Organic Food Claims Rebuffed
National Hog Farmer
September 30, 2000
By John Gadd
In Britain the food faddists are having a field day. Sales of organic
produce are rocketing, partly due to food safety scares I described in
March. Supermarkets report an 18% increase in 12 months. Vegetarianism is
up 7% since 1998.
The claims made by European protagonists of organically-produced food seem
to have got out of hand. Four of five claims recently have been publicly
slapped down by Britain's government-backed advertising watchdog, the
Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Implications for U.S. Producers
This could have implications for the U.S. pork producer. While the areas
of vegetarianism and the preference for organic meat are not as prominent
in America - at least compared to Britain, Sweden, Denmark and Holland -
they could develop.
The complaints come from a well-respected body, the U.K.'s National Office
of Animal Health (NOAH), affiliated to the European Federation of Animal
Health, who felt that enough was enough. Greater scrutiny by an impartial
body was needed.
The challenge highlighted five statements by the Soil Association in the
U.K., a prominent backer of organically-produced food. The challenged
statements in the leaflet "Five Reasons to Eat Organic" were:
* "You can taste the difference." - This claim was made from a British
consumer poll indicating 43% expressed a preference for organic food
because it tasted better. They concluded that, in the absence of more
rigorous tests, such as blind taste tests, the claim was unsubstantiated.
The Soil Association was asked not to repeat the claim unless they had
* "It's healthy." - As the Soil Association sent no clinical evidence to
show that a diet consisting of organic products was more healthy than the
same diet consisting of non-organic food, the ASA concluded that the
advertisers had not substantiated the implication and asked them to remove
* "It's better for the environment." - The Soil Association claimed
organic farmers had to comply with the principle providing for "the
maintenance or development of valuable existing landscape features and
adequate habitats for the production of wildlife, with particular regard
to endangered species." The ASA accepted that organic farming set out to
protect the environment but noted that the advertisers had sent no
evidence as to how this objective was achieved. Again, they were asked to
remove the claim.
* "Organic means healthy, happy animals." - The ASA noted that organic
farmers were expected to "ensure the ethical treatment of animals" and to
adopt "animal husbandry techniques which meet the animals' psychological,
behavioral and health needs." Again, the ASA noted that, while these
standards were laudable, the advertisers had provided no evidence to show
that these were achieved in practice. The advertisers were asked to remove
* "It's GMO free." - This claim was upheld. This decision should be of
interest to U.S. producers in view of tough anti-GMO legislation now
appearing in Europe. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are prohibited
in organic farming and food processing in many European countries.
However, only a few GMO crops are grown in the U.K., for trial purposes
only. Therefore, the GMO-free claim was upheld. They felt readers would
infer the claim related to the rules for growing organic crops and
concluded the presence of genetic pollution would not devalue claims that
organic produce was GMO free.
Getting out of Hand?
"The claims the ASA rejected have been at the core of the promotion of
organic farming for many years and have undoubtedly played a major part in
the growing commercial success of organic produce," says NOAH.
"Raising these matters was not intended as an attack on organic farming
itself," NOAH claims, "but we are concerned the proponents of organic
farming tend to promote themselves by attacking the vast proportion (97%
in Britain) who farm conventionally.
Could It Happen in the U.S.?
I welcome this "shot-across-the-bow" because the media have been diligent
in exploiting the organic story in Europe. The U.S. media will likely do
the same, if they haven't already. My wife, a talented cook, provides our
vegetarian guests with vegetarian dishes as a matter of hostess courtesy.
But, when they also ask: "Is it organic?" our patience runs thin!
So it is time to call a halt to unfounded, unproven claims on both organic
and vegetarian produce. Our customers can eat what they please, but to
sway their minds on unfounded opinion dressed up as fact can only be
wrong. Be warned and keep alert!
Legislators consider ban on genetically modified crops
October 1, 2000
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Following a losing battle against weeds that resulted
in a devastating reduction of his soybean crop in 1997, Jim Czub began
looking into a genetically engineered variety. The Round-Up Ready soybean
he was considering had a gene transferred into it that made the plant
resistant to the Round-Up herbicide. That enabled farmers to use Round-Up
herbicide to kill the weeds without hurting the soybeans.
Czub, who alternates between planting corn and soybeans on his fields
north of Albany, has been planting genetically engineered corn since 1996
and saw his yield increase by 15 percent. In 1998, he decided to switch
entirely to Round-Up Ready soybeans.
"I've never regretted that," said Czub, who is also president of the New
York Corn Growers Association. "I can do this with the confidence that my
yields will be the same or higher and that I will not have major perennial
Czub was among those speaking last week before a state Assembly hearing on
a proposed bill imposing a five-year moratorium on genetically engineered
crops in New York state. The Albany hearing was the first of four planned
The hearing came as Kraft Foods recalled millions of packages of taco
shells marketed under the Taco Bell name after tests showed that some were
made with a variety of genetically engineered corn not approved for human
consumption. Aventis Corp. has since suspended sales of the corn.
Assemblyman Jack McEneny, the New York bill's sponsor, said some of the
foods derived from biotech plants that are acceptable in the United States
are being rejected by distributors and in foreign markets like Canada and
Europe, and that raises worries about safety.
"Many people are concerned about the big picture - immediate gains that
may eventually destroy a whole species of plant life, that may have an
effect on human beings," said McEneny, an Albany Democrat.
About 20 percent of existing U.S. agriculture acreage is planted with
genetically modified crops, with corn, soybeans, cotton and canola being
the most common. In New York, farmers have adopted Round-Up Ready soybeans
- accounting for 80 percent of the state's soybean crop - and Bt corn,
named after a bacteria gene that makes the plant toxic to a pest.
Organic farmers and environmentalists supporting the moratorium say not
enough is known about the long-term effects of genetically engineered
crops on human health and the environment.
"It's five years to take stock of what's going on," said Mark Dunau, the
Green Party's candidate for U.S. Senate from New York.
Potential hazards of biotech crops include the killing of beneficial
insects that feed on biotech plants and increased resistance among
targeted pests, said Pamela Hadad-Hurst, executive director of the New
York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. Better resistance may lead
to "superpests" which require even more toxic pesticides to combat them,
Hadad-Hurst added that New York farmers may be at a disadvantage if they
are allowed to grow biotech plants and can't sell their products.
Non-biotech and organic farmers may also be hurt if crops are contaminated
by pollen from genetically engineered plants in neighboring farms, she
Opponents to the moratorium argue that genetically engineered crops
revolutionized agriculture, producing the strongest and healthiest crops
in history. The proposed freeze would essentially prevent New York farmers
from sharing advantageous developments down the road, they said.
Herb Aldwinkle, a professor of plant pathology at Cornell Cooperative
Extension, said genetically altering crops is an "inherently safe
technology." Aldwinkle, who works primarily on prevention methods for
apple diseases, said current federal regulations governing commercial and
research use of biotech crops are adequate to protect people and the
Members of the New York Farm Bureau believe it is "premature" for the
state to impose a moratorium, President John Lincoln said.
"On issues which affect our farmers' ability to compete with farmers in
other states, we prefer that the federal government take the lead," he
In addition, a moratorium won't have a dramatic impact on the food New
Yorkers consume because most of New York's food supply is imported from
out of state, said Margaret Smith, a Cornell University professor
specializing in corn-breeding research.
Czub, the farmer who switched to genetically engineered soybeans, said one
thing is certain if a moratorium is declared: He will revert to
non-biotech soybeans and corn and may end up using more herbicides and
pesticides. He said he might also have to leave the industry "because I
will no longer be competitive in the global marketplace."