‘Organic’ and 'GMOs' matter – but not as much as you think

wheat field
CC BY 2.0 Kevin Lallier

Mark Bittman wants us all to stop obsessing over buzzwords and get on with eating well. In an article for the New York Times, Bittman argues that the terms ‘organic’ and ‘GMOs’ (genetically modified organisms) are too often oversimplified and overused, to the detriment of the food movement.

While eating organic food is definitely a better option than not, it’s an unrealistic expectation that all industrial agriculture will eventually switch over to organic production and that organic food will become the norm. That’s just not going to happen, especially if the planet is expected to support 9 billion eaters by 2050. Nor does it have to, since “reducing the overload of synthetic chemicals and drugs” and improving the entire agricultural system does not require ‘going organic’.

GMOs are another complicated issue, and Bittman makes the controversial statement that they’re not as big a deal as most people think. He writes:

“Someone recently said to me, ‘The important issues are food policy, sustainability, and GMOs.’ That’s like saying, ‘The important issues are poverty, war, and dynamite.’ GMOs are cogs in industrial agriculture, the way dynamite is in war; take either away, and you have solved virtually nothing.”

Whether or not you agree, the point is that industrial agriculture and its many evils would continue to exist, even if GMOs were banned. Just like the organic debate, much can be done to improve food production that has absolutely nothing to do with GMOs.

While organic and GMOs will continue to be important issues that are closely tied to the local food movement, they can be a major distraction from what most people actually want (and need) to do, which is start eating better. The untrendy reality is that organic and GMOs matter far less than an individual’s will to change their own eating habits – and the latter is more likely to happen than changing the entire agricultural system.

You don’t have to buy organic, GMO-free food or shop at a Whole Foods Market in order to have a healthy, well-balanced diet. Saying you don’t eat well because you can’t afford organic groceries from Whole Foods is just an excuse. Anyone can drastically improve his or her diet by eliminating processed junk and industrially raised animal products, cooking from scratch, and eating more vegetables. Real food, even if it’s genetically modified and sprayed with pesticides, is always going to be healthier than a diet of frozen microwave dinners, giant sodas, and bags of chips.

Better growing practices will come about as food culture, policies, and business models shift, aided by people who are eating better on an individual level. Becoming hysterical or simplistic about organic and GMOs does more damage than help.

Tags: Agriculture | Diet | Food Miles | Food Safety | Food Security | Fruits & Vegetables