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Date:

August 2, 2000

Subject:

John Stossel, Organics and the New York Times

 

John Stossel, Organics and the New York Times -- people who live in glass
houses.

The following was provided to me by a graduate student who has been
researching the issue and wishes me to post it without crediting him by
name at this time. It is from a paper that was done for a graduate course
so it has been "peer-reviewed" by a competent member of a distinguished
department. I have checked it over carefully and can vouch for its
accuracy. It is more evidence that the major media panders to the
environmentalists and the organic agriculture enthusiasts.

If the New York Times wishes to truly do a food expose, they should travel
a short distance to Consumer's Union and investigate why Consumer Reports
does not test for the toxic inorganic salts used in organic agriculture.
Or they could have a reporter go online to CDC and check the the Emerging
Infectious Diseases Journal for the articles that discuss the increase in
food borne pathogens and relate it to organic agriculture and the
lifestyle associated with it. (see my previous postings.)

The organic folk went ballistic on the ABC website immediately after
Stossel's first presentation and have been picking away and trying to find
whatever fault that they could with it. The first charge was that the
tests were only for the benign form of E coli which was true because this
has been a standard practice (in water quality testing for example) as an
indicator of contamination and therefore as a proxy for the likelihood of
other micro-organisms and much more serious contamination.

This all has to be put in context. Since end of World War I, with the
increasing use of synthetic fertilizers, the organic people have been
trashing modern agriculture, one of the century's greatest triumphs. The
organic industry has been based on the falsehood that the modern food
supply is unsafe, otherwise people would not pay the higher prices for it.
For most of the 80 years of trashing modern agriculture, the rest of us
simply thought them to be a bit quaint but had no hostility towards them.
But now, that they are trying to force (in the fullest sense of the word
force) us to follow their practices and they will simply not tolerate even
the slightest criticism.

It is to them a battle of good vs. evil and to differ with them proves
that you are evil. John Stossel is evil and must therefore be silenced. If
you are pure and good, meaning "organic," then you can have no conflictof
interest because your only interest is in saving Mother Earth. If you are
evil, then you have an assumed conflict of interest whether or not it can
be substantiated.

TRD
----------

There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate the pesticide claim by Stossel
(cites include: Organic foods: are they better? J Am Dietet
Assoc1990;90(3):pp 367, 370; and, Physician and Sports Medicine, December,
1995, NUTRITION ADVISER; Vol. 23, No. 12; Pg. 15, Should You Opt for
Organic?, BY: Susan M. Kleiner, PhD, RD: "FDA surveys find similar
pesticide levels inboth organic and nonorganic foods. Even when organic
foods are grown according to state regulations, runoff water, soil
shifting, and pesticides
floating in the air may still result in pesticides getting on food." And,
Newsweek, June 1, 1998, Pg. 54, Is Organic Better?,BY LAURA SHAPIRO,
"Consumer Reports recently tested organic and conventional produce and
found pesticide residues on both...").

So, one wonders why the New York Times was so quick to publish the attack
by Environmental Working Group (represented by Alar-fear campaign famous
Fenton Communications, now also heading the anti-biotech coalition "GE
Food Alert") without waiting for the ABC reply? Was this breaking news or
just another opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to stretch their
own journalist integrity in blind promotion of the organic industry?

Could the New York Times face up to similar journalistic scrutiny for
their coverage of issues promoting organic agriculture? When people
consider the New York Times as an "independent" and unbiased source of
news, I bet they would be surprised to hear of some of their antics with
regards to coverage of organic agriculture and the organic industry
attacks on conventional and biotechnology production. For example:

* The New York Times, not British tabloids or the head of Iceland Foods
(as the Times and other media have reported), is responsible for coining
the phrase "Frankenfoods" for the mainstream media. (Sunday, April 1992
page one headline: Geneticists' Latest Discovery: Public Fear of
'Frankenfood.) Reuters has published and article noting how these
"Frankenfood" headlines scare the public...for reference to the impact
these headlines have had on this debate. Reuters USA: July 16, 1999.

