Eat Your Greens

by Patrick Appel

Ezra Klein strikes the right tone:

[T]he hard evidence of health benefits for organic foods has been mixed at best. There are no long-term studies showing that consumption of organic foods will make people healthier over a long period of time. That's not to say organic foods are bad. They may taste better, or be more environmentally friendly. And we may even eventually find that they are healthier. But I'm much more worried about getting people to eat fruits and vegetables in general than I am about getting fruit and vegetable eaters to switch to organics. And what we do know is that organic produce is more expensive and harder to find.

Follow up here, linking to Tom Philpott's post praising organics. Ezra writes that "the evidence that organics are good for the environment, and the soil in particular, is very compelling." I'm not so sure. Here's a Prospect article from a few years ago about organic crops:

Some opponents of GM crops, who seem to have realised that the argument based on lack of safety has no basis, now focus their opposition on environmental concerns, arguing that GM crops destroy biodiversity. It would be wrong to claim that the planting of GM crops could never have adverse environmental effects. But their impact depends on circumstances, on the particular crop and environment in which it is grown. Such effects occur with all sorts of agriculture. Worldwide experience of GM crops to date provides strong evidence that they actually benefit the environment. They reduce reliance on agrochemical sprays, save energy, use less fossil fuels in their production and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. And by improving yields, they make better use of scarce agricultural land.

Organic farming might be better for the environment in some instances but there are plenty of organic fertilizers that can do damage to surrounding ecosystems. Tom Philpott discusses non-organic farming killing microbes in the soil, but I'm generally more worried about how damaging farming is to the surrounding environment and how much it contributes to carbon emissions.

I am open to conflicting evidence.