn a handle – that’s not workin.

              I obtain these fruits from my local rec area: red and black raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, apples, pears, apricots, all of those by the gallon, less strawberry, grape, mulberry, elderberry, Canada plum. I have to thank abandoned farms for 3 of those. I trade deer for honey, tap maple trees. Corn grows easy, but I buy wheat products. My goal is not 100% my own food, it is to find means to make the percentage increase, cheaply and without burning lots of gas. No 64$ tomatoes.

              1. n brownlee says:

                For me, the greatest pleasure of as home garden was the quality of the produce- younger, sweeter, more tender snow peas, green beans, asparagus, lettuces, many other varieties- than I could buy at ANY price. For a commercial grower, it just doesn’t pay to pick before maturity, that is, optimum size. A home gardener can pick for optimum taste. And for me, that was the point. I didn’t grow potatoes for storage, because I could buy a bushel for a couple of bucks, if I wanted. I grew a few hills for the tiny new potatoes, and that was worth it. It finally occurred to me that there might me a commercial restaurant market for some luxury type fruits and vegetables- and sure enough, there was.

                I liked the work. If I hadn’t, I couldn’t have done it- it is hard!

            2. simba says:

              I provide delicious nutritious food for several families of slugs. I put down slug pellets for four weeks, replacing them weekly, I had 8 tins of beer, I put out one measly pumpkin plant I’d bought, and it was gone in six hours. I had high hopes for the ‘kill them all’ approach since salt, copper rings, and daily picking were doing nothing.

              On the other hand I am a champion farmer of slugs. The blue stuff can’t do much for their edibility though.

              1. simba says:

                8 tins of beer in various slug traps, just to clarify. They would have been of more use inside me to console me for the loss of the pumpkin, the french beans, the courgette plants, the marigolds, the beetroot, the carrots, the lettuces, the chard… Gardening is not possible in that garden.

          2. Windriven says:

            “I use no pesticides other than manual death-dealing,”

            Rork, I have a herd of slugs I’d like you to meet. The gd things are thick as thieves. We pick them off and drop them into plastic cups of saline. We plant beer traps. The slugs only laugh. And multiply. And then I found iron phosphate slug bait. The slugs are still laughing – but now it is that whistling-past-the-graveyard kind of laugh. And you have to listen carefully to hear it – ’cause there aren’t too many of them left. The best part: now I’m laughing too!

        4. Mike B says:

          I have a friend who is an organic farmer, who uses no pesticides at all.

          My experience causes me to say, “So what?”

          What is your friend growing, where is he growing it, and how much crop loss does he suffer?

          You cannot grow a decent apple crop in Maine without spraying–something.

          Conventional growers here spray there apples about 12 times per season.

          Organic growers here spray their apples about 22 times per season! That’s because organic materials don’t work so well.

          I love my synthetic pesticides, and because I practice a pretty intensive Integrated Pest Management, I spray about 8 times per season.

          But then I have a little tiny orchard, too.

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            The amount of crop loss in organic farming is one of the big arguments against large-scale adoption. That, combined with less concentrated fields, means if organic was adopted on a larger scale starvation would be an inevitability.

            Something organic growers don’t talk about much – how inefficient they are, and one of the reasons they have to charge more is because they simply have less to sell.

    6. Sean Duggan says:

      Given that the studies keep proving over and over again that “organic” food isn’t any better for you, how is requiring labeling any different from, say, a housing development proudly stating that there are no Russians in their neighborhood and using that as a selling point? There comes a point where simple labeling becomes an attack.

    7. swbarnes2 says:

      THE debate? While I think there are many people who object to today’s industrialized factory farming, and care about worker safety and environmental impact, I don’t think the majority of people who, say, supported California’s Prop 37 were doing so for those reasons. They were doing so because of people touting rat studies saying that GMO foods would give people cancer.

      The #1 donor to the pro-37 campaign was Joe Mercola. Yeah, the anti side is just a bunch of big corporations, but I’d take those guys over Mercola.

