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The Truth About Organic Foods [Paperback]

Alex Avery
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 231 pages
  • Publisher: Henderson Communications L.L.C.; 1 edition (2001)
  • ISBN-10: 0978895207
  • ISBN-13: 978-0978895204
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 575,816 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thorough and complete investigation 14 Jan 2012
By Oscar
I read this book because of a certain background within the environmental movement. I became interested in the organic movement as a result. Reading a book like this might come across as something of a 'faith-buster' but the author has done his job thoroughly and deserves credit for this. A book I would heartily recommend. I think Avery is on the same side as those who are looking for safe solutions to the many problems that modern agriculture and food production poses.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
57 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful History of Farming and an Organic Myth Buster 20 Dec 2006
By R. Levine - Published on Amazon.com
With an easy to read style, this may be the best book for laymen who are interested in agriculture since Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies." The author begins with a short history of agriculture, explaining how we are able to produce nitrogen -- the most important plant nutrient -- from air (a renewable resource), allowing us to feed the 6 billion human inhabitants on earth while leaving rain forests and natural lands intact.

Ironically, the organic food movement, which claims to care dearly for the environment, wants us to stop using nitrogen fertilizer. Since doing so would lower crop yields, the only way to sustain the current human population would be to convert more nature regions into farmland, which should be the worst nightmare of a true environmentalist.

The author's tracking of the semi-religious roots of the organic movement also makes for an entertaining read, with anecdotes about Rudolph Steiner, one of the movement's founding fathers. It's difficult not to chuckle when reading Steiner's advice on how to enhance the cosmic, ethereal "life force" of manure by burying it in a bull's horn. Who knew the hippie movement began in Germany back in the 1920s?

The author also takes on the notion that organic food is somehow more nutritious than non-organic, citing quotes by the British Food Standards Agency and the USDA. For example, Dan Glickman, President Clinton's Secretary of Agriculture, said, "The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety ... Just because something is labeled as organic does not mean it is superior, safer or more healthy than conventional food. All foods in this country must meet the same high standards of safety regardless of their classification."

But isn't organic food safer? Not really, the author writes. Organic foods may contain less synthetic pesticide residues, but organic farmers are still permitted to use "natural" pesticides, which have been found to be harmful to one's health when subjected to the same tests as non-organic pesticides. On top of that, organic vegetables are more likely to carry pathogens such as E. coli (understandable since they are grown in manure), Salmonella, Campylobacter and fungal toxins.

In short, the author shows us in plain English how organic food is not healthier, safer or better for the environment. If you currently buy organic food, the 20 bucks you will spend on this book (probably about the same amount you spend on pricier organic foods each week) might even save you money.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very provocative read 26 April 2010
By Tyler - Published on Amazon.com
Mr. Avery clearly spells out the facts and statistics that have been absent in the "organic food" conversation for so long. These are the issues that must be weighed and considered when contemplating alternative agriculture methods. As one can clearly see throughout the ratings on Amazon, negative rating is almost exclusively driven by political bias and emotion; criticisms of the book rely on outright dismisal of Avery's data without providing a single rebuttal, rather resorting to personal attacks and cliche anti-isms common among the hipster organic movement.

Avery provides research and insight into a field of study often overlooked - overlooked out of ignorance or willingness, one can only assume.
54 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth about Organic Foods 18 Dec 2006
By K. Flanders - Published on Amazon.com
My wife and I found this book to be highly enlightening. We had been buying organic foods ever since our first child and lamenting the significant increase in our food budget. Now we're a lot more at ease with "the food supply" having finally gotten some concrete answers to some pretty complex questions. In researching these issues before, we mostly found more ominous warnings and "we don't know's" from health websites.

For example, now we know that there isn't any substantive difference in "organic" milk vs. regular milk - not even the best lab can tell the difference because hormone levels are the same and all milk is tested several times for even the tiniest traces of antibiotics. If any one of those tests is positive for antibiotics, the milk has to be thrown away. The government scientists even complained that the problem is that the antibiotic test is too sensitive, with too many "false-positives" causing needless waste of milk! We still prefer a local non-organic brand that is not homogenized and comes in glass bottles, but now we're confident that it's as safe and nutritious as organic milk.

The chapter on the history of organics was REALLY interesting - who knew that the organic movement got started way back in the 1920s? Or that doctors and scientists were debating whether organic food was more nutritious way back in the 1940s? Or that organic groups' own research found no nutritional differences in the 1970s? Who knew that 25% of organic fruits and veggies have synthetic pesticide residues and that they're still sold as "organic" because the standards require no testing? (This surprised my wife and I the most, as before we thought residue testing was mandatory before food could be sold as organic - it's not!)

On the whole, this was the most informative food book either of us had read in years and we highly recommend it. The book won't change anyone's mind completely about organic food -- we still buy several -- but we're a lot more comfortable now when we choose conventional foods and save our extra food dollars to spend on high-quality ingredients for the weekly feast.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Organic Food Industry Is Duping Consumers on Health, Environment Issues 22 Feb 2010
By Jay Lehr - Published on Amazon.com
Organic foods are quite in vogue--they constitute the fastest-growing segment of the food industry. Food markets from Whole Foods to Wal-Mart are trying to capture part of this burgeoning market.