* The New York Times has twice (perhaps more times) given bylines to an
organic grower and an organic industry representative to pen news and
analysis articles on biotechnology without noting this conflict of
interest. (Gregory Dicum's, It's Hard to Be Green NYTimes Magazine, Aug,
99 -- and Michael Pollan, NYTimes Magazine, Oct. 25, 1998) Dicum is an
organic coffee retailer as well as organic certifying agent. Pollan *
(see note below) is an organic gardener, and author of books promoting
organic methods.

And, my favorite:

* The Times allows their food and restaurant critic/columnist Marian
Burros to author favorable "news" articles on agricultural regulatory
issues relating to organic issues. cite: The New York Times, March 5,
2000, Sunday, Section 1; Page 22; National Desk, U.S. Planning Tough Rules
For Growing Organic Food, By MARIAN BURROS. And, The New York Times,
December 21, 1997, Sunday, Page 2; Regulation Goes Organic, By MARIAN
BURROS. In addition, she pens occasional negative "news" articles
critical of biotechnology; cite: The New York Times, July 14, 1999,
Wednesday, Section A; Page 18; National Desk, U.S. Plans Long-Term
Studies on Safety of Genetically Altered Foods, By MARIAN BURROS,
WASHINGTON, July 13. And, The New York Times, July 20, 1998, Monday,
Section A; Page 8; Foreign Desk, Shoppers Unaware of Gene Changes, By
MARIAN BURROS. Given the below noted information, why did the Times
editors circumvent their existing news reporters covering these beats to
give such important news, regulatory issues to the "Dining in, Dining out"
columnist? This is especially concerning given:

** Burros herself has published no fewer than 160 bylined columns and
articles (source: Nexis search) promoting positive aspects of organic
foods in the past 2 years. In addition, she has oft penned supportive
articles naming pro-organic (anti-biotech) activist groups such as the
Environmental Defense Fund in a positive light. When she is unable to
publish her strongest pro-organic fear mongering in the Times, she's taken
it International -- Bangkok Post, "Harvest of Fear" by Marian Burros
9/12/99, for example.

** Burros support for "organic" foods goes so far as to her taking her
leisure time at the Rancho La Puerta (at a keen $2,465 a week -- if in
fact, she pays at all) spa, where organic vegetarian cuisine is the only
offering. (cite: The Gazette (Montreal), May 12, 1999, Down on the fitness
ranch: After a week of tasty low-fat meals, exercise and massage, guests
leave Rancho La Puerta feeling totally invigorated, BY: JULIAN ARMSTRONG,
notes that Burros roomed with organic food advocate Armstrong, whose
articles in support of organic foods even outnumber those of Burros). A
phone call to the marketing office at Rancho La Peurta reveals that they
often "comp" and almost "always upgrade" food writers who come to stay at
the spa.

** Burros is a favorite reference of the organic industry, with numerous
references in such publications as Rodale's Organic Gardening (a Fenton
Communications client), Conscious Choice Journal of Ecology and Natural
Living, and The Natural Activists for her ardent defense of organic foods.
Burros is also a frequent interview source for network television coverage
of organic and anti-biotech news stories, appearing on CBS and ABC
programs touting organic supermarkets and sharing concerns over biotech
foods.

