Organic versus inorganic: an important distinction, but not for obvious reasons

| | November 9, 2012
farmersmarket wide b b ec be a fe d ab dafb bea bf s
Image credit: Associated Press
This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

Lee Silver, Professor of Molecular Biology and public policy at Princeton University, offers a concise and highly critical look at the scientific and cultural  history of the distinction between organic and inorganic, GMO versus non-GMO — essentially the distinction between  natural versus unnatural and the freight these terms carry. This is all the more relevant in the wake of California’s Proposition 37, which was built upon a supposition that this is a meaningful and important distinction with health implications. Silver begins:

Before the 18th century, scientists and non-scientists alike assumed that the material substance of living organisms was fundamentally different from that of non-living things — organisms and their products were considered organic by definition, while non-living things were mineral or inorganic. 

Silver’s stance can also be seen as a culmination of a growing body of evidence that, at the very least, questions if not outright denies many of the benefits presumed to accompany “natural” foods, or the threats posed by “unnatural” foods. This, in turn, may be the cultural pendulum swinging back from the birth of environmental movement in the 70s. In September, NPR examined the questionable health benefits (or lack thereof) offered by organic foods. Michael Pollan, a figurehead in the food movement, was asked what he thought of these findings. He was somewhat dismissive of the meta-study on which the NRP story was based, focusing instead on related factors like pesticide use and exposure to make the case for organics.

Related article:  Peddlers of disinformation shape GMO discourse

Regardless of whether or not organic or natural or non-GMO foods may be healthier or safer, however, Silver makes a strong case for the positive potential of genetic modification. We need GM crops, modern genetic techniques are a very valuable part of our toolkit — a sentiment shared by the late Norman Borlaug, Nobel laureate and “father of the Green Movement. The fixation on whether something is organic or not, Silver argues, is distracting us from whether something is good or not. To this end, Silver takes a hard stance against what he sees as a socio-economic climate hostile to GMOs:

In the current social and economic climate, much of the critical research required to turn promising [GM] results into viable products is simply not pursued. As a result, anti-GM, organic food advocates may be indirectly responsible for avoidable deaths of future children.

View the original article here: What Is The Meaning Of “Organic” (And Inorganic) Food?

Outbreak
Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
sperm swim

Video: Sperm are ‘spinners not swimmers’—because they are lopsided

Research by fertility scientists in the UK and Mexico challenges the accepted view of how sperm “swim”, suggesting that it ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
breastfeeding bed x facebook x

Infographic: We know breastfeeding helps children. Now we know it helps mothers too

When a woman becomes pregnant, her risk of type 2 diabetes increases for the rest of her life, perhaps because ...
biotechnology worker x

Can GMOs rescue threatened plants and crops?

Some scientists and ecologists argue that humans are in the midst of an "extinction crisis" — the sixth wave of ...
food globe x

Are GMOs necessary to feed the world?

Experts estimate that agricultural production needs to roughly double in the coming decades. How can that be achieved? ...
eating gmo corn on the cob x

Are GMOs safe?

In 2015, 15 scientists and activists issued a statement, "No Scientific consensus on GMO safety," in the journal Environmental Sciences ...
Screen Shot at PM

Charles Benbrook: Agricultural economist and consultant for the organic industry and anti-biotechnology advocacy groups

Independent scientists rip Benbrook's co-authored commentary in New England Journal calling for reassessment of dangers of all GMO crops and herbicides ...
Screen Shot at PM

ETC Group: ‘Extreme’ biotechnology critic campaigns against synthetic biology and other forms of ‘extreme genetic engineering’

The ETC Group is an international environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Canada whose stated purpose is to monitor "the impact of emerging technologies and ...
Share via
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend