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January 07, 2009

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Blargh. "Toxins" and "detox" seem to be the woo buzzwords for this decade, don't they! Funny how these things come go in fads like that. Alas, they never die out all the way!

You know, that is one of the reasons I LOVE learning about biology-- it is ASTOUNDING what millions of years of evolution has done to ensure that our bodies can detoxify themselves! SO MANY mechanisms to ensure our systems function properly! I find that heartening and wonderful! If our bodies were so off-kilter that a single "cleanse" could have a measurable impact on anything, then I'd wonder how our species managed to survive.

Then the woos will point to the modern presence of synthesized industrial chemicals in the environment as something our bodies aren't equipped to handle-- except guess what-- our livers are AMAZING like that! It all boils down to a certain luddite-ness in the folks who buy into this. The whole argument distills to Modern = Bad; Natural = Good. Only the things they're doing to their bodies by way of "detox" are the most unnatural of all!

The whole argument distills to Modern = Bad; Natural = Good.

That pretty much sums it up with these guys, woos, antivaxers, SCAM folks, etc.

Deosn't matter if you point out the wonderful effects of natural things like

arsenic in drinking water
Asbestos in dry dirt
wisdom teeth
Viruses
gamma and beta radiation


Or if you mention how bad synthetic things are like, you know:

clothes
cooked food
soap
methods to record information
sanitation
toothbrush
reading glasses


both of these lists can be infinitely long, but the mere existence of them completely counter the notion. But they do not seem to counter the 'feeling'. Of course not ALL things natural are bad and not ALL things synthetic are good. Duh.

Seems to me, once again, that if more of the population were taught critical thinking and had a habit of asking for evidence, we would naturally lose these habitual rules of thumb.


The body is re-hydrated with ordinary tap water.

You don't have to shake it??

The body is re-hydrated with ordinary tap water.

You don't have to shake it??


If I know my quackery, then I think a homeopathic distillation of the human body would be a cure for anti-bodies. It'd be an antivaccine!

Don't forget Dr. Ben Goldacre's altercation a few days ago on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

What about the term organic? When someone I know implies around me that something is necessarily better simply because it's "organic", I retort, "So what? Mustard gas is organic, too."

you don't eat mustard gas (on purpose).

I suppose organic isnt necessarily better than nonorganic, but it certainly isnt worse! hmmm.. caveat: are all GM food necessarily not organic? I dont know the rule. Its certainly possible that a nonorganic GM food IS in fact better than the organic counterpart. It could sport more vitamins, or have less bugs (I hate buying organic corn - fucking maggots!).

If you can afford it, it why wouldn't you buy organic? although I am of the opinion that local is better than organic (better for people, not necessarily for me).

I dont claim to know all the side effects of whatever dose of insecticides/herbicides you get (DDT is far safer than I was lead to believe). Still, having no X-icides, I know is not bad for me (that was a weird sentence). You cant get prion based sicknesses from meat that came from animals raised with organic food.

I dont mean to sound like someone from the ALF or ELF. Its just that if you can afford it, or you think there is possible health value in it, or it simply tastes better, why wouldn't you buy organic?

Its a lot like breast feeding babies. There is nothing wrong with formula, plenty of healthy, smart people were raised with formula (my daughter included), but if you can, and you want to, why not claim the small benefits gleaned from breast feeding (which I think are limited to slight immune system benefits in the baby as I recall)

If you can afford it, it why wouldn't you buy organic?
First, because the definition is too muddy. "Organic" seems to be defined differently across the board, which means that some folks aren't using "-icides" at all, while others are using outdated, more dangerous, more environmentally unfriendly "-icides." Second, because I generally support the sustainability movement, and organic farming isn't sustainable. My research is a few years old at this point, but last I looked organic farming results in lower yields, shorter shelf life, and more waste of farmland than non-organic methods. Organic, locally-grown stuff might be great for people near a public market, but there are over six billion mouths to feed; organic methods consigns a large proportion of those to starvation.

And finally, it ends up being much like the vaccine question: just as I'd rather incur any potential risks and side effects associated with a vaccine than endure the actual risks and effects associated with the disease, I'd rather ingest trace amounts of chemicals (that, thanks to GM, are becoming yet more trace) that have been tested extensively for safety and are tightly regulated by various agencies, than the things those chemicals are used to kill. I saw at Panera recently that their sandwiches use "antibiotic-free chicken," and I thought "you know, I'd prefer my chickens to be relatively bacteria-free." I won't taste pesticides, I will taste potato bugs, and I know which one would make me sicker.

Still, having no X-icides, I know is not bad for me (that was a weird sentence).
I don't know, I'd rather have a little fungicide than a little fungus. Unless it happens to be breaded and deep-fried.
You cant get prion based sicknesses from meat that came from animals raised with organic food.
I may be wrong here, but I thought prion-based sicknesses came from meat that had eaten prion-infected brain matter, and thus was an issue with slaughterhouses and the like putting unused meat back into the feed, which just seems like a bad idea in general. I don't know where that lies with the organic issue, which seems like it would be focused more on giving the animals hormones and antibiotics. Wouldn't it be possible to get prion-based sickness from organic meat that was fed using the same stupid meat-as-feed practices as the non-organic livestock owners? Or am I missing an element to the puzzle?
Its just that if you can afford it, or you think there is possible health value in it, or it simply tastes better, why wouldn't you buy organic?
I don't think there is any greater health value in it, nor do I think it tastes better--I think that's got a lot more to do with freshness and psychology than what kind of fertilizer it grew in. If I could see some good studies that there's a significant health benefit to organic foods, or that the methods used to grow non-organic foods carry significant risks, then I'd be more inclined to alter my position. Right now, I don't even know what "organic" means consistently, and I'm not going to shell out twice as much for dubiously-defined differences of dubious merit.
Its a lot like breast feeding babies. There is nothing wrong with formula, plenty of healthy, smart people were raised with formula (my daughter included), but if you can, and you want to, why not claim the small benefits gleaned from breast feeding
I agree: formula represents a greater expense and greater inconvenience, with little (if any) benefit attached to it. In this case, though, I think your analogy's backwards: "organic" food is the formula.

formula represents a greater expense and greater inconvenience, with little (if any) benefit attached to it.

weird, do you have kids? I truly dont see how formula is greater inconvenience. Well maybe for me as the father there is less, if feeding the baby was just womens work. But making a bottle is quick and no hassle, and formula comes in singles and can be made anywhere. My wife appreciates not having huge boobs to lug around that leak everywhere and need to be emptied so often.

Perhaps thats a matter of opinion. Formula is certainly more expensive (as are most things that provide more convenience), but after the nipple protectors, the pumps and bottles (you only need one or 2 with formula), the extra washing of clothes, that difference may be less.

Besides, it wasnt much of analogy. All I was saying was that if you can deal with it, why wouldnt you take the one that may provide a small benefit?


