Organic Food, Health, and Ethics

business_ethics_highlights_2The short article below does a good job of summarizing the science regarding the health impacts of organic foods, and offers sound advice to consumers. The focus here is on the science, but what the science has to say about the marketing of organic and non-organic foods raises clear ethical issues. A couple of business ethics questions that arise:

  • What are we to think of the organic food industry, and the way (some) purveyors of organic foods portray those foods as healthier than non-organic foods?
  • Given what’s known about the science, is there an ethical way for the non-organic food industry to fight back?
  • The one clear negative impact of pesticides is on farm workers. Do consumers have an obligation to buy organic because of that? And is consumer action likely to be an effective (or the most effective) mechanism for solving this problem?

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LINK: Is Organic Food Healthier? (by Vanessa Milne, Jeremy Petch & Timothy Caulfield for Healthy Debate)

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases its Dirty Dozen list of the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides. And every year, many media outlets dutifully report on it, offering consumers what’s seen as the middle ground: Can’t afford to buy organic? Just avoid these foods.

The non-profit organization — which receives some funding from the organic food industry — has made headlines for its reports on other issues like lead in lipstick and chemicals in sunscreens, but the Dirty Dozen seems to be a perennial winner. “We think it’s notable that there are very big differences between the amounts of pesticides on the crops people eat, and that’s information that the government has generated — but it’s not formatted or presented in a way that’s [easily understandable],” says EWG senior analyst Sonya Lunder. “We’re helping people understand what has the most pesticides residue on it.”

The underlying concept — that less pesticide residue is better for you — is rarely questioned in these reports. After all, the concept is so solidly ingrained in our culture that nearly half of Canadians think organic food is both healthier and more nutritious. But are they right?.

What do you think?

SEE ALSO: TOPIC “Organics” (from the Food Ethics Blog)


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