Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





May 31, 2000


Responses to Dr. Houseal


Date: May 31 2000 18:05:04 EDT
From: Alex Avery
Subject: Re: Organic labels, quacks, Greenpeace colonialism, Irish teens

Mr. Houseal argues passionately, but he failed to offer a single logical
reason why organic food is nothing more than a marketing distinction.
There is simply no evidence that organic food is more nutritious or
healthier for humans. Organic foods are just foods grown or produced in a
specific way, just like Kosher or Halal--that is marketing, not
qualitative food differences. It is beliefs, not truths. As to Mr.
Houseal's anti-science stance, science is merely the search for truth, not
a specific belief system. In fact, good science requires the capacity to
abandon a particular belief system when it is proven wrong.

I publically challenge Mr. Houseal to find credible evidence that organic
production results in any substantive qualitative differences over sound
non-organic production methods. They can be in either area, be it
nutritive value of the food or food safety. (If you want, we can get into
environmental arguments, however I'm not raising them in this particular
discussion because they are not pertinent to food labelling, except as a
marketing tool.)

Organic farmers use pesticides, including some that are extremely toxic.
Rotenone, an organic insecticide extracted from various roots, is so toxic
that the companies that sell it are not willing to spend the money to
conduct the additional safety testing in order for the chemical to pass
current EPA safety standards. In fact, the only uses they are going to
keep for the compound are piscicide (fish-killer, rotenone is one of the
most efficient piscicides ever found, which tells you how TOXIC it is!)
and to kill fleas on cats and dogs. Rotenone has a mammalian LD50 of
between 60-1500 mg/kg (pretty high as far as pesticides go) and is also
toxic to birds and pigs.

The fact remains Mr. Houseal, "Organic" is nothing more than a marketing
tool, despite the passionate pleas of its believers.

Dear Alex Avery,

It's Dr Houseal to you, in any case; Joseph to just about anybody else. I
reject your terms. They are nothing more than an expression of the limits
of what science can test. That is the point, and you confirm it
handsomely: you equate a system of measurement which is indeed your belief
system, as equal to rationality, and claim it to be the sole basis of
rational judgement.

Please remember, it has only been with the advent of bioelectrodynamics
that anything "scientific" has been "proven" about accupuncture. That its
genuine benefits escaped the limits of "legitimate western science" for so
many centuries says a lot about way things become "legitimate" in various
cultures. Glad I didn't wait for science to justify accupuncture before I
made use of its power.

As for your macho public challenge for evidence, try this on: I nearly
died of AIDS twice in the mid nineties. I had the blood count of a corpse:
zero T cells for more than a year. When I changed my diet to organic food,
my health improved dramatically, and allowed me to avoid using the modern
mircale drugs for a strategically long time. I will live to be an old man.
My story is not unique. You may see the May issue of POZ magazine, which
is dedicated to survival stories of PWA who are not on drug cocktails. All
the evidence I need: living evidence, ahead of your science. Evidence in
my bloodstream. Many of those without alternative health practices, or who
took the untested miracle drugs too early on, are dead.

I am on a 4th generation drug cocktail now ( my first ) which, with
martial arts and organic food, is keeping me very healthy indeed, but is
an enormous strain on my liver, kidneys and wallet. Maybe someday
science will catch up to the myriad health traditions in the world that
are truly effective. I don't think I'll wait that long for all the
answers. Ethnopharmacology is an excellent example where science is
learning from "irrational systems." Please see Jeremy Narby's "The Cosmic

Further, it is a good question to ask why biotech companies should behave
any differently than Pharmaceutical companies interms of profit motive. I
learn recently with the "donation" of AIDS drugs to Africa at near cost,
when the true production price was made public for the first time, that
the profit mark up on these miracle drugs has been right around 2000%, and
the research costs recouped long ago.

I am alive because of science AND organic and oriental health practices.
You are calling me anti-science? I'm for biotech, not for idiots ruining
the wholesome public discourse around it. Science ain't everything, pal.
Exactly how much of the universe does it understand? It will not limit my
exploration of reality.

While my stand is that arrogant scientific arguments should not obstruct
access to the benefits of organic food to those who can benefit from it, I
also believe the converse is true: in developing nations, bourgeois
anti-biotech arguments should not obstruct access to biotech to those who
can benefit from it. We're talking about two very good things, neither of
them perfect.