If I could see some good studies that there's a significant health benefit to organic foods, or that the methods used to grow non-organic foods carry significant risks, then I'd be more inclined to alter my position

Well maybe Ill do a post on that one day. It would be nice to see a list of compelling arguments one way or another that isnt from groups with agenda.

However organic is specifically defined by the FDA. Note this is a lower standard than organic farmers wanted. At that same site, the only advantage of buying organic food are environmental and to reduce animal suffering. If that is the case I stand by my original statement that local is better than organic.

further if these are the reasons that something is organic, GM foods totally should be allowed to be organic. But it would still be nice if they labeled them as GM so people can make their own choices.

My research is a few years old at this point, but last I looked organic farming results in lower yields, shorter shelf life, and more waste of farmland than non-organic methods.
I thought hydroponic was organic. If so, there are many many advances that can be used to improve organic yields.

Further there are now companies (i'll find the link later if you wish) who are proposing urban hydroponics farms. 30 story buildings with stores and restaurants athte bottom. The key is to get the yield high enough to meet the energy costs and be profitable. As I said, work can and should be done. Right now the govt spends 0.1% of the farm bill on organics, seems to me we could be doing more to increase our organic crop densities and yields.

I saw at Panera recently that their sandwiches use "antibiotic-free chicken," and I thought "you know, I'd prefer my chickens to be relatively bacteria-free." I won't taste pesticides, I will taste potato bugs, and I know which one would make me sicker.

Well im not going to argue too much. I dont buy organics for the most part because my wallet hates it. But I would if I could and local food wasnt available.

antibiotic free chicken doesnt mean that the chicken you get is sick. Sick and dying chickens (in theory) dont make it to the cutting room. The chickens you do get that arent organic, have been injected (over injected, bacterial resistance in large farms is a bigger problem than resistance in hospitals, or so I heard, i can't back that up, but its plausible), whether or not that matters to taste or human health is probably not a big deal. But if in fact bacterial resistance is a real and signficant problem, you shoud buy it, no? (again i'm not sayng it is, i dont know)

Organics, as I understand, is not so much about your health or your taste buds, its an environmental movement, if its not sustainable we should work to make it sustainable, much like we should be working to get biofuels to be sustainable as they currently are no where near that.

I have passed many farms over crowded with cows.... I am also under the impression that this cant be good for the enviroment (manure run off, disease spread due to crowding,etc).

As I said maybe a real post onthis topic would be useful.

Wouldn't it be possible to get prion-based sickness from organic meat that was fed using the same stupid meat-as-feed practices as the non-organic livestock owners? Or am I missing an element to the puzzle?

The element you're missing is that those feeds are not allowed under organic rules. (In the UK anyway, I've got no idea about the details in the US.)

its the same in the US. If they are being fed that way, then they are not organic.

While these books are a little alarmist, may i suggest reading fast food nation or bushwhacked (molly ivins). It just familairizes some of the complaints about conventional farming practices (with respect to meat).

I agree that we have these practices to be sure the food is abundant, but I am sure that we can work to make other environmentally methods methods be more effective. We are smart.

I'm glad that my glib comment generated so much in detail discussion regarding organic foods. Perhaps I wasn't too clear. I did not mean to imply that there's anything terribly wrong with organic foods per se(locally grown, without use of pesticides, etc). I happen to enjoy "organic" foods when farmers market is around. I was merely pointing out that people rely on buzzwords without giving much though what they mean (i.e. natural-good, organic-good, etc.)

" I happen to enjoy "organic" foods when farmers market is around."

thats funny, almost none of the produce at my farmers market is certified organic. Maybe thats what you implied with the scare quotes. When asked most of the proprieters will say, "its organic but we didnt pay for the certification", or "its local, which is better"

besides, its not uncommon that a little comment will spark of some interesting debate on these pages. Its one of the ways I learn a lot. I like to be challenged on my assumptions. I think that is why many of us are here, to learn.

That's precisely what i meant by the quotation marks. I was too lazy to go into a lengthy explanation that i wasn't sure how much of the produce at my local farmer's market was actually certified organic or what the certification entails.

You're right,thought, I'm not complaining about the in-detail commentary. In fact, that is precisely why i frequently visit this blog.

Tech,

I thought hydroponic was organic. If so, there are many many advances that can be used to improve organic yields.

hydroponics refers to the growing medium -- in this case an inert soil-less medium. A hydroponic setup will produce an organic harvest only if a) the cuttings used are from a non-GM motherplant, and b) the nutrient-solution used is organic. So hydroponics can produce both organic and non-organic crops, often with increased yields in either case.

The body is re-hydrated with ordinary tap water.

You don't have to shake it??

What was I thinking. I've just learned you're supposed to stir it with Quantum Age Drinking Water Wand. It's cheap too, only $79,95.

Martin:
Hahaha That HAS to be a joke!
Im laughing so hard Im crying right now!

oh gosh hihi

that is a joke site right?

If you think it's a joke call a Poe. Frankly, I can't tell the difference anymore.

do you have kids?
Hopefully not. I have a fairly young brother who was doing the breast-n-bottle thing not too long ago, though. That is, if 7-ish years counts as "not too long."
I truly dont see how formula is greater inconvenience. Well maybe for me as the father there is less, if feeding the baby was just womens work. But making a bottle is quick and no hassle, and formula comes in singles and can be made anywhere.
Then either things have changed (certainly probable) or my parents were cheap, because my recollections of making formula include dipping a scoop into a large-but-not-quite-large-enough-for-my-hand can of powder, mixing it with water, then heating it until squirting it on my wrist made a warm sensation. Due to the vagaries of memory and my willingness to forget, I don't recall if I used the boil-a-bottle technique in those days, though I definitely did it with my older younger brother. Nothing quite like heating a plastic bottle until the contents were at the right temperature without melting the bottom. The number of partially-melted bottles gathering dust in a box in my basement is likely a testament to how successful I was at that juggling act. If formula-making has eliminated some of these issues in the intervening years, then it's certainly more convenient than I recall.

Being not a possessor of breasts, I can't speak particularly to the issues involved therein, and it was perhaps rash of me to speak of convenience. However, from an outsider's perspective, the fact that they neither need heating nor mixing would remove two of the more frustrating elements of the formula-making process.

bottles (you only need one or 2 with formula),
You only need one or two if you're going to wash them that frequently, I suppose.
All I was saying was that if you can deal with it, why wouldnt you take the one that may provide a small benefit?
It's that "may" that's a sticking point to me. I can't make an informed cost/benefit analysis on something that only "may" have a benefit.

To answer the general question though, given two options, one of which may have potential benefits, the reason one would choose the other option would usually be because the costs outweigh said benefits. Premium gas may be more beneficial to my engine than regular unleaded, but the additional cost isn't enough to justify the benefit, in my opinion.

Similarly, organic foods may potentially have some benefits, but the costs--both financial and environmental--outweigh said potential benefits, in my opinion.

And I suppose I should have been clearer with the opinion bit, Tech: I think this is something that reasonable people can reasonably disagree on, particularly given (as far as I've seen) the general dearth of good evidence or studies one way or another. I don't begrudge you your organic tomatoes; I don't, however, see the benefit.