** Burros has gone so far as to offer the what some would call dangerous
advice, in her columns and interviews, to parents suggesting they should
feed their infants organic produce. (CBS 7/1/96: Ms. MARIAN BURROS: It
looks better than a regular supermarket... They're willing to pay somewhat
more because they feel that the stuff is cleaner and doesn't have
pesticides in it that may, indeed, do harm to them and especially to their
children.) (Gerber Baby Food dealt blow by Burros: "Burros dealt a
particularly bad
blow to the company in the last paragraph when she said that parents
should buy products that do not contain added sugar, modified food starch,
or salt, and, if at all possible, buy organic food." ('Dwyer's PR Services
Report April, 1996)

These are but a few examples of questionable "journalism" when it relates
to coverage of the organic industry. Perhaps the AgBioView members would
like to share there views about the "journalist" ethic of the New Times
and these practices with one or more of the following journalism reviews:

Brills Content: email: comments@brillscontent.com
Columbia Journalism Review: email: gc15@columbia.edu (Gloria Cooper,
Managing Editor)
American Journalism Review: email: lrobertson@ajr.org (Lori Robertson,
Editor)
New York Times: natnews@nyt.com
ABC News 20/20: 2020@abcnews.com

* In 1994, Michael Pollan published an article in the NY Times Magazine
(Michael Pollan, Against Nativism: Horticultural Formalism May Be Out, But
the New American Garden Free of Foreign Flora and Human Artifice, Isn't as
Natural as Its Advocates Claim, The New York Times Magazine, 52-55, 15 May
1994) in which he compared the New American Garden to the Nazis Blood and
Soil movement. The comparisons to the Nazis are apt and much more
extensive (frightenly so) than most realize, and will the subject of a
later posting.

TRD.
***************************************************************************

-----Original Message-----
From: AgBioView [mailto:AgBioView-owner@listbot.com]
Sent: Wednesday, August 02, 2000 3:46 PM
To: AgBioView
Subject: John Stossel, Organics


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

Date: Aug 02 2000 14:54:02 EDT
From: Tom DeGregori
Subject: Environmentalists want ABC News to fire John Stossel

Not satisfied with having virtually the entire media mouthing their
propaganda line, the organic food
enthusiasts are trying to get ABC News to fire John Stossel, the one voice
of sanity that we have on a number of issues. Even if what they charge is
correct, which I doubt, it is not grounds for dismissal. If they fired
the reporter for every inaccurate environmental report that I have heard
broadcast, there would be a lot of silence on the air. We need to make our
voices heard if ABC at all appears to be yielding to these totalitarian
zealots.

TRD

Activists dispute ABC News report on organic food
By FRAZIER MOORE,
Associated Press

NEW YORK (August 2, 2000 10:44 a.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - An
environmental watchdog group urged ABC News to fire correspondent John
Stossel, who in a report called organic food no safer than regular food
and warned it could even be dangerous.

Stossel's report, first aired on the newsmagazine "20/20" in February,
seemed in part to debunk the common belief that organic food is safer
because no pesticides are used.

"Our tests surprisingly found no pesticide residue on the conventional
samples or the organic," he said.

But the Washington-based Environmental Working Group charges that
pesticide tests were never conducted for the show. The group says it has
complained to ABC News president David Westin as well
as Stossel.

Even so, the report was repeated on a July 7 edition of "20/20." On that
broadcast, Stossel reiterated his point in a comment to anchor Cynthia
McFadden: "It's logical to worry about pesticide residues, but in our
tests, we found none on either organic or regular produce."

Stossel has won a wide following on ABC with his contrarian approach to
hot-button issues, taking on such things as government regulation and
defendants who claim to be victims. The segment's producer, David
Fitzpatrick, is traveling in Africa and unavailable for comment. The
network said neither he nor Stossel would comment until the matter could
be looked into. "We're asking everyone involved to reserve comment until
we've looked at the files and spoken directly to the producer," ABC News
spokeswoman Sonya McNair said. "If a mistake has been made, we will
correct it."

The group said scientists working for the show did test produce for
bacteria, but not for pesticides. It said chicken was tested for
pesticides, and traces were found on the regular poultry but not on the
organic poultry. This finding favorable to the organic food proponents was
not mentioned on the show, the
group said.

Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
Department of Economics
University of Houston
Houston, Texas 77204-5882
Ph. 001 - 1 - 713 743-3838
Fax 001 - 1 - 713 743-3798
Email trdegreg@uh.edu
Web homepage http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg