NY Times Exposes "Anti-Organic" Propagandist Dennis Avery
The New York Times
February 17, 1999
Anti-Organic, and Flawed
By MARIAN BURROS
Dennis T. Avery wants organic food to go away. And he doesn't
care what it takes. Four years ago, he said that organic food
could not feed the world without destroying the environment. Now,
he says it's lethal.
In an article in the fall issue of American Outlook magazine, published
by his employer, the Hudson Institute, a conservative research group,
Avery wrote, "Organic foods have clearly become the deadliest food
choice." This is the case, he said, because organic farms use animal
manure and do not use chemicals or permit pasteurization. The last
assertion is untrue, as were several other statements in the article.
The accusation might have gone unnoticed, but excerpts from the article
were published in The Wall Street Journal and continue to be picked up
around the country, by The Associated Press, The Tampa Tribune and
trade industry publications.
The simplest definition of "organic" is food grown without hormones,
pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Avery, however, used the terms
"organic," "free-range," "natural" and "unpasteurized" interchangeably.
"I grant you that I've mixed together natural and organic," Avery, the
author of "Saving the Planet With Pesticides and Plastic" (Hudson
Institute, 1995), said in an interview last week. "But to me they are
distinctions without significant difference in terms of public health."
His most combative accusation is based, he said, on 1996 data
compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing
that "people who eat organic and 'natural' foods are eight times as likely
as the rest of the population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E.
coli bacteria (O157:H7)."
Yet some of the foods that caused the outbreak, which he called
organic, were not, like unpasteurized Odwalla apple juice.
Avery's claim that "consumers of organic food are also more likely to
be attacked by a relatively new, more virulent strain of the infamous
salmonella bacteria" was based on a Consumers Union study in 1998
showing that "premium" chickens had higher levels of salmonella than
regular supermarket chickens. But the premium chickens were not organic.
In the article, Avery took the Food and Drug Administration to task for
failing "to issue any warnings to consumers about the higher levels of
natural toxins their researchers regularly find in organic foods." In the
interview, he said that that assertion was based on a statement by Dr.
Robert Lake, an official in the agency's Center for Food Safety and Nutrition.
Lake denied making such a statement, saying, "We don't go out of our
way to sample organic food, and hence I don't think we are in a
position to say anything one way or another about it."
Avery wrote that because "organic farmers use animal manure as the
major source of fertilizer," there are higher levels of harmful bacteria in
organic food. Katherine DiMatteo, the executive director of the
Organic Trade Association, said that manure is not the major source of
fertilizer on organic farms (it is also used in conventional farming) and
that, when it is used, certain rules must be followed for safety.
Avery said he had never "bothered that much about consumer safety
aspects of organic food until O157:H7." His real goal, he said, is to
prevent organic agriculture from becoming the norm. "My big concern is
that we do not have room on the planet to feed ourselves organically,"
The attack on organic food by a well-financed research organization
suggests that, even though organic food accounts for only 1 percent of
food sales in the country, the conventional food industry is worried.
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