    8. Dave Brown says:

      That would make sense IF organic farming was uniformly better for the environment (positives have to be weighed against the requirement for more land in cultivation due to lower yields). GMOs have actually reduced insecticide use, reduced tillage and allowed farmers to switch to one of the least toxic herbicides available (glyphosate).

      http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12804

  6. The Science Babe says:

    Can we all take a pledge to not give a certain budding internet celebrity any more free publicity?

  7. Ed Whitney says:

    “Water” 75%–isn’t that the same thing as dihydrogen monoxide?

  8. CC says:

    Include credit for the image, please: http://jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/ingredients-of-an-all-natural-banana/

    (He has similar posters for a number of food items, including blueberries and eggs.)

  9. Frederick says:

    I will take a good old radioactive banana please! lol
    Me and my best friend Martin we have a running gag, He was working at the only Nuclear power plant we have here ( now stopped and will be dismantle), and every month they had a scan for abnormal radioactivity, and they knew the number of banana he have eaten during the month lol.
    So the banana gag is a the good example. the other day, we are all invited to diner at his house, and one of Friend, she’s super cool and inteligent, but she’s also into food fear, Microwave fear, GMO fear and anti-fluoride,ask about is was normal for banana to be like this. we are talking about irrational fear, so I did the banana joke “I love my radioactive bananas” I explain about the potassium-40 and she’s said “was it always like that, or like it is new, because of in modern world that they become like this?” I explain that no, it is the composition of the bananas, their chemistry. I also ending saying that all food have been manipulated by the humans, most of it are not their “natural” version.

    The petition about the brominated vegetable oil is also a good example. We can understand that a young girl can be scared of that, but, instead educating herself ( or maybe she tried, but end up taking her infos On mercola of mike adam BS), she jump on change.org.

    Another topic: , Any of you plan to write about that Pesticide and autism article?
    For What I saw, it seem that there’s a correlation, but the conclusion is that they can’t point it out to the pesticide, because they can’t discriminate other factors, BUT of course the media, and Even I fucking love science, use that Pesticide autism scary title. I don’t think that the plausibility of that relation is impossible, just that like other news report, they can’t tone it down, to avoid scaring people for nothing.

    1. Mikeq says:

      There is a certain other blog by an Orac person that covered the study you mentioned.

      1. Frederick says:

        Oh cool! Thank I have not seen it.

      2. David Gorski says:

        Such coverage might also manage to find its way over here, if no one else covers it this week…if you know what I mean. :-)

        1. Frederick says:

          I Just finished to read That ORAC guy article, ;-) you know him?
          Really good post by the way.

          I’m searching around my facebook feed, One of the group I like posted something similar to you article, but I can’t find it.
          Anyway Thank for that.

          1. rork says:

            There’s an insolent commenter there who needs to learn to be as meek as the others.

  10. Kathleen Maltby says:

    This issue also comes up a lot with nitrates in cured meets. I beilen practicing the hobby of characutiere and part of a few groups on Facebook. One of our biggest pet peeves is nitrate free meats. The producers are able to claim nitrate free because they use celery juice which is naturally loaded with nitrates. The issue comes into place that celery juice is imprecise and you may actually get a higher amount of nitrates from nitrate free bacon then conventional bacon. Or if you really want control make your own. I promise the results will make you very happy.

    1. Mikeq says:

      the organic regulations specifically allow non organic celery powder to be used in organic products so that there is enough “natural” nitrates to at least partially cure organic meats.

    2. Windriven says:

      “Or if you really want control make your own. I promise the results will make you very happy.”

      Amen! If you haven’t dry cured your own ham – in the prosciutto/jamon style – you haven’t lived :-) Of course it means starting with a first rate ham.

      1. Kathleen Maltby says:

        Unfortunately my curing chamber is to small for a ham. But I may start a Culatello.

    3. Eldric IV says:

      The producers are able to claim nitrate free because they use celery juice which is naturally loaded with nitrates.

      I see similar labeling prestidigitation on a host of products. My recent favorite is using “evaporated cane juice” instead of sugar.

      1. simba says:

        Or ‘grape juice’ for fruit sweets.

