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Rebuttal to “The Organic Food Hoax”

Jan 23, 2018

Photo credit: Kevin Wood

The discredited Henry Miller is at it again with his unsubstantiated and groundless attacks on organic. Mr. Miller’s latest misinformation is in a recent op-ed.

Here are the facts behind Mr. Miller’s unfounded – and frankly tiresome allegations.

  • Miller again disparages organic producers for the “more than 20 chemicals” used to grow and process organic crops. Is he aware of the 900-plus synthetic active pesticide products registered for use in conventional farming by the EPA? Yes, organic producers are allowed to use extremely limited amounts of pesticides — only when all other preventive practices fail. These allowed pesticide products have such low toxicity levels that they are considered “exempt from tolerance” by the EPA, and are reviewed every five years by the National Organic Standards Board.
  • Miller tries to make a point about the gap in yield between organic and conventional farms but he again refuses to take the time to consider the proven benefits and promises of organic agricultural research. Even a small increase in investment in organic agronomic research – which is miniscule when compared to the billions of dollars being spent to increase yields in conventional farming systems — would give organic farmers the tools and knowledge they need to boost their yields.
  • Miller also tries to make the case that prohibiting GMO crops in organic is the “least sustainable aspect of organic farming” Again, he ignores the facts. A recent report by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine which reviewed over 900 scientific publications on the impacts of genetically modified crops has found that GMO’s are not the silver bullet solution to all agricultural problems that their proponents make them out to be. Indeed, the comprehensive review found that using GMO crops initially cut the use of herbicides, but that due to the resulting resistant weeds that evolved, herbicide use had to be increased. The report also found that GE crops have no higher yield potential than varietals developed through traditional breeding.
  • Miller attempts to imply that using GMO crops in combination with herbicides is the only way to utilize no till techniques, protect soil carbon, and reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Not so. First, data from USDA shows the same proportion of organic and conventional farmers utilize no- and low-till techniques. Second, a large and growing number of studies find that soils from organic farms have greater levels of organic carbon than conventional farms (for example here, here, here and here). And third, studies show that even when calculated on a per yield basis organic farms are still more energy efficient than conventional farms and emit no more greenhouse gasses than conventional farms.
  • Finally, Mr. Miller claims that the USDA Organic Program “has nothing to do with agricultural sustainability.” This unjustifiable claim displays Mr. Miller’s deep-seated lack of understanding about what organic agriculture means. The USDA defines organic agriculture as a “production system that is managed to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity” (CFR205.2). The USDA National Organic Standards explicitly require organic producers to manage their farms in a manner that fosters biodiversity and improves natural resources. Organic farmers use farming practices that protect the environment and promote ecosystem services. Numerous studies demonstrate that organic farming practices are superior when it comes to building soil health and supporting biodiversity. Compared to conventional farms, organic farms support a greater diversity of life, including carabid beetles, spidersearthwormsbeneficial parasitoidsvascular plantsbirdsbees and other native pollinatorssoil microbes and fungi, and small rodents.

There is a reason that Mr. Miller has been discredited. There is a reason that the Forbes publication has terminated its relationship with him and has banned him from making further contributions to the site. At least one previous article in support of GMO crops and the herbicide glyphosate written under his name was proven to have actually been written by Monsanto, the agribusiness giant that is the world’s largest producer of glyphosate (Roundup) and Roundup-Ready GMO soybeans and corn.

Mr. Miller’s latest spurious and baseless comments attacking organic do nothing to help restore his tarnished reputation.

 

 

 

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