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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Organic Orthodoxy

Recently, the USDA approved the planting of sugar beets that are genetically modified to resist the weed killer RoundUP (patented by Monsanto), and the usual hue and cry of complaints to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are all over the interwebs. In this case, the objections are patently weird; almost no one consumes sugar beets directly. Sugar produced from beets, once it gets to the supermarket, are chemically 99% sucrose, and indistinguishable from sucrose made from sugar cane, or non modified beets. None of the products of gene modification even make it there.

Ah, but the crux comes from the idea that cross pollination from GMO plants will results in the contamination of organic crops, thus, endangering them. What exactly are organic crops, anyway?

I've struggled a bit to find a definition for it. Most of the material I find are marketing stuff espousing the benefits of organic food (some of which, by the way, are proven incorrect in side by side studies), but getting to the definition of the term has been difficult.

The best I found is

Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.
The property of "organic" is not so much defined by what it is, but by what it is not. Thus, the categorization excluding "genetically modified organisms" is one not based on science, but something more arbitrary. After all, scientifically speaking, just about every organism in agriculture, when domesticated, is genetically modified by man.  Moreover, the very idea of contamination from GMO pollen stems from a myth of purity of the "organic" stock. Truth is, genetic flux is the norm in nature; classification into species and breeds is one of human convenience, not one of biological stricture. The puritanical demands of the "organic" label is blurrier than that of kosher or halal, yet carries fewer concrete benefits.

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