It would be nice to see a list of compelling arguments one way or another that isnt from groups with agenda.
Agreed absolutely. I took a class on the Rhetoric of Sustainability a few years back, and I learned an awful lot about these issues, but it was a pain in the ass trying to sort out the real facts from the ideology (made worse by my being the only person--besides the professor--with a science background in what was an English class). I ended up doing my paper on the way that some ideologues use the terminology of sustainability--just as the same ideologues used the terminology of environmentalism--to promote anti-science, anti-technology, anti-government, and generally anti-progress sociopolitical platforms. If we're going to survive indefinitely, it's not going to be on a plan than unreasonably excludes options like GMOs and nuclear power a priori.

But I'm off on a tangent, I think. Point being, it's difficult to separate the facts from the ideology when talking about this environmental stuff, which is why there needs to be more and better science on the subject.

However organic is specifically defined by the FDA.
I knew the FDA had a definition for organic, but I also know that various folks in the organic movement have different definitions, with varying degrees of arbitrariness. As with so many things, the Skeptic's Dictionary has a good article on the subject.

And looking at the definition (which is stated differently than the quotation on the SkepDic site, making me wonder if it's been changed in the meantime; the jist is still the same, though) doesn't make me any more enthusiastic about organic food:

Consumers no longer have to play a guessing game when it comes to organic foods. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) now has national standards for the use of the word “organic.” Unlike just a few years ago, consumers buying organic products, whether produced in the United States or imported, can be assured that the foods are produced without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering. Organic farmers are required to adhere to certain soil and water conservation methods and to rules about the humane treatment of animals.

Antibiotics fight disease, pesticides fight dangerous pests, irradiation kills microbes and extends the period of freshness, and all agriculture is bioengineering, just slower and sloppier. I admit some concern over hormones, but I also admit ignorance on why they're used and what potential harm there might be. In fact, the only part of this I can get behind (besides potentially the soil and water conservation methods--which seem to be contrary to the lack of bioengineering, which has been used to develop crops that need less water) is more humane treatment of animals, which ought to be a concern across the board, not just in organic farming.

the only advantage of buying organic food are environmental and to reduce animal suffering.
What are the environmental advantages? The USDA site says the organic practices are designed to reduce pollution and conserve water and soil, but I seem to recall that animal fertilizers can increase levels of heavy metals in the soil, and again, bioengineering can reduce crops' need for water (and pesticides, and fungucides, and antibiotics). I can't get behind any movement that excludes bioengineering, regardless of how well they treat animals.

And as I said, I think more humane treatment needs to be a goal regardless of the organicness of the farming. I buy free-range chicken eggs when I have the choice, and I'll support any reasonable legislation to improve such conditions. That's something where I don't mind an additional cost to my purchases. But supporting organic products means not only supporting more humane animal treatment (and I question how humane the treatment can be if they getting any antibiotics--I don't think it's humane to unnecessarily expose animals to harm from infection) but also supporting a variety of practices that I actively oppose, and which I believe actively cause harm. I won't lend my money to that.

If that is the case I stand by my original statement that local is better than organic.
Agreed. There are definitely benefits to local-grown stuff, though I think there are those who put far too much emphasis on that. Local's great if you can get it.
further if these are the reasons that something is organic, GM foods totally should be allowed to be organic. But it would still be nice if they labeled them as GM so people can make their own choices.
I disagree; choices are only useful when they're informed, and the general public has been horrendously misinformed about GM foods. Labeling foods as GM would be essentially caving to rampant fearmongering and ignorance.

Unless, of course, we were honest about it and labeled everything as GM, with a little note that GM merely accomplishes quickly and more precisely what used to be capable only through cross-pollination or radiation-induced mutation (or, in some cases, natural retroviral infection).

I thought hydroponic was organic. If so, there are many many advances that can be used to improve organic yields.
I'll admit that I don't know much about hydroponics, but based on the Wikipedia info, it's kind of fuzzy. I would think that the chemical nutrient solutions in the water would count as chemical fertilizers, and the largest hydroponics growers don't consider their products organic, but apparently some hydroponically-grown products can be considered organic under USDA guidelines.

Incidentally, I doubt that the methods of increasing organic crop yields through hydroponics would be limited to organic crops, unless those methods specifically require the disuse of pesticides and fertilizers. And again, there's the GM issue, which we seem to agree on.

30 story buildings with stores and restaurants athte bottom. The key is to get the yield high enough to meet the energy costs and be profitable.
Yeah, that seems like a no-brainer, really. From what you lay out here, it sounds like the majority of the building would be indoor hydroponics farms, but why not rooftop farms (which, I know, are done in some places)? Putting solar panels and hydroponic greenhouses on otherwise empty rooftop space seems like it could only be beneficial.
Right now the govt spends 0.1% of the farm bill on organics, seems to me we could be doing more to increase our organic crop densities and yields.
And I'd rather see that money turned to increasing the yield of already higher-yield GM crops. "Organic," as defined by the government, has too many arbitrary strings attached.
antibiotic free chicken doesnt mean that the chicken you get is sick. Sick and dying chickens (in theory) dont make it to the cutting room.
I realize that. The lack of antibiotics, it seems, would decrease the number of chickens that are ultimately safe for human consumption out of a given group, as more would ultimately die from disease. I suppose there's a Darwinian argument to be made there, but that would seem kind of wasteful. I'm working from logic rather than figures here, and naturally I'd rather have the latter.
(over injected, bacterial resistance in large farms is a bigger problem than resistance in hospitals, or so I heard, i can't back that up, but its plausible)
It certainly is plausible, but again, I'd like figures one way or another.
But if in fact bacterial resistance is a real and signficant problem, you shoud buy it, no?
I'd be curious if the danger of bacterial resistance outweighs the inefficiency of allowing chickens to die from treatable bacterial infections, and even then I'm not sure that it would be enough of a concern to make me overlook all the problems I have with "organics" as defined by the USDA. As with anything--bacterial resistance in hospitals, for example--it's going to be a trade-off.
I have passed many farms over crowded with cows.... I am also under the impression that this cant be good for the enviroment (manure run off, disease spread due to crowding,etc).
If manure run-off is a concern, then isn't manure-as-fertilizer, which organic farmers use (as I understand) a similar concern? And wouldn't farms be more over-crowded with cows if they were losing a portion to bacterial infections? Again, I don't have numbers for this, but it seems to be the natural consequence, or at least a potential one. Not only do we need higher yields, we need more efficient uses of the yields we already have.

Dunc:

The element you're missing is that those feeds are not allowed under organic rules.

I suspected that, though I'm curious to see the actual regulations for that bit. Unless it's under the umbrella of "humane treatment," it's not included in the USDA's general definition of organic foods. Thanks for the correction, though.

Martin:

So hydroponics can produce both organic and non-organic crops, often with increased yields in either case.

That's kind of what I suspected. Thanks, Martin!