        What I love is how ‘high fructose corn syrup’ is eevul, as is ‘sugar’ often, but fruit sugar (fructose), and agave are wonderful.

    4. Frederick says:

      I don’t eat a lot of charcuteries, But since I went to Portugal In 2011, and Paris In 2012, Damn Our charchuterie suck compare to the European one. The only charchuteries I can eat here is those from artisan maker. There is a cheese maker shop not far from here ( really good cheese huum), they sell a chorizo sausage that’s is so good. Not as good as that “pavé au poivre” I had in paris, but hey, it’s not too bad.

  11. Eldric IV says:

    I am nowhere near old enough to have lived it but I grew up on a lot of 40s-50s culture.

    Whatever happened to “Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry”? We are living better due to the advances of science but the public opinion pendulum has swung hard to the “all natural” chemophobia side.

  12. jsterritt says:

    While the roots of chemophobia may well lie in evolutionary adaptations (e.g., revulsion), there are many strata of stupid on top of that foundation. Take as an example the moms (and dads, but in my experience it skews towards moms, especially on the political left) who do not vaccinate. The arguments I hear from friends are a weird blend of “gut certainties” boiling down to the toxins gambit and a perversion of the precautionary principle. The naturalistic fallacy is ever-present. Driving the whole thing is the Kruger-Dunning effect (i.e., know-it-all-ism; possessing special knowledge). They are entirely, groundlessly convinced of two things: that their children cannot possibly handle the slightest immunological or trace chemical “insult;” while at the same time these same children possess special, superior immune function and health, bordering on invulnerability. They take their children’s current good health as proof that every decision made in the past was the correct one and extrapolate only continued good health moving forward.

    These moms double down on their children’s health, rejecting vaccines and allopathic medicine while embracing dangers like raw milk. One mom I know travels regularly with her unvaccinated children to India (measles), China (actually pretty good herd immunity in China), and a family horse farm (tetanus). Riskier still, they venture into the cul-de-sacs of Connecticut and California and return to their own wealthy enclave of unvaccinated urbanites. Ignoring very real risks and social responsibilities, these same moms worry about Bisphenol-A and Triclosan, favoring discredited junk science (vom Saal, et al) over scientific consensus in order to live in constant terror about possible health outcomes so subtle that they cannot even be observed. This is what I think of as “wrong-end-of-the-spectrum” worrying: there are cigarettes and handguns and cults and income inequality and wars, not to mention global warming, FIFA bet-rigging, reality television, and vaccine-preventable diseases. Yet these folk choose (at some point they make an actual decision) to jump at the shadows of shadows instead of real threats.

    In my experience, a small and self-selecting sample to be sure, these zealots do not change their minds when presented with more and better information. They dig in and become intractable. Worse, they organize and petition and march and blog and soldier in the name of their false cause(s). The internet echo chamber of willful ignorance is so loud, the pitchers of woo and conspiracy so many (and on tv!), the industry of it so profitable, that reality itself becomes perverted, as if it is just another consumerist choice to make. Then, when I have the temerity to confront someone’s science denialism, I’m the a**hole.

    Another excellent post, Dr Novella. Thanks!

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      It’s sad that a generation earlier people petitioned ‘Nam, now people march against vaccines.

      1. Jon says:

        Some of us are still fighting the good fight. But now that good fight also means fighting people who are fighting the bad fight.

  13. goodnightirene (aka The Science Babe) says:

    Hey, let me out of moderation!

    The FDA (and other agencies) need to be governed strictly by the science instead of being constantly hamstrung by politics. Politics has done much to make a wide array of dissimilar groups suspect of them.

    It’s a bit dated by now, but Marion Nestle’s book Food Politics has much to offer on this topic.

  14. J says:

    “Mothers with food fears were not more willing to pay more for food without the scary ingredient than mothers with less food fears.”

    This is quite confusing. They want the same kind of product without the concern for its potential harm, and expect it to cost the same? Are they saying they shouldn’t have to pay more for a brand to earn their trust back? Or is it a personal, face-saving thing where having to pay more reflects on their own level of education and the implication that, if they had gotten a better education and therefore a better job, they may then have the knowledge to justify their fears?