"Science is merely a search for truth" you write. So is religion, so is
art, so is life. These things really ought to be working more in consort.
Science is a method, and a body of a type of knowledge. There are others.
I have no interest in arguing with you; it's just too nasty, and
pointless. An off-putting manner does biotech no favors. I'd rather
encourage some balance and re-focus the discussion to one of providing
benefit throughout the world.

Joseph Houseal

Date: May 31 2000 23:36:48 EDT
From: Zeami2000@aol.com
Subject: Re: Organic food

Dear Malcolm,

Thank you for such a thoughtful letter. Let me make a few responses.

<< Joseph,

I understand your enthusiasm for organic food and I personally don't care
whether people do or don't eat it. However I do object to your assertion
that scientists have some sort of special hidden agenda because they state
that no scientific proof exists of the benefits of eating organically
grown food.

***** I made no such assertion. It is pretty clear to me that Mr Avery is
trying to be provocative and glib with the truth in order to make a
victory in what he perceives to be a battlefield. He stated organic was
nothing but a marketing ploy and I challenged that. He obviously isn't
telling the truth and must have a motive, or he knows nothing about
agriculture. He fancies himself a warrior in a place we need peace.

You can bet your life on it that if evidence existed that organic food
was more nutritious etc. scientists (myself included) would be the first
to say so. I have over the years eaten Pritikin diets, been a strong
advocate of more environmentally friendly agricultural practices and been
a keen student of permaculture techniques. However I cannot claim that
these practices are proven true just because I like the idea that they
might be. I try to eat a diet which is good for my health but I am just
guessing most of the time. Scientific knowledge advances slowly and
carefully and people often try to second guess the "truth" because they
don't want to wait for scientific backing for their beliefs.

*** Accupunture has waited about 3000 years for science to understand the
tiniest fraction of its art. Science can't possibly test everything.
Waiting for science would be a death knell to some, and a denial of other
forms of knowledge generally. Perhaps you can discern no difference in
your health choices other than what you would like to believe. This is not
the case for all. I have been a professional dancer and athlete all my
life. My body is like a thoroughbred horse and is incredibly responsive to
everything I
intake. A change in health for me is more than what I fancy to believe.

This is fine but science is not to blame if no scientific "proof" for a
particular philosophy is forthcoming

*****similarly, because science can't prove everything by its means,
doesn't prove anything either, except within the boundaries of its means.
Science is selective in what is pursues, determined largely by what its
methods can capture. Most of the drive to obtain scientific proof among
other fields has to do with regulatory procedures and market concerns, not
anything self-initiated. Accupuncturists mostly don't care if science
proves them right, except so far as it inhibits their practice in some
countries not to. It is interesting when science understands some things
about art, but I am unconcerned that it does so. I'm certainly not
waiting. But meanwhile, I wrote a PhD advocating the claim that aesthetics
( something different than
art itself ) itself should be scientific, not philosophic. Mae Wan Ho
helped me greatly.

Science is a process which accumulates knowledge based on probabilities.
Nothing is ever certain. You can either accept this way of accumulating
knowledge or you can reject it but you can't have it both ways.

**** of course you can have it as many ways as you like! Good heavens,
scientists from the dawn of history have relied in their intuition to
advance their work. It just that intuition rarely makes it to the
published document. Its absence doesn't eliminate its role. I accept
science for what it is, but not as a single best choice of ways to lead my
life's decisions. You can't accept both ways if you are an publishing
scientist. There are many ways and forms of accumulating knowledge,
science is one of them, and I respect is and encourage it as such. It is
not superior to all forms, nor does it supplant all forms.

I might be disappointed that there is no hard and fast evidence that diet
A is better than diet B but there is nothing I can do about it. It just
means we will have to look for diet C and test that too.

