In 2012, Pastor Rick Warren of the mega-church Saddleback in Orange County, California, asked his 20,000-member congregation to go organic if they could afford it, essentially demonizing conventionally grown foods and later authored the best-selling book “The Daniel Plan,” recommending the same.
Why is this organic issue important for Christians? If Pastor Warren is correct in his assessment of the benefits of organics to his church members, then asking his church members to spend more per month on food may be justified. However, if Warren’s assessment is incorrect, you have literally thousands of church members essentially being asked by their senior pastor to irresponsibly spend more for their food than is necessary. But how does the issue of spending excessively for food possibly affect others?
Let me use the Saddleback Church to illustrate why this organic fleecing is a significant issue, especially for Christians.
In 2015, Consumer Reports conducted an independent assessment of the cost of organic foods. They “compared the cost of a market basket of organic goods – fruits and vegetables, meat and chicken, milk, and other edibles – to their conventional counterparts at eight different national, regional, and online stores.” They compared more than 100 products and “on average, organic foods were 47 percent more expensive.”
Now, according to the February 2017 USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion data, the average cost of food for one month for all combined ages 2-to-71 years old, male and female, would be $153 on the “Thrifty Plan” and up to $294 on the “Liberal Plan.” For illustration purposes, I am going to use the most conservative number of $153.
Now, using the Consumer Reports figure of 47 percent increase cost for organics, Saddleback members who go organic would spend at least $72 more per month for food. Now multiply this by the 20,000 individuals who pass through the doors at Saddleback each week, and you will arrive at $1,440,000 per month, or $17,280,000 per year theoretically spent in excess for food by Saddleback members if they all went organic – with no better health and safety attributes realized, for neither the members nor to the environment.
The sad issue is this: It is ironic that the very day I noticed Pastor Rick Warren’s “The Daniel Plan,” in which he advocates organics, I also happened to open the April 2012 newsletter from Samaritan’s Purse, the international relief agency run by Franklin Graham. In this newsletter, it states that “a gift of $40 can supply a family with a month’s ration of food.” Remember, these are families who are starving, not living in Orange County, California, with a grocery store full of food every few miles.
So, theoretically, Pastor Warren, is asking 20,000 individuals, if possible, to divert $17 million dollars per year away from less fortunate individuals due to his apparent misunderstanding of the food supply process and basic plant science. This is understandable because only 1-2 percent of the population is directly involved in growing the food the other 98 percent needs, due to all the advances in agricultural technology, pesticides being one of them. This leaves the 98 percent who have no idea what they are talking about and plenty of time to gripe about issues they know nothing about.
There are five distinct myths regarding organic foods consumers embrace – all demonstrably false:
- Organic foods are safer.
- Organic foods are healthier.
- Organics are inherently better for the environment.
- Organic foods taste better.
- We can trust that food marked “organic” actually is.
Due to space limitations, only the first myth will be dispelled.
The misconception that organic foods are safer is related to the phrase “pesticides,” and the purported dangers associated with chemicals that fall into this category. Also, the typical consumer believes that organic farmers do not use pesticides, which they do.
Most consumers immediately visualize skull and crossbones when they hear the word pesticide, but is this a valid association? If it were, then you literally must stop eating, regardless of the method of production. Why? Because literally all foods contain naturally occurring pesticides, and 99.99 percent of the pesticides you are exposed to are produced by the plant itself, and can be equally carcinogenic using the same criteria used to judge their synthetic equivalents.
Bruce Ames, Ph.D., is a molecular geneticist, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at UC Berkeley, internationally known for his work on the link between nutrition and DNA integrity, senior scientist at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute and one of the most widely cited scientific experts, with more than 450 publications in leading journals. Dr. Ames points out the following:
“We estimate that on average Americans ingest roughly 5,000 to 10,000 different natural pesticides and their breakdown products. Americans eat an estimated 1,500 mg of natural pesticides per person per day, which is about 10,000 times more than they consume of synthetic pesticide residues. By contrast, the FDA found that residues of 200 synthetic chemicals, including the synthetic pesticides thought to be of greatest importance, average only about 0.09 mg per person per day.”
A main issue consumers need to understand regarding the potential health hazards associated with any chemical is the Principle of Toxicology – The Dose Makes the Poison. This principle applies to all chemical compounds, which include vitamins, minerals, water, oxygen, etc. All chemicals, initially perceived to be either good or bad for you, fall under this principle. The essential point here is that no chemical compound is inherently bad for you until your level of exposure surpasses its upper level of safety.
As an example, no one is going to argue how good spinach is for you, except your 5-year-old child. However, many consumers believe that organic spinach is “safer” to consume than conventionally grown spinach due to the purported dangers of the pesticide permethrin, as reported by the national media. Even if the pesticide is present, the safe dose of exposure of permethrin is 25 mg / 2.2 lbs. of body weight per day. This would allow the safe consumption of 3,205 cups of spinach per day for women and 4,487 for men and not be harmed. In contrast, the naturally occurring iron in spinach acute toxicity level begins at 20 mg / 2.2 lbs. per day, much lower than the pesticide. The point is, that even if you could consume the volume of food that would put you at risk for harm from the pesticide, if it were present at all, the toxic effects of the iron would appear first. This is also true for the vitamins B6 and C in the spinach.
These refutations of the myth that “natural” inherently means safe can be found in any college nutrition text. All one needs to do is pick up any beginning college nutrition text and review the tolerable upper intake levels for most vitamins and minerals, and you will notice that “chemicals” such as vitamins A, D, C, B6 etc., as well as minerals iodine, iron, fluoride, arsenic, etc., are all examples of naturally occurring chemicals that are safe at low doses but hazardous and often deadly at higher dosages. Just because they are “natural” does not mean they are inherently always safe.
This issue becomes a moot point when consumers understand how very little, if any, pesticide residue they are ever exposed to in the first place by the time the produce reaches them.
In 2012, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) published their results after testing 2,707 samples of more than 160 types of domestic and imported produce. Noted DPR Director Brian R. Leahy, “We want to emphasize that most produce has no detectable pesticide residues, and when there are residues, they are at such a low level they are not a health risk.” In 2015, the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program results provided similar results. Since most pesticides are very unstable when exposed to sunlight, water, other elements and microorganisms, they degrade very quickly and leave negligible residue on the crops by the time they are either harvested or reach the market.
Without the use of pesticides, the poor and the middle class would be far less likely to be able to afford the quality and quantity of fruits and vegetables necessary for good health. Instead of whining about some theoretical cancer or health risk purportedly associated with synthetic chemicals, which is unfounded, consumers should focus on the real risks they are so negligent about: smoking, sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary habits, obesity and excessive alcohol use. These issues account for most the projected $4.6 trillion we are expected to spend on health care by 2020. So, find another phobia. Chemicals are not the problem; your lifestyle is – and it is literally and financially killing us.