Julian Morris: Why eating organic food can be bad for you

From a talk given at the Royal Society of Arts in London by the director of the International Policy Network
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In the meantime, world population has risen by about double, so there are now twice the number of people on the planet as there were 50 years ago, and yet food availability per capita has gone up by 25 per cent. In the poorest parts of the world, it's risen by nearly 40 per cent.

Organic agriculture risks turning back the tide. With some exceptions, organic agriculture is substantially less efficient than the most modern agricultural technologies that are available, precisely because it eschews those technologies.

Let's look at some of the science that's been done on understanding the way that humans respond to the chemicals that are in our food. According to Professor Bruce Ames, who's among the most cited scientists in the world, 99 per cent or more of the chemicals we eat are natural. What's more surprising, perhaps, is that he says 99.99 per cent of the pesticides we eat are natural chemicals that are present in plants to ward off insects and other predators. Plants contain their own pesticides.

It is well-known and well-demonstrated that eating several portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day provides protection against diseases, including cancer, heart disease and many other diseases associated with aging. The protective effect of the micro-nutrients and vitamins in conventionally produced fresh fruit and vegetables vastly outweighs any harmful effect that might result from the residues of pesticides.

For families with limited food budgets, buying more expensive organic food may reduce the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables that they eat. The consequence of that may be that you are less able to respond effectively to disease agents, you're more likely to be harmed by natural things and by the aging process because you're eating organic food and therefore not eating as much fruit and vegetables as you might have done.