    Maybe someday ingredients lists will be divided into dosage categories, with the stuff you can eat all you want on one side, and the stuff you shouldn’t eat too much of on another.

  15. Tired Father says:

    Interesting article. I’ve been following this subject for a while- it’s really important to challenge this stuff because it’s nonsense dressed up as science. A common myth that is perpetuated on such sites is the idea that bad chemicals (regardless of what they are) in small amounts ‘build up’ in the body. So that even a miniscule dose of something that’s not good for you adds up over time. It’s a powerful argument but only because the response to it is very complicated. Can anyone out there suggest a really neat concise answer to that one?

    1. Andrey Pavlov says:

      @Tired father:

      I don’t know that it can be effectively combatted succinctly, but the tack I would try is to simply say that we eliminate wastes and toxins all day every day. Our body produces toxic byproducts (which people should be already aware of) and we use the restroom multiple times per day. Why don’t all the toxins we are eliminating every day “build up” but the toxin of their fears does?

      At that point, the burden of proof to demonstrate it actually does build up is on them. But logical debate is typically not the strong suit of folks with whom you’d be entering into this sort of conversation with anyways.

      Might be worth a try – at least to learn from and adapt the tack over time. I haven’t had much opportunity to do so (thankfully).

      1. KayMarie says:

        There are some toxins that do accumulate over time. Either within an individual or as one critter eats another so each bump up the food chain makes it more likely that the critter will contain a lot of a particular toxin.

        This is not all toxins, or even most toxins, but depends on the characteristics of the toxin and the metabolism of the toxin. Things that tend to end up being stored in fat cells are going to be more likely to accumulate than something highly water soluble. However, a lot of the toxin fears do involve body structures not known to science, or mechanisms that cannot be found scientifically. That being said, after my toxicology classes I do have a bit more of an aversion to eating the liver and kidneys of others than before the toxicology classes, which is probably more fear-based than reality-based.

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          There are some toxins that do accumulate over time. Either within an individual or as one critter eats another so each bump up the food chain makes it more likely that the critter will contain a lot of a particular toxin.

          Which is why the property of “rapid breakdown” is an incredibly useful property in a pesticide or herbicide, such as many modern ones. And another reason why fear and opposition to said pesticides and herbicides is irrational and counter-productive.

          1. KayMarie says:

            Irrational and counter-productive pretty much sums up all that I’ve seen from the sociologists work on risk assessment. They used to remind us regularly when we all got together that no matter how hard we worked to come up with really good data and a really solid number for the scientific risk assessment, the policy was going to be based on who got scared because that wasn’t in their backyard a year ago.

            If it was always in their backyard, we could hose them down with it and they would not care. No matter how dangerous that was. But if it wasn’t there last year, it was obviously way too dangerous to be anywhere near them in any amount.

            Although a few things will get moved from the hose me down to the unsafe at any speed category in the general perception of the risk even if you grew up with it. Especially if you have something really photogenic for the ad campaign.

        2. Andrey Pavlov says:

          There are some toxins that do accumulate over time. Either within an individual or as one critter eats another so each bump up the food chain makes it more likely that the critter will contain a lot of a particular toxin.

          Indeed that is true. The term is called biomagnification when it is the food chain example.

          But the point is that one must demonstrate that is what is actually happening. The vast majority of toxins do not accumulate over time. So if the person is making the claim, appropriately shift the burden to them to show that the specific toxin to which they are referring does actually accumulate.

          1. Windriven says:

            These are mostly lipophyllic toxins, no? Isn’t the mechanism that toxins bound in fat are consumed and then bind in the predator’s fat and so on up the chain?

            1. KayMarie says:

              Yep generally stuff that gets stored in the fat. Although breast-feeding is usually a pretty effective way of removing those toxins from your own personal fat supply…we should start a chain of lacto-detox spas!

              1. Windriven says:

                Yeah, unfortunately my dangly bits are positioned a little farther south so … the lacto detox thing probably ain’t gonna work to well for me ;-)

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                One of the advantages of formula feeding, not often mentioned by, well, anyone, is that formula tests and controls for substances that, concentrated in breastmilk, exceed EPA, FDA or CDC-mandated safe levels.

