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A Question to a Professor of Organic Agriculture

Posted in SkepticBlog by Skepdude on August 6, 2009


am in receipt of an interesting email exchange between a Skeptoid listener who prefers to remain anonymous (let’s call him Gump in retaliation for his anonymity) and a professor, Jim Corven in the Organic Agriculture program at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts.

Gump read on the school’s web site the following:

Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. Its earth-friendly, resource-gentle approach to providing food and fiber attracts a generation who worries that the overuse of synthetics and agribusiness techniques deplete the earth’s health and resources out of the world. The sustainable farming movement uses fewer nonrenewable resources and in that way nurtures not only our bodies, but our earth.

All perfectly reasonable statements. The doomsday scenarios described are indeed worries that some people have. But the web page continues:

Learn the techniques and science behind the movement with the new Organic Agriculture Technician certificate at Bristol Community College. The certificate is designed to prepare people to use ecological production techniques that minimize pollution and create a healthier, tastier product.

Whoa, horsey. Healthier? Tastier? Obviously this is a tired old claim that organic proponents have been making for decades, but it’s neither been evidenced nor is it plausible. And where do they get “minimize pollution”?

Gump began by emailing Professor Corven with a reasonable question, one that all too few people seem willing to ask:

I was reading the front page about organic farming.  I read the sentence about how organic farm produces tastier and healthier foods.  I am wondering how that comes to be. Does organic farming alter the foods DNA in someway making the foods tastier or healthier in someway?  Is there some test that can prove the foods are healthier?  I find it disingenuous that organic farming is being promoted as something that is better than modern farming techniques which use less land to produce more food.

Professor Corven had a most un-professor-like reply:

I’d like to suggest that you might like to study some scientific literature and read up on the issues of soils, agricultural productivity, and nutrition before making the kinds of erroneous comments contained in your email.


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