The reason for this is that the public thinks organic foods are more nutritious, less toxic, and better for the environment than conventionally produced foods. Alex Avery's new book will convince you that these claims are all false.

Organic Production Inadequate

Avery traces the roots of the organic movement to its earliest days, when all foods were organically grown. Prior to 1909, when the Haber-Bosch process first produced free nitrogen for agricultural application, and before science and technology gave us the fertilizers that now make our food both healthier and more plentiful, all foods were produced through the methods now called organic.

Prominent Agronomist Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba tells us less than half the population of today's world could be fed even the inadequate diet of 1900 without today's manufactured fertilizers. Thus, more than half the humans alive today owe their existence to conventional fertilizers.

In turn, wildlife conservators should be equally grateful, Avery notes, for without fertilizer much of the world's wildlife habitat would have been sacrificed to grow crops and animal feed.

Health Benefits Unsupported

Organic foods are widely marketed by companies as healthier and better for you than conventionally produced foods. There is no scientific evidence to support those claims.

A considerable amount of research has been conducted on the nutrient content of organic versus conventional foods, and the results indicate no significant or meaningful nutritional differences between the two.

Avery quotes many prominent nutritionists, among them Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaugh, who said, "If people want to believe that the organic food has a better nutritive value, it's up to them to make that foolish decision. But there's absolutely no research that shows [this]. ... As far as plants are concerned, they can't tell whether that nitrate ion comes from artificial or from decomposed organic matter."

Greater Health Risks

Perhaps the biggest myth about organic foods is that they are demonstrably safer than conventional foods. Available evidence indicates the opposite is likely true.

Heavy reliance on animal manure as a fertilizer can significantly increase food-borne bacteria. A 2004 study at the University of Minnesota found organic produce was six times more likely to be contaminated by generic E. coli than conventional produce.

Similarly, organic free-range chicken was shown to pose much greater risk of salmonella and other illness-causing bacteria than chickens raised in confinement.

Requires More Pesticides

The notion that organic foods are free of pesticides is a carefully cultivated illusion, Avery tells us. Fully 62 percent of all pesticides applied in U.S. agriculture are those approved for organic use, including oil, sulfur, and copper. They are applied in large volumes because they are so much less effective than "non-organic" pesticides developed through modern technology.

For example, to effectively repel fungus growth, copper has to be applied at 14 pounds per acre, while the average non-organic alternative requires but 1.5 pounds per acre.

Anti-Freedom Activists

Avery documents how the usual anti-capitalist, anti-technology groups support the organic movement, and he makes an irrefutable case that these groups are using the movement as a tool in a greater war on economic freedom. Thus we must be more proactive in defending our economic system, he notes.

Explains Avery, "We have the technologies, resources, and know-how to feed and clothe humanity well without fulfilling the dire predictions of the organic doom-sayers, but only if we get over our crisis in confidence in technology, science, and social/economic structure. Free-market democracies are the most adaptable and humane of any system yet tried by mankind. There is simply no reason why we cannot sustainably and abundantly feed all of humanity in the 21st century while protecting wild habitats and ecosystems."

Wildlife Encroachment

Avery makes short shrift of the myth that organic farming is good for wildlife habitat. Organic agriculture is already causing expansion of farmlands into wildlife habitats in less-developed countries, as fertilizer-free farming requires much more land to produce the same amount of food.

Ironically, the degradation of wildlife habitat in Third World nations is happening to satisfy the organic food demands of wealthy consumers in Europe and the United States who see themselves as environmentalists. Many organic customers simply don't realize the inherent nitrogen limitation of organic farming and the toll their organic preferences are taking on global wildlife.

The reality that organic farming is less productive than non-organic farming is apparently difficult for many organic believers to accept. Direct, field-to-field comparisons show organic farms produce up to 50 percent less than conventional farms.

It is also important to remember that organic farming requires far more than just the land directly involved in growing a crop. Organic farming systems must devote extra land to produce organic nitrogen to apply to crops that can't fix their own nitrogen. Avery carefully documents the larger amount of land required to grow organic food.

Biotechnology Promise

Avery concludes with a brief chapter on biotechnology. He notes, "Biotechnology has the power to improve just about every aspect of farming and has already done so in major ways. Our food supply will be safer, more environmentally friendly, and healthier because of the power of biotechnology to make fundamental changes at the genetic level. With it farmers are using far less pesticide and are producing more abundant crops and healthier foods."

The great contribution of The Truth About Organic Foods is not just in exposing organic industry marketing myths, but that Avery explains in clear and non-technical prose why these myths are not true. This 231-page, clearly written text is amazingly comprehensive and a delightful and never boring read.

If you think there is something inherently wholesome, healthy, or environmentally friendly about organic foods, you must read this book.


Jay Lehr [...] is science director for The Heartland Institute.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Educational Tool! 3 May 2011
By drbwmills - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book gives a great synopsis of the organic foods movement. It succinctly informs the reader about the science behind organic foods and conventional food production. Organic food is a choice, but it is no safer or healthier than conventionally produced food. Organic food is worse for the environment due to increased use of fossil fuels to produce it, and decreased land productivity when organic methods are used.
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