                Take that La Leche League.

    2. jsterritt says:

      It gets even more complicated, TF. Now there’s this junk- and pseudo-science notion about “low dose toxicity.” It pertains mostly to so-called “endocrine disruptors” and has few supporters outside of a handful of noisemakers who have staked their careers on certain chemicals being toxic some way, ANY way, regardless of how crazy the proposed mechanism of action and unsound the prior plausibility. It essentially negates all understanding of dose-response and asserts that somehow low doses are toxic while higher doses are not. I’m not making this up, it’s like homeopathic poison…and it’s working exactly as you’d expect (i.e., no one is getting sick or dying). Anyway, it is unsurprising that cherry-picking, Kruger-Dunning experts scientists chemophobes find this appealing since they can use it to counter the factual and sound “dose makes the poison” argument.

      1. Tired Father says:

        Thanks for all the suggestions. Food Babe’s web site is worth reading to get a full perspective of how others think. There’s also the odd good citizen who takes the trouble to post a beautifully crafted and correct explanation of a topic in the comments section.

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          …and is usually deleted right after?

          Dissent will not be tolerated!

  16. Jamie says:

    While this is all very interesting, it tells us literally nothing about whether specific food fears are valid or not, and considering that the US allows a number of ingredients banned in other countries, I feel that there is legitimate cause for concern – but I am not an expert, so I’d like to see an article like this delve a bit more into the specifics.

    1. jsterritt says:

      This article (post, rather) is about irrational food fears, their genesis, their appeal, etc. It is also about the hucksterism rampant in the media that preys on said fears. Is it valid to be afraid of things one doesn’t understand? Of course it is, but that doesn’t make it correct or smart or wise or advisable. Charlatans like the Food Babe grow their cults of personality by playing on peoples’ fears, both primal and modern. The reptile brain fears poisoning from eating spoiled food or unfamiliar berries; the modern mind fears making poor consumerist choices in an increasingly transparent marketplace of complex foods and ideologies.

      You shouldn’t look to this blog to educate you on perfectly easy-to-learn facts of food safety. You certainly shouldn’t complain that is doesn’t. You have a computer — use it! For instance, the “banned” ingredients you are thinking of are probably not, in fact, *banned* at all (the banned-in-other-countries” meme is a familiar trope of the huckster-loving, pseudoscience-loving media; it is also a minor logical fallacy, to wit the “appeal to popularity” or bandwagon fallacy).

      That people are hysterical about food choices is, I would argue, readily apparent. It behooves anyone who is curious to find out why. Please put on your critical thinking cap first.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Echoing jsterritt, why not look up things on the FDA, CDC or USDA websites? If you want a popular-level account of nearly every food on the planet, may I suggest Harold McGee’s superb On Food and Cooking?

  17. Melissa says:

    “All food is altered by humans or processed in some way. Where do you draw the line?”

    Comparing a dorito vs an apple are leap-[lines] away.

    1. rork says:

      Yeah, that line bothered me a bit too. Some food items I process in only one way – chewing. I wash some with water first if they are dirty. Still, I might be approaching naturalistic fallacy – some chippy thing could be made fairly well, and even wild fruit can have it’s toxins.

    2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Comparing a dorito vs an apple are leap-[lines] away.

      That’s not the right comparison. In modern processing terms, it would be apples to perhaps concentrated, reconstituted apple juice. But I believe what Dr. Novella is speaking of is comparing a paleobanana, which is essentially inedible, to a seedless, sterile, monocrop banana that can be peeled and eaten with no implements beyond a hand (or even merely teeth and a functional jaw). Another comparison would be the hard, almost uncrackable, even with teeth, teosinte versus the soft, starchy-sweet modern corn cob. And for apples, compare the large, shiny red and yellow Gala with the sour, woody, diarrhea-inducing crab apple. Ironically given the fears about processing by the Food Idiot and her ilk, the unmodified versions of these foods would be inedible without heavy boiling, pounding or mashing, while the modern heavily-bred and genetically modified variants you can eat out of hand once ripe.

