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Why Organic?

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Why Organic?"

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(cc photo by jdickert(

(cc photo by jdickert(

Ezra Klein and Tom Philpot kick around the issue of whether there’s any real evidence to suggest that eating organic food is healthier. I’m not an expert on this, but my understanding of this lines up with Ezra’s in reaching the conclusion that there isn’t really any compelling evidence here.

And I think it’s unquestionable that the strongest case you’ll find for organic is an environmental case rather than a person health one. Having less chemicals sloshing around in the water would very much be a good thing. But viewed from that perspective the dichotomy between organic and “not organic” doesn’t make a ton of sense. Achieving a 20 percent across-the-board reduction in the use of harmful chemicals would do more good than establishing a 10 percent market share for chemical-free products. This just becomes one of a million ways in which it’s exceedingly hard to make the world a better place through individuals consumer preferences. “Organic” works as a marketing tool because it’s nice and clear, albeit arbitrary. Nothing gets marketed as “slightly more organic than it was last week,” but small, cumulative changes are normally how the world becomes a better place. Ultimately to get that, you need better overall environmental regulation and not a system that depends on consumers being able to pick up on big, obvious clues.

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