Organic, Schmorganic

Organic foods are now an official, "USDA-approved" scam.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture just issued regulations defining what foods may be labeled "organic." Fruits, vegetables and meat and dairy products produced without the use of pesticides, irradiation, genetic engineering, growth hormones or sewage sludge may carry the "USDA Organic" seal as early as next summer.

"Let me be clear about one other thing," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said in announcing the new rules. "The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is 'organic' a value judgment about nutrition or quality."

For once, an honest assessment of a government initiative. And one amply supported by scientific evidence and our experience with non-organic or "conventional" foods.

No data indicate that legally applied pesticides have caused even one health problem, despite more than 50 years of use on agricultural crops. This fact has even been acknowledged by leading pesticide critic Dr. Phil Landrigan of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

And there is ample evidence that the other organic no-nos do more good than harm.

Irradiation kills dangerous foodborne pathogens such as E.coli and listeria, thereby reducing the risk of food poisoning. Biotech foods approved for human consumption are evaluated for safety before they are allowed to market. Meat and dairy products produced from cows supplemented with growth hormones are physically indistinguishable from meat and dairy products from un-supplemented cows.

Foods grown with treated sewage sludge may seem unsavory, but is organic food grown with cow manure any more appealing? In any event, food grown in treated sewage sludge isn't a safety problem.

Despite Glickman's disclaimer, this new rule from the USDA is intended to do just what he says it isn't. About one-half of the public already believes organic foods are healthier, safer and better for the environment, according to opinion surveys. These new labels only serve to validate and encourage these beliefs. The label doesn't carry Glickman's disclaimer.

That's why the organic foods industry and its henchmen are so pleased about the new U.S. government-sanctioned myth. Many activists make their living promoting fear campaigns around safe food despite having personal financial interests in alternative, organic products that benefit from those fear campaigns.

Glickman announced the new rules at a recently opened Fresh Fields supermarket in Washington, D.C. Fresh Fields is owned by Whole Foods Market Inc., an organic foods business that pushed for the labeling requirement and markets itself by scaring the public about conventional foods.

Greenpeace, for example, just entered the organic foods business, announcing that it will license a line of 12 organic products in Brazil.

And after years of spreading fear about biotechnology, Lord Peter Melchett quit as head of Greenpeace U.K. to join Iceland Foods, a major U.K. organic grocer that supports Greenpeace. The U.K. Advertising Standards Authority censured Iceland Foods in May for a supermarket brochure that spread fear about biotech foods — one that alleged biotech foods were linked to deaths.

The Greenpeace-organic foods industry cabal operates in the U.S., too.

Greenpeace's U.S. and U.K. operations share the same public relations outfit, Fenton Communications — the firm credited with starting the 1989 hysteria over alar in apples. Fenton represents organic foods businesses such as ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry's and works to scare consumers about dairy products from cows treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone.

Mark Ritchie, a key organizer of anti-biotech and anti-conventional agriculture activist campaigns through the Institute for Agriculture Trade Policy, Genetically Engineered Food Alert and the Crop Choice Coalition, also runs a for-profit organic coffee company whose sales increase with each new food scare.

Craig Winters, an activist demanding labels on biotechnology-produced foods, is also a lobbyist and marketing consultant to the organic food industry. Winters has publicly stated his goal is to achieve a ban on biotechnology crops through labels. His list of organic and natural products financial ties is easily found at his Web site, yet few challenge his motives.

The president and members of the board of directors of Genetic-ID, the firm now famous for helping Friends of the Earth discover that some taco shells contained unapproved — but safe — biotech corn, also run a wide range of organic and natural products and services companies. They belong to a quasi-religious cult that promotes organic agriculture and a political movement, the Natural Law Party, which promotes organic methods and attacks biotechnology.

Each food scare they help promote with clients such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace increases the cash flow into their various other interests.

Where does this cash come from? Consumers who are suckered into buying organic.

Organic foods cost an average of 57 percent more than conventional foods, according to Consumer Reports. These higher costs could amount to $4,000 annually for a family of four, according to the USDA.

So don't fall for the "USDA Organic" label and unjustly reward the food scare-mongers and fear profiteers. "Ripoff!" is the only label that belongs on organic food.

— Steven Milloy is a biostatistician, lawyer and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and publisher of