      All human crops, which we view as somehow platonic and unchanging, are actually so far from their ancestors from 10,000 years ago, we might not even know they were the same species without genetics.

      Put another way – in order to eat teosinte, you have to convert it to a dorito first, meanwhile a modern, heavily-genetically-modifed apple you can simply bite into. Which is amusing.

  18. erythronium says:

    My neighbor did me the favor of dropping two scoops of “natural” manure from his steer shed on my compost pile. The pH shock and/or the nitrogen shock promptly killed a cherry tree 3 meters away.

    Wow. Why would one who rejects anecdotal evidence in medicine use it in horticulture? Manure fear-mongering? Please help me out.

  19. Donald says:

    Not wishing to hijack a thread, but does anyone have an opinion on what appears to be the latest idea of FODMAPs? I can’t quite tell if it’s a craze or not – there do appear to be a few journal articles about it. My wife is doing the whole gluten avoiding thing and swears she feels better. I’m wondering (I’d there is credence to it) if it’s FODMAPs but don’t want to get caught out and latch on to some woo.

    Thanks.

    1. KayMarie says:

      I do a fair amount of support group work for people with IBS. There seems to be some evidence for it, and IBSers often have a lot of symptoms from compounds in the diet that can be fermented or draw water into the stools. FODMAPs pretty much by definition are compounds in foods that can be fermented by bacteria which release gas in the colon.

      Anecdotally I can say I’ve talked to enough people with IBS who have found symptoms are reduced when they have less gas, including because they avoided FODMAPs. But this may also be why some IBSers feel better when they take probiotics that can also reduce the fart frequency (as they don’t make as much gas from the bacteria food in our diet as other bacteria).

      I’m certain it is going to get a lot of woo attached, as other woo diets also reduce the amount of bacteria food in the diet.

      One hypothesis (it is testable at least) is a lot of people who feel better from less gluten may have some functional GI stuff going on and feel better because they are eating fewer FODMAPS (wheat has a good amount of FODMAPS as well as gluten). So gluten may be an innocent bystander for some folks with GI distress. Some people who went gluten free and it didn’t help who find low FODMAPS works better for them. Especially since a lot of “natural” processed food-like products, including the gluten free “health” food type things, use “natural” sugars and “natural” sugar alcohols like concentrated pear juice rather than a more balanced glucose to fructose sugar like table sugar that doesn’t also have a dandy osmotic laxative thrown in.

      So basically, you get your info from the registered dietician, the university folks that are testing foods for FODMAPs and your GI doc…you may be at least avoiding the worst of the woo. Not sure how much it will be adopted by the woo people but then contradicting themselves usually isn’t a problem and some of the foods are foods to avoid to “kill” the “Candida”.

  20. WScott says:

    “everything is chemicals….”
    99% great post, but I really wish people would stop using this argument. The word “chemical” has two uses: the technical one you are using, and a lay usage meaning something like “synthetic substances made in a factory somewhere.” The latter definition is admittedly vague, but is very common in popular usage. (When people talk about chemical weapons, for example, I never hear anyone pipe up that technically anthrax is a chemical too.) Countering with the technical definition when you know naturalists mean the lay definition is just the flip side of creationists claiming evolution is “just a theory.” Condescending semantic arguments are unlikely to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced, because they don’t address people’s actual concerns.

    “All food is altered by humans or processed in some way. Where do you draw the line?”
    Well for many people, the main issue is how long the food/substance has been in use. Sure, the ear of corn I ate with dinner last night bears little resemblance to its original crop; but it’s also been eaten safely for generations. The distinction between that and something that was just formulated last year doesn’t seem very fine at all to most people. So yeah, where do you draw the line is a valid question; but a fuzzy middle doesn’t mean the ends aren’t easy to differentiate. (See Continuum Fallacy).

