Berkeley’s Miguel Altieri on 4 Problems With the Stanford Organic Study

In the US, a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine has been causing a furore. My friend and comrade Miguel Altieri shared these ideas on a discussion list, which I’m reposting here with permission.

There are various problems with this study which is part of a conspiracy against organic and other alternative forms of agriculture that threaten the dominant industrial model:

1. Very few of the 280 studies reviewed in the metaanalysis include studies conducted in other countries ( mainly in Germany) that have
consistently shown that organic fruits and vegetables have higher contents of vitamins but particularly antioxidants.

2. It is important that people that eat conventional food eat mostly industrial food and tend to be obese, suffer from diabetes, etc. People
that eat organic (mostly upper middle class and up) tend to eat a more balanced diet, and the food they eat has considerable less pesticide
residues. It is well documented that pesticide loaded food which is eaten by most people (especially poor) leads to many health problems including autoimmune diseases, cancer and also behavioral problems in children. In addition conventional food derived from corn and soybean ( more than 5000 edible products) contain traces of GMO DNA and other components, and emerging data from studies on animals and humans point to caution when eating GMOs, and that is only the tip of the iceberg.

3. The study does not analyze the fact that many people not only eat organic because of positive nutrition or health effects, but because of
moral reasons, because organic agriculture has many environmental benefits ( less energy use, sequesters more carbon, conserves more biodiversity including pollinators and natural enemies, reduces erosion, etc), and more importantly protects farmworkers from dangerous pesticide exposure. A very important fact.

4. Finally there are different types of organic. In California about 5% of the organic farmers control 60% of the market share and they follow a
similar industrial path of production characterized by monocultures managed with input substitution ( many apply/spray more than 10 different
organic products. The rest of the organic farmers are small scale and diversified that do not use external inputs, in a way similar to systems
used by peasants in Latin America. If the Stanford study used the industrial organic produce in their comparison, then I am not surprised by
the results they report.

7 Replies to “Berkeley’s Miguel Altieri on 4 Problems With the Stanford Organic Study”

  1. I appreciate Miguel Altiera’s essay; he tore the report apart. Here’s a bit more to the story.

    Dr. Ingram Olkin, one of the terrible team who wrote the
    Stanford Organics Report, is at Stanford. He has experience
    in misusing statistics in the past. He has worked for the
    tobacco industry and helped delay public health measures
    against smoking for years. He has lots of experience in
    obfuscation and lies. Stanford takes money from Cargill.

    I’d bet this lie is part of the work against labelling.

    I listened to the Dalai Lama at Stanford on my computer yesterday. Wonderful words about compassion, concilliation
    and the oneness of mankind.

    I don’t understand how Stanford can do both without being
    hypocritical. Shame on them.

  2. Nancy, in order to understand how, perhaps you should read this:

    “They produce “criticism” for the for the New York Times Book Review, or The National Review, etc., which, though it may even be lively at times, and often full of that vacuous wit that garden variety liberals so love because it revolves around a few threadbare names and dead ideas they learned during their college days or masters degree indoctrination.

    But the thinking classes’ main job is to serve as intellectual hit men for the ruling elites, the business class, which doesn’t come all that hard for them, having been all stamped out of the same dough on the Corporate system’s university conveyor belt. Most are utterly convinced they are original and thinking for themselves, which in the university scheme of things means absorbing vast amounts of text, fermenting it in some sort of a second stomach and regurgitating it as a concentrated cud, supposedly unique because they alone coughed it up. The few who understand that this in no way resembles original thought usually keep mum, and keep their jobs in publishing or academia. Or flee screaming in despair once they figure out what is going on.”

  3. Thanks to Miguel Amtieri’s incisive response to the Stanford study. I think this response needs more publicity and I would like to forward it to some of our newspapers in India. How can I get in touch with Altieri to seek permission to forward his response to newspapers in India? The papers reported the findings of the study and must responsibly print this response too.

    The tragedy of studies like these is because it comes out of Stanford there are several members of the “intellectual” class and policy wonks who will quote this in arguing for more of the same – Green Revolution.

  4. Point 2 is easy to debate, look beyond the US and see that most people that eat ‘industrial’ food are not necessarily obese. In addition, you’ll see that obesity is inversely related to income in the US and most people that buy organic are willing to pay more for food. It is not an issue of organic vs non-organic food, but how much food people eat, what type of food and how food is prepared.

    Point 3 was well beyond the scope of the Stanford study. In addition, on terms of food output per unit of area organic is far less efficient. If you want to protect more land you have to produce more food in less land, so I’d suggest that if you really care about both sustaining the human population AND the environment the best way is to go for non-organic food.

    Point 4 supports the idea that the study is representative of what most people buy as organic, which is the point of the Stanford study.

  5. Here is what Tony Cartalucci has to say on Stanford, and the Western media machine that so eagerly shoveled the results out to the public.

    “….Combined with the fact that the study itself is flawed, and the concerted, disingenuous nature with which it is being promoted to the public, a premeditated public relations campaign, bought and paid for by Stanford’s FSI sponsors, most notably Cargill and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is self-evident….”

    I think we need to keep an eye on Bill and Melinda’s antics despite that they may be well intentioned.

    “…What to Do?

    Quite obviously, one should continue eating organic. Additionally, the duplicitous nature exhibited by academia, the mass media, and the vast corporate interests overtly driving them both, demands from us to redouble our efforts at implementing full-spectrum boycotts aimed at big-agri as well as other Fortune 500 corporate-financier monopolies. This includes other processed food makers such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola, Kraft, and the myriad of subsidiaries they maintain.

    We should also redouble our efforts at supporting local farmers, attending and contributing to local farmers markets, and investigating the possibility of growing, if only a small percentage, our own herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

    Freedom and self-determination come from economic independence, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency. The most fundamental form of economic independence is having a safe, secure, and local food supply operated for, by, and of the people. Cementing this emerging paradigm, in spite of the crass, juvenile, even criminally irresponsible editorials like that of the Telegraph’s Harry Wallop, and multimillion dollar “studies” subsidized by Cargill and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is the first step on extending this paradigm shift to other areas required for maintaining and advancing modern civilization.”

  6. @Tessa It must me really tiring to live in such a large conspiracy. I don’t think anyone is trying to force you to abandon eating organic food; in fact, I’d encourage you to eat whatever you prefer. It’s only that organic food doesn’t really make the difference often claimed by its supporters. Finally, I think it is good to remember that extreme poverty provides the biggest example of economic independence and self-reliance.

  7. Thanks Miguel for putting this issue in perspective. I was deeply suspicious of the legitimacy of the report since it runs counter to common sense. Having grown up raising vegetables the old-fashioned way without fertilizers, herbicides/pestisides you can taste and feel the difference; and how can Stanford claim objectivity when it lists Cargill as a donor source? This is the same mindset that questions man’s role in climate change; advocates for mindless consumption of sugar and its derivatives and sees food as yet another commodity for market forces even as the cost of long-term health escalates. Europe wanted no part of GMO crops and Americans are getting wise to the truth despite the naysayers like Luis above. Americans get mixed messages and turn to the cheap alternatives sacrificing wellness…see hit movie ‘Forks over Knives’. Shame on Stanford for the sell out..but we’re not buying it.

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