Tech: I've been meaning to read both of those, actually, though they're not particularly high on my list. I don't have much in the way of recommendations--that sustainability class I took was light on good reading--but E.O. Wilson's "The Future of Life" was a great read, albeit only tangentially related to this conversation.

This is an interesting debate, and I suspect that there aren't any easy answers. It's all difficult cost/benefit analyses, and I doubt that there'll be a win-win solution until we've engineered disease-resistant trees that grow beef.

Igor:

If you think it's a joke call a Poe. Frankly, I can't tell the difference anymore.

That's kind of the point of Poe's Law.

My wife appreciates not having huge boobs to lug around…

Really?  So she leaves them at home?!!

the only advantage of buying organic food are environmental and to reduce animal suffering.

I wouldn’t be so sure about that second part.  Read this post on JREF by a veterinarian who would disagree.  In summary, she says the need to keep the organic label quite often stops farmers from calling in the vet. You really need to read the whole thing, but there are times when a sick animal needs antibiotics, and the “organic” rules quite often prevent this. Her story is quite harrowing. 

Er... we do know that it's almost certain that "organically grown" foods show a high correlation to having more carcinogens? Those being "natural" carcinogens, i guess it's better for you somehow.

But what do botanists and other biologists know?

Tom:

The lack of antibiotics, it seems, would decrease the number of chickens that are ultimately safe for human consumption out of a given group, as more would ultimately die from disease. I suppose there's a Darwinian argument to be made there, but that would seem kind of wasteful. I'm working from logic rather than figures here, and naturally I'd rather have the latter.

The idea is that if you don't keep your chickens cooped up in unsanitary conditions, they don't usually need any antibiotics. Of course, if you do have a disease problem, you have to treat it, and (in the UK at least - I can only talk about the UK as I have no idea what the USDA does or doesn't allow, or how organic farming in general operates in the USA) the rules allow (in fact, require) this. The purpose of giving routine prophylactic antibiotics is so that you can keep the beasts in appallingly cramped and unsanitary conditions without suffering uneconomic losses.

Would you rather eat a chicken that's been kept in a crate, up to its neck it its own shit and the corpses of other chickens (OK, I exaggerate) but which has nevertheless survived due to frequent dosing with antibiotics, or one which has lived a perfectly healthy outdoor life without needing any veterinary treatment at all?

I'm trying to find some decent data on comparative disease rates between conventional and organic systems, but all the articles I want to check are on Elsevier, and they're down for maintenance at the minute. However, there is this, which certainly doesn't seem to support the idea of there being greater disease problems in organic systems, and if anything lends support to the idea that animals (well, pigs at least) fair better under organic rules. In Sweden, anyway.

genewitch:

Er... we do know that it's almost certain that "organically grown" foods show a high correlation to having more carcinogens?

First I've heard of it. Got a link?

Oh, and if you're really interested, you can preview most of Vaarst, Roderick and Lund's Animal Health and Welfare in Organic Agriculture on Google Books. Looks pretty comprehensive. Chapter 11 starting on page 227 may be of particular relevance.

The idea is that if you don't keep your chickens cooped up in unsanitary conditions, they don't usually need any antibiotics.

That’s not really true, is it?  They need the antibiotics if they have a bacterial infection, and they don’t need to be cooped up to get that.

Of course, if you do have a disease problem, you have to treat it, and (in the UK at least - I can only talk about the UK as I have no idea what the USDA does or doesn't allow, or how organic farming in general operates in the USA) the rules allow (in fact, require) this.

Not according to the British vet I cited above.  Again, read this post on JREF by a veterinarian who specializes in farm veterinarian work.  Go and debate with her.

However, there is this, which certainly doesn't seem to support the idea of there being greater disease problems in organic systems

Link didn't work - “Session Cookie Error”

Link works fine for me - it's to Carcass Quality in Certified Organic Production Compared with Conventional Livestock Production [Hansson, Hamilton, Ekman, Forslund; Journal of Veterinary Medicine Series B
Volume 47 Issue 2, Pages 111 - 120] on Wiley InterScience.

Abstract:

By studying carcass quality, expressed as affection, pathological findings, slaughter-weight and evaluation, a picture of an animal's health and potential as high quality food is achieved. This study compares the carcass quality in Swedish certified organic meat production with that of conventional meat production slaughtered during 1997. The study involves 3.9 million pigs, about 570 000 cattle and 190 000 sheep, all reared conventionally and 3483 pigs 4949 cattle and 4997 sheep reared according to organic standards. Pathological and additional findings are registered by meat inspectors from the Swedish National Food Administration at the post-mortem inspection. There was a significant difference at the post-mortem inspection of growing-fattening pigs; 28 % of conventionally and 17 % of the organically reared pigs had one or more registered lesion. The carcass evaluation of swine shows a higher meat percentage in conventional swine production. The total rate of registered abnormalities in cattle was systems around 28 % from organic and 27 % from conventionally reared herds. Carcass evaluation of cattle from organic herds gave higher classification in the EUROP system, whereas the fat content was lower than that of conventionally reared cattle. Sheep, reared both organically and conventionally, showed a lower rate of registered abnormalities than swine and cattle.

Your other points:

That’s not really true, is it? They need the antibiotics if they have a bacterial infection, and they don’t need to be cooped up to get that.

Stocking rates and housing conditions have a huge impact on disease rates. While it's obviously true that livestock can become ill in the best conditions, they are far more likely to become ill in poor conditions. Given that we know that antibiotic resistance is a real problem (because we all believe in evolution) it doesn't seem sensible to routinely administer antibiotics to animals which don't need them.

Interesting post on JREF, and I'd completely agree that not all organic livestock is necessarily well kept and not all conventional livestock is badly kept. I'd also agree that there is a great deal of pernicious bollocks in the organic movement. As for her anecdotes... You don't need me to say it, do you? Sure, you can find examples of organic farms doing horrible things, just as you can for conventional farms. But before drawing a conclusion on whether organic is better or worse than conventional in general I'd like to see some stats. If you can show me solid stats showing that animals generally fare worse under organic rules, I'll happily revise my opinion. The information I have to date leads me to believe that organic is generally better for animal welfare.

Peacock's post in that thread is also very good. It's not a universal panacea, but it does have a part to play.

This study compares the carcass quality in Swedish certified organic meat production with that of conventional meat production slaughtered during 1997

Meat slaughtered.  If an animal dies because of an untreated infection, then it won’t reach slaughter. 

Stocking rates and housing conditions have a huge impact on disease rates.

Yeah sure.  But they can also get sick even if kept in good conditions.  Then they still need the drugs.

As for her anecdotes... You don't need me to say it, do you?

Yeah I agree – that’s why I said go debate with her.  I think she pretty much knows what she’s talking about though.  I agree hard data would be better.