**** diet A might make you lose weight for a month, and then in middle
age, diet B might work for awhile until you balance it out and don't need
a diet. Comparing it to diet C is hardly a measure of whether or not it
was useful. But that is how science works. People are different. I have
issues with what passes for RDA. They are rather statisticalized LCD
amounts that aren't right for most people whose own bodies's determine the

Most science is the process of accumulating evidence for a particular
problem and using commonsense and
statistics to analyse the data. At the cutting edge of science there is a
great deal of contentious issues and, as more experiments are completed,
more and more scientists are persuaded that one view is probably more
correct than another. There is seldom 100% agreement on any theory but
for my peace of mind 90% is good enough for now. I still eat plenty of
fruit and veges and fish and try to steer clear of red meat, cream etc.
but there is NO proof (just lots of evidence) that this is the best or
only diet suitable for maintaining one's health.

***** absolutely! butter is bad for you/ butter is good for you. eat red
meat/ don't eat red meat. There is a scientific study to verify all sorts
of conflicting claims, and my assertion is that science is then no longer
the measure, but the individual/community is.

I think that most of the people writing to this web site about the
organic labelling issue genuinely believe that the organic food industry
is involved in diseminating misinformation about the risks of GM food.

**** i think Mr Avery was intentionally peddling misinformation about
organic food, and this is hardly the proper response. Misinformation is
simply bad, wherever it comes from.

I think they are probably right to some extent. Before the GM food debate
became so hysterical no scientist cared less about whether organic food
had a particular label on it or not.

*** exactly. The science argument here is driven by fear and insecurity
about the simple positive presentation of biotech and the anxiety that
forces like organic labeling will destablize their bad PR efforts further.
I have argued all along for a proactive, not reactive appeal from
scientists. Lambasting
organic food is same-old, same-ole biotech reactivism.

The argument put forward by the anti-GM lobby is that it is the process
of genetic manipulation that is wrong or unsafe whether or not the end
product can be shown to be safe. The organic food industry wants labels
for two reasons 1) Because they believe the process is safer than
conventional agriculture (less pesticides etc.) and 2) Because they
believe the food to be more nutritious.

*** Not at all!! They want it to MEAN something that it already does to
people, and that is: it represents a style of production. If biotech =
organic, then organic buyers must change the accepted definition of
organic. Rather like gay marriage: if gays can get married, we are
changing our definition. It isn't about biotech at all except to
distinguish it from all other forms of agriculture.

However if there are benefits from this kind of agriculture they are not
easy to find and therefore less likely to be significant. Nevertheless I
don't care if you continue to eat organic food or not but I'll be buggered
if I'm going to state that I believe it is better for you until I see some
evidence. That doesn't make me blinkered - just get me some evidence and
I'll support you.

*** I see much evidence that has grown steadily since altenative health
practices have become more widely adopted here. The problem is the terms
of the evidence, which are limited. A body of cancer surviviors whose
macrobiotics contributed to their health exists in this country. Nothing
new. Plenty of evidence. Please remember when you mention common sense,
that the scientific view makes irradiated and non-irradiated food
equivalent; microwave and conventional cooking equivalent, and other such
counter-intuitive claims that I cannot accept.

Thanks again for your thoughtful letter.

best regards Joseph H

Date: Jun 01 2000 07:50:22 EDT
From: Andrew J Klein
Subject: RE: Organic labels, quacks, Greenpeace colonialism, Irish teens
Sir: You wrote:

"In my estimation, it (organic) is so far consistently better food."

This is an eminently testable hypothesis. If, in double-blind taste tests
you can consistently show this, you would have evidence that your
hypothesis is true. Science is not about beliefs, it's about testing
hypothesis and rejecting those that cannot be supported by evidence.
Although I am not an expert, the proponents of "organic is just marketing"
quote actual evidence that there is no scientific basis for concluding
that "organically" produced food is better tasting or more healthful than
conventionally produced food.

Drew Klein

Date: Jun 01 2000 09:20:07 EDT
From: Zeami2000@aol.com
Subject: Re: Organic labels, quacks, Greenpeace colonialism, Irish teens

In a message dated 6/1/00 6:43:00 AM Central Daylight Time,

<< Science is not about beliefs, it's about testing hypothesis >>
Science is about belief in that its results have consequences based on
priorities and choices. There is no such thing as a double blind test for
accupuncture. There is no placebo. This is not a statement about the
benefits of accupuncture but the limits of science. You folks would like
to make conclusions based on what science cannot do. That is faith.


See AgBioView archives at