    “The second is that something occurring in nature is no guarantee of safety.”
    And I’m sorry but this is just a straw man: I have never met a single individual who thought it was – and I used to live in Boulder! A more accurate expression of the naturalistic position would be to say that we’re more likely to understand what natural substances are healthy or harmful because they’ve been in use for so long.

    I’m not defending the naturalistic belief – far from it! But I think a lot of people here misunderstand what its adherents actually believe, which IMO leads them to create unpersuasive arguments. In my experience, most people’s mistrust of GMOs, non-organic farming, and even vaccines really boils down to a combination of anti-corporatism and lack of trust in the government regulatory process. If we want to persuade folks, *those* are the fears we need to address.

    1. weing says:

      (When people talk about chemical weapons, for example, I never hear anyone pipe up that technically anthrax is a chemical too.)

      No it’s not. It’s a biological weapon. And I refuse to cave to the ignorant use of the word. It is the ignorant that need to learn the actual meaning.

    2. KayMarie says:

      Well maybe no one you have met falls for the advertising, but I have seen catalogs and ads for natural medications that do state that if it is natural there can be no harm or adverse side effects of any kind.

      I do think people tend to be much more tolerant of the side effects from “natural” drugs as there is another trope that if it is “natural” and causes a side effect that is proof it is working to heal you.

    3. weing says:

      “A more accurate expression of the naturalistic position would be to say that we’re more likely to understand what natural substances are healthy or harmful because they’ve been in use for so long.”
      Are you sure it’s not the familiarity bias and not actual understanding.

    4. Mike B says:

      The word “chemical” has two uses: the technical one you are using, and a lay usage meaning something like “synthetic substances made in a factory somewhere.”

      But so what?

      So what if something is made in a factory somewhere?

      1. mouse says:

        Mike B “So what if something is made in a factory somewhere?”

        Well that’s clearly better than if something is made in a factory nowhere. Products that defy the typical/space time continuum are creepy, possibly risky (do you really want your ladder demonstrating spatial confusion?) and are a nightmare to track in shipping. I’m pretty sure that’s the problem with my car keys. They keep trying to return to their nowhere factory to spawning grounds.

    5. JD says:

      In my experience, most people’s mistrust of GMOs, non-organic farming, and even vaccines really boils down to a combination of anti-corporatism and lack of trust in the government regulatory process. If we want to persuade folks, *those* are the fears we need to address.

      For the fence sitters, it may be a workable approach to utilize reason and logic as a means of assuaging some of these ill-founded fears. But, for the more steadfast acolytes, these arguments always lead to the same place, and that is the assertion of one being a “Big Agro” or “Big Pharma” shill. This seems to be a kind of defense mechanism when true beliefs are assaulted.

      I really do not know the best tact in these situations. The safest bet may be to not only address the mistrust and unrealistic conspiracy theories, but to also knock down the underlying fallacious thinking. I can only hope that a well-rounded defense of rationality and precise language could help to prevent the further spread of said thinking.

      1. Windriven says:

        “I really do not know the best tact in these situations. ”

        At the risk of appearing a pedant I thought I’d mention that the phrase is ‘the best tack’ as in the angle of vessel and sails to the wind in sailing rather than a truncation of the word tactic.

        There’s your useless tidbit for the day.

        1. JD says:

          Not useless at all, so much for my reference to precise language (haha). The funny part is, I am unsure of the best tack and also unsure how to handle these encounters with tact. It seems that I have to engage in these types of dreadful conversations whenever I’m reading a Paul Offit book, or something similar, on a plane.

          Two instances I remember vividly:

          Keeping to myself and enjoying “Autism’s False Prophets,” when the woman next to me asks what it is about. I give a quick explanation and get the response of “my nephew’s autism was caused by the vaccines and the CDC keeps allowing all of those toxins.” I rebutted this in the nicest way I could, explaining that there was no large government conspiracy and that the CDC does not govern what is in vaccines. This shut the conversation down so very quickly.

          Again, on a plane reading “Do You Believe in Magic?” and at the end of the flight, a woman with her husband inquires as to what it is about. I again give a brief explanation and get the response “my brother’s cancer was cured by a faith healer. None of his doctors knew how to treat it, but so and so put it into remission after a few dozen prayer sessions.” This one I didn’t have sufficient time to address. I think I murmured something about placebo effect as I was hurriedly deplaning.