Would you rather eat a chicken that's been kept in a crate, up to its neck it its own shit and the corpses of other chickens (OK, I exaggerate) but which has nevertheless survived due to frequent dosing with antibiotics, or one which has lived a perfectly healthy outdoor life without needing any veterinary treatment at all?
I'd rather choose the option you've excluded: a chicken that's lived a perfectly healthy outdoor life in part because it's been given prophylactic and therapeutic antibiotics and other veterinary treatment as necessary. I understand that one, perhaps the primary, justification for using antibiotics is that factory farms raise animals in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, but it doesn't follow that we need to (or even should) get rid of the antibiotics and veterinary treatments if we improve the conditions. Perhaps we'd need fewer antibiotics (I'm not certain that this would be the case: the outdoors is full of bacteria), but it's neither reasonable nor healthy nor humane to reject antibiotics on principle, as the regulations for the organic appellation do.

As I said above, I support more humane conditions for livestock. I can't support the organic movement on that basis, because of all the other arbitrary, unnecessary, and contradictory strings attached. I don't find it any more humane to deny animals access to modern veterinary medicine than to keep them in conditions that require constant medication.

There are good aspects to the organic movement--chief among them, their belief in better welfare for farm animals. These benefits, however, are not dependent on the organic movement, and the benefits of the movement are tied to a metric ton of drawbacks, largely based in anti-science sentiments and dangerous fearmongering.

We can--and should--work to conserve water, preserve fertile soil, and improve conditions for livestock animals. We don't have to--nor should we--hitch our wagons to just any movement that wants to accomplish those things. We can achieve better livestock conditions and better conservation without throwing out the benefits of modern agricultural science.

While it's obviously true that livestock can become ill in the best conditions, they are far more likely to become ill in poor conditions.

If you have kids, you only have to look at day care to know that disease spreads faster when the population is higher. Makes perfect sense.

so I talked with my wife, a big organic buyer, including milk.

When I asked her why she buys this stuff, she didnt drive straight to antibiotics or cooped up quarters or animal treatment. It was directly towards growth hormone.

I dont know shit about that.

As I said earlier, UK organic rules require that sick animals receive the necessary treatment, including antibiotics where appropriate. If some farmers don't do that, you can't blame it on the organic certification bodies, or the organic movement in general. That's just some some asshole being a cheapskate bastard, and the organic movement has no monopoly on assholes.

If an animal dies because of an untreated infection, then it won’t reach slaughter.

Like I said, I'm looking for better studies, but Elsevier's down. However, it seems reasonable to assume that the health of those animals which make it to slaughter is indicative of the general health of the herds they originate from, unless you have data to indicate otherwise.

Tom,

the difference is that in the factory farms (for lack of a better phrase) they inject the antibiotics whether they are needed or not. Which in turn, through thoroughly understood evolutionary process, creates antibiotic resistant strains.

however, it looks like there are ways to "subtherpeutically" administer antibiotics to animals without increased risk of developing resistant forms. But I would expect to see more work on that.

My point is that I dont think there is a problem eating meat that has had antibiotics, much like I dont thnk its a problem for me to run my CO2 producing heater. The issue is what happens on a larger scale: if methods to reduce anti-biotic resistant strains arent implemented, then thats just as bad as doing nothing to reduce energy requirements of our houshold appliance or cars.

My reply to Skeptico pointing out that UK organic rules require that animals receive all necessary veterinary treatment applies to Tom's comment too.

As for:

We can achieve better livestock conditions and better conservation without throwing out the benefits of modern agricultural science.

I completely agree. I also agree that many of the rules of, say, the Soil Association are quite frankly nuts. However, I do not agree with the implication that the organic movement is necessarily "throwing out the benefits of modern agricultural science" - some of the most important developments in organic agriculture are based on a detailed and expanding understanding of soil nutrient chemistry and microbial ecology. There's lots of real scientific research going on.

There are good aspects to the organic movement--chief among them, their belief in better welfare for farm animals. These benefits, however, are not dependent on the organic movement

Again, I completely agree. If I could find a better certification scheme, I'd ditch the Soil Association (who a friend of mine who actually runs an organic farm once described to me as "a bunch of f***ing cultists") in an instant, for exactly the reasons you mention. However, the choice for me as a consumer right now is between "organic" or "non-organic", and I typically don't get to know anything about the non-organic option. Where I can find more detailed information on my consumer choices, I value that far more highly than an organic certification.

As I said earlier, UK organic rules require that sick animals receive the necessary treatment, including antibiotics where appropriate.

Not if giving them antibiotics endangers their organic status.  From the Soli Association’s Information for vets: an introduction to animal health under organic standards:

When an animal must be treated, the organic standards, state that complementary therapies such as homeopathy should be used in preference to chemically synthesised, allopathic veterinary medicinal products or antibiotics.

they continue:

The following complementary therapies are recommended:


  • Homeopathic nosodes and remedies
  • Naturopathy
  • Acupuncture
  • Herbal / unlicensed herbal preparations (as a tonic only, or for the treatment of individual animals or a small proportion of the flock or herd on a trial basis. Veterinary advice must be sought before using unlicensed herbal products)
  • Therapeutic use of probiotics


That’s just pure woo. 

Also, an excerpt from the UK government's Compendium of UK Organic Standards:

...where an animal or group of animals receives more than three courses of treatment with chemically-synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products or antibiotics within one year (or more than one course of treatment if their productive lifecycle is less than 1 year) the livestock concerned, or produce derived from them, may not be sold as being products produced in accordance with these standards

Three strikes and you’re out – no more organic certification.  You don’t think this stops farmers from calling in the vet for the dreaded “allopathic” medicines?  You can claim that organic rules “require” treatment all you want.  Do you have a link to this requirement?  How is it enforced? 

If some farmers don't do that, you can't blame it on the organic certification bodies, or the organic movement in general.

Clearly you can.  It looks to me that’s exactly where you lay the blame.

However, it seems reasonable to assume that the health of those animals which make it to slaughter is indicative of the general health of the herds they originate from, unless you have data to indicate otherwise.

No, not at all. I’m talking about animals that die from disease.  If they had the necessary medicines they probably wouldn’t have died. And if they had not had the disease, they would likely have grown to full size.

However, I do not agree with the implication that the organic movement is necessarily "throwing out the benefits of modern agricultural science"

Well it depends.  I’m sure not all of it is, but the the two items I cited are pure Woo. 

I seem to be having trouble posting my reply, possibly because it's either too long or it's got too many links in it. I'll try splitting it up into sections - Skeptico, I apologise if this results in clogging up your spam filter or something, but I've spent quite a bit of time on it and I'm not about to lose it.

Part 1:

OK, yeah, the homoeopathy bollocks is, well, bollocks. I'd love to see that stricken.

You can claim that organic rules “require” treatment all you want. Do you have a link to this requirement?

You've already provided it: your first link, under "General Treatment Guidelines":

It is essential to understand that the organic standards state that if an animal becomes sick or injured it must be treated immediately. In general, if a vet recommends a particular treatment for a clinical outbreak of disease then the organic certification authority is likely to accept their recommendation. The primary exceptions to this are:

* Organo-phosphates, which are banned throughout organic farming in the EU. If organo-phosphates are the only suitable available treatment then they must be used but the stock in question would lose organic status.
* Avermectins are usually not allowed for the treatment of internal parasites, but may be allowed for treatment of external parasites.


