IT’S time to turn down the temperature in the organic food debate, to temper emotion with facts, and to replace name-calling with accepting that consumers have a right to choose what they want to consume.
The opinion piece Organic food - it’s a religion was a heavy-handed attack on hundreds of thousands of Australian consumers: "No intelligent person would choose organic food over conventional food on objective grounds."
Author David Leyonhjelm discloses that he is from Baron Strategic Services. His website lists clients including Bayer, Biota, Biotech, Dow, Du Pont, ICI, and Novartis. It is his right to spruik for such interests but it may not make him objective.
An increasing number of Australians prefer a less chemical world. The organic industry is enjoying unprecedented growth and is the fastest growing agricultural sector world-wide. This may pose a threat for some, in the same way that some people are irrationally irritated by differences in others.
Mr Leyonhjelm says that people who opt for organic food are – like people who follow religion, drive within the speed limit, or are vegetarian – more selfish and judgmental.
(His judgment of these groups is based in part on a bizarre study of a group of people who viewed organic food then helped a stranger for 13 minutes, while a control group helped the stranger for 19 minutes. Critics say this is reminiscent of historic, and still unproven, claims that eating red meat makes you ferocious.)
Mr Leyonhjelm argues that pesticide residues are not bad for you: “Legal pesticide residues do not cause acute or chronic illness.” Then he concedes that tiny residues of pesticides are harmful for “rare individuals” with specific allergies.
Even if Mr Leyonhjelm was right about pesticides being harmless to humans, it is unlikely that they are good for us. All other factors being equal, would you choose a plate of vegetables with or without pesticide residue? Roundup is not a food group.
Mr Leyonhjelm attacks supporters of organic food for basing their belief on false assumptions, or so he assumes. In fact, at least six of his sentences begin with him assuming the arguments of his opponents and then answering them. Watching him play both sides of the net is exhausting and proves nothing.
He argues that organic methods are significantly less productive than conventional agriculture, with lower yields, but again there are alternative views. US studies show organic crops are better at withstanding extreme weather conditions and are more productive than conventional farming during drought.
He says it is wrong that pesticides wipe out bees. Two recent studies in the journal Science suggest otherwise.
He claims that occasionally organic farmers apply pesticides to save their crops but don’t disclose this! Where is the proof Mr Leyonhjelm?
There is plenty of scientific data to refute every point he makes, far too much to include here. You can simply Google it, or check out the Safe Food Foundation's website as a starting point for your own research.
Don’t take my word for it – or Mr Leyonhjelm’s – but read the work of scientists worldwide.
A recent program on ABC TV's Landline characterised the GM issue as about freedom of choice.
To deny people food choices based on taste, health, diet, religion or other factors is discriminatory. Let us preserve food options not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
Mr Leyonhjelm, relax! Eat what you want, and let others do the same.
* Scott Kinnear is director of the Safe Food Foundation and prefers organic food (without residues or GM).