  21. Vasileios Anagnostopoulos says:

    I live in Greece. Three years ago there was a food scandal about one of the biggest onion producing places in Greece. Oinofyta is the name and it is industrialized. They found ten times more chromium that it is allowed in the water because the industries had no control over discarding their waste and the water sources got polluted. The measurements are consistent the last three years (with a slight annual increase per year). But the story does not end here. The onions are watered with underground water that is cheaper. As a result people started avoiding or fearing these onions preferring (like me imported onions). The big super market chains took all the production for almost nothing and when you go to super markets or open air markets the proportion of other onions to Oinofyta onions is 1:100 at least. The other onions are more expensive. So what happens here is water measurements labeling possible onion production as unsafe and food markets rush to exploit the situation without asking if there is contamination of the products. This is what devastates the chain of trust. There is also no reliable report of cancer increases in that region. Only rumors. Are the onion safe? Who knows? I will not eat them because trust has collapsed and because the evidence is indirect that no one cares if they are safe. It is reasonable to buy organic. By the way super markets sell organic versions of these onions of the same region. I buy from a non industrialized place. The a priori knowledge without evidence equals the a posteriori knowledge.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      This comment points to failures of testing and marketing though, not superiority of organic farming. Organic farming doesn’t require testing of the water for chromium, nor does it specify a source for water. Organic or conventional, any crops watered from this source would have the same problem sincie it ultimately comes down to geography, not production method.

      I’m not sure why you conclude “it is reasonable to buy organic”, except perhaps for the fact that this farm isn’t considered organic (unless whoever certifies organic in Greece isn’t doing their job and they’re sold as organic irrespective source).

      1. Vasileios Anagnostopoulos says:

        I do not claim that organic is better. I provide no proof. I only say that I buy organic from a non industrialized area. I trust that the organic from a non industrialized area has lower levels of chromium than organic from that particular area based on two premises

        1. the economical incentive for chains to lie is larger for the second case since they buy cheaper
        2. the first place is not industrialized.

        By the way I also buy non-organic from the first (non-industrialized) place since the organic production is small and many times not available. I prefer organic mainly for ideological reasons (communist) and not quality reasons. I have no proof at hand about the difference in quality. Only rumors and the fact that I am from an agricultural family from an agricultural village having first hand experience by the pesticides my own relatives used. Contrary to popular belief no direct relative in the family died from cancer despite the increased use of pesticides even with bare hands. However descendants of this family, after moving and living in cities had cases of cancer (cannot find out if its larger than average, doctors I asked said the incidence is normal) . But still I do not and cannot have any link with pesticide usage since my village produced tobacco and we are all (males) fanatic smokers. Another parameter.

        1. simba says:

          Now I’m curious- why is organic the communist choice?

  22. Spencer says:

    Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide!

    Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills thousands of people every year. Most of these deaths are caused by accidental inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Prolonged exposure to its solid form causes severe tissue damage. Symptoms of DHMO ingestion can include excessive sweating and urination, nausea, vomiting and electrolyte imbalance. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.

  23. Getting information from the right sources is crucial to make a truly educated choice about food fears. There are people making a profit off our fears and creating unnecessary hype to promote their own agendas and products.

  24. Chris says:

    Another reason to be careful when buying organic food: you may be supporting a person who denies contraceptive coverage to female employes:
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/07/07/eden-foods-insurance-fight-hobby-lobby/12321525/

    It says:

    Eden Foods Founder and CEO Michael Potter, who has compared contraceptives to “lifestyle drugs,” is a devout Catholic who does not believe companies should be forced to fund insurance that includes that coverage.

    By the way, one of the best overviews I have heard of the Hobby Lobby case and the American dysfunctional health care system is by a UK corporate lawyer working in Scotland (podcast or video):
    http://www.skepticcanary.com/the-skeptic-canary-show/ep58-helen-dale-skeptic-canary-show/

    1. mouse says:

      Aaaargh!

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