The treatment of individual sick animals is allowed without the permission of the organic certification authority, providing records are kept and organic withdrawal periods are adhered to (see below).

The treatment of groups of animals is generally restricted under organic standards but may be carried out in the case of a disease problem with permission of the organic certification authority. To get permission for group treatments the producer must fill in a Restricted Veterinary Practice Form. This includes a section that asks for a plan or statement on how the producer intends to manage the stock to avoid or reduce the need for such treatments in future.

If urgent action is required the organic certification body can usually provide verbal permission over the phone to treat the group, and the restricted veterinary practice form can be sent in at a later date. If treatment is needed outside of office hours then this guidance should help to make decisions.

[Bold emphasis theirs, italic emphasis mine.]

They very clearly state that sick animals must be treated, even at the expense of losing certification. Presumably a failure to adhere to that rule would also result in the loss of certification. You may wish to claim that this requirement isn't adequately enforced, but that's positive claim which requires supporting evidence (not anecdotes), and even if confirmed, it would not actually indicate that the requirement to treat doesn't exist or means the opposite of what it actually says.

Part 2:

On the subject of disease, again you're making a positive claim (that the rate of fatalities due to disease is higher in organic herds than conventional herds), so again you need to present evidence. There is an extensive body of peer-reviewed scientific literature out there.

Oh look, Elsevier is back up. Here we go:

Organic livestock farming A critical review. [Livestock Production Science, Volume 67, Issue 3 , Pages 207 - 215; A . Sundrum]: "With reference to the health situation of dairy cows in both organic and conventional dairy farms, comparative studies show that currently there seem to be no fundamental differences between the production methods. In relation to animal welfare, organic livestock farming, based on minimal standards that go beyond the legislation standards, provide several preconditions for good living conditions of farm animals. [...] It is concluded that the benefits of the basic standards are primarily related to environmentally friendly production and to the animal welfare issue while the issues of animal health and product quality are more influenced by the specific farm management than by the production method. There is evidence to support the assumption that organic livestock farming creates stronger demands on the qualification of the farm management"

Animal health and welfare in organic livestock production in Europe: current state and future challenges. [Livestock Production Science, Volume 80, Issue 2, Page 41; M . Hovi]: "The authors conclude that, whilst the available data are limited and the implementation of the EC regulation is relatively recent, there is little evidence to suggest that organic livestock management causes major threats to animal health and welfare in comparison with conventional systems. There are, however, some well-identified areas, like parasite control and balanced ration formulation, where efforts are needed to find solutions that meet with organic standard requirements and guarantee high levels of health and welfare."

Mastitis, Ketosis, and Milk Fever in 31 Organic and 93 Conventional Norwegian Dairy Herds [Journal of Dairy Science Vol. 84 No. 12 2673-2679; F. Hardeng and V. L. Edge]: "All herds certified for organic farming in 1994 with a herd size of more than five cow-years were included. Conventional herds were matched on size and region, and from these, three herds were randomly selected for each organic herd. This resulted in a study group of 31 organic and 93 conventional herds with data from 1994 through 1997. [...] Management system had a highly significant effect on disease incidence. Odds ratios for organic compared with conventional herds were as follows: mastitis, 0.38; ketosis, 0.33; and milk fever, 0.60."

Part 3:

A comparison of production and management between Wisconsin organic and conventional dairy herds. [Livestock Production Science, Volume 93, Issue 2, Pages 105 - 115; K. Sato, P. Bartlett, R. Erskine, J. Kaneene]: "An observational study was conducted in Wisconsin to compare production and management on organic and conventional dairy farms. Thirty organic dairy herds, where antimicrobials are rarely used for calves and never used for cows, were compared with 30 neighboring conventional dairy farms on which antimicrobials were routinely used for animals of all ages. [...] The incidence of clinical mastitis (CM) on organic farms (28 cases per 100 cow-years at risk) was not statistically different from that of on conventional farms (32 cases per 100 cow-years at risk). No significant difference in bulk tank somatic cell count (BTSCC) was observed between organic farms (262,000 cells/ml) and conventional farms (285,000 cells/ml). The average annual cull rate was 18.0 cases per 100 cow-years for the conventional farms and 17.2 for the organic farms (P=0.426)"

Herd-level risk factors for the mortality of cows in Danish dairy herds [The Veterinary Record 158:622-625 (2006); P. T. Thomsen, DVM, A. M. Kjeldsen, MSc, J. T. Sørensen, MSc, PhD, H. Houe, DVM, PhD, DrMedVet and A. K. Ersbøll, MSc, PhD]: "The factors affecting the mortality of cows in Danish dairy herds were investigated by analysing data from 6839 herds. [...] The risk of mortality was lower in organic herds (OR 1) than in conventional herds (OR 1·17)"

Mastitis and related management factors in certified organic dairy herds in Sweden [Acta Vet Scand. 2006; 48(1): 11; Cecilia Hamilton, Ulf Emanuelson, Kristina Forslund, Ingrid Hansson and Torkel Ekman]: "It has been assumed that organic farmers hesitate to call the veterinarian for medical treatment because of the costs of the doubled withdrawal time. Because of this they may be more inclined to use homeopathic remedies. The results from this and other studies [15,16] suggest that the readiness to call the veterinarian is similar among organic and conventional farmers in Sweden, with a wide range within both groups."

I can't find anything to show (or even suggest) that the rate of fatalities due to disease, disease rates in general, or levels of animal welfare in general are worse under organic systems. Your turn.

[Bonus interesting but OT paper: Reduced lung cancer mortality in dairy farmers: Is endotoxin exposure the key factor? - "Endotoxins may have protected the dairy farmers against lung cancer through the tumor necrosis factor produced by alveolar macrophages." I love the internet!]

Yeah, sorry about the spam filter – your earlier posts were held by the filter, but breaking the posts up seemed to work.  (And I think they all came through that way.)

Anyway – some interesting studies.  OK I concede that there is no evidence to show the rate of fatalities due to disease or disease rates in general (possibly apart from parasites, according to one study) are worse under organic systems. Clearly we should consider studies, not just anecdotes and I was overreaching.

I still question your original statement that the rules allow (in fact, require) treatment of disease.  The rules do say the animal must be treated immediately, but they state that “complementary therapies such as homeopathy should be used in preference” to real medicine.  I know you agree that homeopathy is bunk so I won’t labor the point, but if they state the animal must be treated, but this treatment should be homeopathy, then in reality they’re not saying the animal should be treated.  It seems to me animals may be faring well in spite of the rules, rather than because of them. 

No, they state that sick animals should be treated as directed by a vet. Not only that, but there is also the legal requirement to provide adequate veterinary care: withholding veterinary treatment is criminal animal mistreatment. People can and do get caught mistreating their animals in this way (because the tracking and inspection rules in the EU are extremely tight), and when they do they receive significant fines, are usually banned from keeping livestock for significant periods (if not life), and occasionally go to jail. Although I don't think I've ever heard of an organic farmer being prosecuted for such abuses... (However, Google does find me one example in Tasmania.)

Because of the concerns around BSE and other diseases, the EU has an amazingly detailed and bureaucratic system for tracking the movements of livestock, especially cattle, which are individually tracked throughout their entire lives from birth to death. You just can't have a cow die without somebody noticing. You can't buy, sell, transport, slaughter, or dispose of a cow without the proper documentation, and discrepancies get noted and tracked down.

It seems to me animals may be faring well in spite of the rules, rather than because of them.

In spite of the one particular rule (or rather suggestion - it's not a rule that you have to use homoeopathy, and you won't loose your certification if you don't) you're choosing to focus on, from a collection the size of a strapping young telephone directory. You're ignoring all the other welfare rules and principles of organic livestock management - you know, the ones that actually work, because they're based on real science.

I've also just noticed that in your reference to the recommendation for homoeopathic / alternative treatments, you've very conveniently elided the important qualifier: "This is provided that their therapeutic effect is effective for the species of animal and the condition for which the treatment is intended." (Of course, as far as I'm concerned, that means "never".) And you have also completely overlooked the list of specific conditions and their recommended treatments (many of them "chemicals", or even vaccines, shock horror!) which is presented towards the of the document. For example, under "wormers":

"Avermectins are generally not permitted for worming under Soil Association standards. Levamisoles and benzimidazoles are considered the first choice, partly because they have a less detrimental effect on soil and dung fauna and partly because valuable treatments like avermectins should be kept in reserve for when they are really needed. The Soil Association recommends rotating between the first two worming groups. Moxidectins are acceptable for worming if levamisoles or benzimidazoles are not effective or appropriate. However, there are circumstances where the Soil Association would accept avermectin use is justified."

Those crazy hippies!

One other minor point:

possibly apart from parasites, according to one study

The statement you are refering to is: "There are, however, some well-identified areas, like parasite control and balanced ration formulation, where efforts are needed to find solutions that meet with organic standard requirements and guarantee high levels of health and welfare."

I don't read that as indicating that there is an actual problem ("there is little evidence to suggest that organic livestock management causes major threats to animal health and welfare") but rather as simply the sort of "these are the areas that would particularly benefit from further research" type of statement that you would naturally expect to find in paper featuring the words "current state and future challenges" in its title, on any subject and in any discipline. A paper of that type which didn't contain such a statement would be surprising, as identifying the areas which would most benefit from further research is the primary purpose of that type of paper.

No, they state that sick animals should be treated as directed by a vet.

Yes, but with homeopathy.

there is also the legal requirement to provide adequate veterinary care: withholding veterinary treatment is criminal animal mistreatment. People can and do get caught mistreating their animals in this way

Prosecuted for treating their animals with homeopathy only?  Really?  You can back that up?

In spite of the one particular rule (or rather suggestion - it's not a rule that you have to use homoeopathy,

Really?

…the organic standards, state that complementary therapies such as homeopathy should be used…

They “state.”  Not “suggest.”  Sounds like a rule.

and you won't loose your certification if you don't)

But you obviously might.  If you didn’t start with homeopathy. 

I've also just noticed that in your reference to the recommendation for homoeopathic / alternative treatments, you've very conveniently elided the important qualifier: "This is provided that their therapeutic effect is effective for the species of animal and the condition for which the treatment is intended."

But who decides what is “effective”?  A homeopath will tell you homeopathy is always effective.  How would a farmer – who probably doesn’t frequent skeptic forums where homeopathy is discussed – know homeopathy doesn’t work? 

Another two parter. Part One:

OK, I can only now conclude that you are taking a skewed view of the document cited. Please re-read it in its entirety and consider how the discussion of homoeopathy fits into the general context. Please also note that the document in question is titled "Information for vets: an introduction to animal health under organic standards" and is a briefing paper. It is not actually a set of hard and fast rules for certification. The actual certification standards dealing with livestock which are summarised here [PDF, 219kB] and the relevant section is 16.7: Handling of Livestock and Animal Welfare. You will find no mention of homoeopathy in it, nor will you it anywhere else in that document, nor indeed in the full set of Soil Association standards for producers [PDF, 4.5 Mb], where the relevant sections are in chapter 10, specifically sections 10.9 and 10.10. The closest you're going to find to a compulsion to use homoeopathy is 10.9.1:

If you need to use veterinary treatments you must use complementary therapies and trace elements, preferably with professional veterinary guidance, and provided that their healing effect works for the species and the condition you are treating.
[My emphasis]

However, we also find in 10.9.3:

You must:

• use veterinary treatments for your animals, buildings, equipment and
facilities if national or EU legislation requires it, even if this means your
animals will lose their organic status, and

• have veterinary approval for using unlicensed herbal preparations.

And lets not forget that the term "complimentary therapies" does not refer exclusively to homoeopathy.

As for who gets to decide what's effective, that's where the "professional veterinary
guidance" comes in - "professional" clearly meaning "certified by the appropriate professional governing body", which in this case is the British Veterinary Association, which is not exactly what you'd call a hotbed of alties. You can't just call yourself a veterinary professional like you can call yourself a nutritionist - it's a protected professional title, like "surgeon" or "accountant".

As for:

Prosecuted for treating their animals with homeopathy only? Really? You can back that up?

What I meant was the people get prosecuted for not providing adequate veterinary care. I can't find a case where that has ever been the sole violation, because people who do that sort of thing tend to mistreat their animals in other ways as well. And we still haven't definitively established that there has ever been an instance of someone treating sick animals with homoeopathy only, so I'm not going to have much chance finding evidence of someone being prosecuted for it. (You can, of course, treat healthy animals with homoeopathy as much as you like - it's not going to do any harm, is it? Nor do I see any particular problem with using homoeopathy in the absence of a more effective treatment, on the same basis.)

Part Two:

On that point, it occurred to me this morning that the data I presented yesterday provokes another hypothesis - that the use of antibiotics to control mastitis in dairy cattle (the only specific ailment for which homoeopathy is recommended in the briefing paper you're so attached to) is not particularly effective. According to Comparison of homeopathy, placebo and antibiotic treatment of clinical mastitis in dairy cows - methodological issues and results from a randomized-clinical trial [J Vet Med A Physiol Pathol Clin Med. 2004 Dec;51(9-10):439-46; Hektoen L, Larsen S, Odegaard SA, Løken T]: "A three-armed, stratified, semi-crossover design comparing homeopathy, placebo and a standardized antibiotic treatment was used. Fifty-seven dairy cows were included. Evaluation was made by two score scales, with score I measuring acute symptoms and score II measuring chronic symptoms, and by recording the frequencies of responders to treatment based on four different responder definitions. Significant reductions in mastitis signs were observed in all treatment groups. Homeopathic treatment was not statistically different from either placebo or antibiotic treatment at day 7 (P = 0.56, P = 0.09) or at day 28 (P = 0.07, P = 0.35). The antibiotic treatment was significantly better than placebo measured by the reduction in score I (P < 0.01). Two-thirds of the cases both in the homeopathy and placebo groups responded clinically within 7 days. The outcome measured by frequencies of responders at day 28 was poor in all treatment groups."

Make of that what you will, bearing in mind that we're all agreed that homoeopathy is bollocks and doesn't work at all. I also found Efficacy of Two Therapy Regimens for Treatment of Experimentally Induced Escherichia coli Mastitis in Cows [Journal of Dairy Science Vol. 77 No. 2 453-461; S. Pyörälä, L. Kaartinen, H. Käck, and V. Rainio]: "The objective of the study was to monitor the effect of two therapy regimens on experimental Escherichia coli mastitis. Single udder quarters of 12 cows that were at least 30 d postpartum were inoculated with 1500 cfu of E. coli. The inoculation was repeated in the contralateral quarter after a 3- to 4-wk interval. Initially, half of the cows were treated with antimicrobials, and the remaining half were left untreated. At the second inoculation, the cows that were originally treated were not treated, and vice versa. [...] Treatment did not significantly affect the elimination rate of bacteria or any of the measured parameters. Significant positive correlations existed among milk bacterial counts, endotoxin concentrations, and clinical signs at the acute stage of the infection. Based on these findings, antimicrobial therapy of E. coli mastitis during lactation apparently is no more beneficial than no treatment." [My emphasis]

So, it seems that a reliance on treatments of questionable efficacy is another thing that the organic movement has no monopoly on...

Also, you're assuming that the use of ineffective alternative treatments is limited to (or at least significantly more prevalent in) the organic movement. I see no evidence to support that assumption. From an earlier cite in this thread: "the readiness to call the veterinarian is similar among organic and conventional farmers in Sweden, with a wide range within both groups." So, what are the conventional farmers who aren't calling the vet getting up to?

A correction: I note that "homeopathy" (in its American spelling) does appear twice in the full set of producers standards I cited. Once under section 10.10.21, which is part of the section on mastitis control (along with advice to "strip the affected quarter frequently; use cold water treatments; use licensed herbal udder creams; use teat sealants at drying off to prevent new infection") and once in the glossary as part of the definition for "complimentary therapies".

While it annoys me that it's there at all, and it annoys me even more that the actual wording is "use effective homeopathy", I certainly don't think that its presence within the context of rest of section 10.10 ("Control of specific ailments") indicates anything like a blanket reliance on homoeopathy (or "homeopathy", if you prefer). And I think I've already shown that the particular case of mastitis is somewhat more complex and equivocal than it might at first appear.

I also note that the term "homeopathic" is mentioned 3 times: once in the table of withdrawal periods (it has none, unsurprisingly), once under section 10.10.28 ("You should use homeopathic remedies to control orf in sheep and goats.") and once under section 30.10.2 (section 30.10 deals with welfare in aquaculture), where the context is:

You should treat disease by: • promoting natural immunity • using natural herbal treatments and homeopathic remedies • using salt (sodium chloride) baths or flushes to prevent parasite build-up, and • isolating diseased stock using tight quarantine procedures.

So, homoeopathy is mentioned (5 times) and recommended (3 times), but only for certain specific ailments (except in the case of aquaculture, where there are no specific ailments detailed) and as one component of a multi-faceted disease management approach, which also includes conventional veterinary treatment. And that's in a document consisting of 376 pages... Hardly an exclusive reliance on woo.

However, I admit that I clearly need to be more careful in future. ;)

If you're genuinely interested in how organic producers treat diseases in livestock, I would highly recommend reading section 10.10 in its entirety. It might give you a more balanced understanding of the actual reality of the matter.

I would also like to note that in all cases where the use of homoeopathy is recommended, the word used is "should", rather than "must". These two words are used very precisely and distinctly, as described in section 1.1:

We have written our standards in plain English to make them as simple and clear as possible. Each standard clearly indicates how you should treat it.

What you ‘should’ do

These give the ideal or best organic practice. They say how you should ideally
be working.

What you ‘must’ do

These state the actual requirements, including what you must get our
permission for and what you must not do.

What you ‘may’ do

These state what you can do. We say if you need to get our permission for
these or if there are other conditions.

So, there you have it: you cannot lose your organic certification for not using homoeopathy, and there is no requirement to use homoeopathy.

Some colleagues of mine were using a "popular" commercial "detox" product so I took the opportunity to read the label (since they hadn't bothered to). The ingredients included (*copied here from a website selling the stuff):

Caffeine 12mg per capful (4 capfuls eq. to a week cup of coffee). COntains aspatame. Phenylketonurics are warned that this product contains phenylalanine. Contains glucose. Contains hydroxybenzoates. Contains sorbate(s).

*[sic] all errors.

If this were a vaccine, the alternatives would be condemning it at rallies.

I have read the whole document.  It is you who is ignoring what it really says.  What you are missing is that it says you are supposed to start with Woo.  It even uses the word “allopathy” for god’s sake.  From that you just know it was written by a homeopath.  That is the whole point, the point you are missing, which is that the Woo is inserted to usurp the real medicine.  Haven’t you been paying attention?  That is the whole strategy.  Read my recent post on Chopra, and Orac’s post on it and Steven Novella’s posts – they’re sneaking in Woo under the radar so that it replaces the real stuff.  That’s how it works and that is what you are trying to spin away.  They CLEARLY state that Woo should be given first.  It’s in the instructions.  You stated that rules require treatment of disease.  If Woo should be used in preference to real medicine then the rules don’t require real treatment.  It really is that simple.

Read the detailed recommendations for specific ailments (section 10.10 in the full set of producers standards). Note the complete lack of any recommendation to use homoeopathic treatments for any conditions other than mastitis in dairy cattle and orf in sheep and goats. If those standards were the work of True Believers, homoeopathy would be recommended for everything. (Agriculutural homoeopaths are, if anything, even worse than mainstream ones. They really do believe homoeopathy can cure everything. I've even heard of homoeopathic weed killer, which you apply to one plant and then somehow magically broadcasts itself to all the others. Fortunately, those particular loons don't appear to have discovered the internet yet.)

The briefing note certainly betrays the influence of a True Believer (such as the use of the bullshit term "allopathic", as you rightly point out) but it's only a briefing note. It is not a normative document. And even then, it doesn't actually recommend homoeopathy for any specific condition other than mastitis, and specifics carry more weight than generalities. For example, under "Wormers": "Levamisoles and benzimidazoles are considered the first choice". Not homoeopathic wormers.

I certainly agree that homoeopathy True Believers (and other assorted kooks) are well-represented within the organic movement, and that it's a problem. However, I believe the best solution is not to dismiss the organic movement in toto - rather, I believe that the best approach is (if you will pardon the pun) to dilute them. The more rational people become involved with the organic movement, the less weight the True Believers will carry. Hopefully they will eventually all bugger off into biodynamics, where they can froth and moan with the other loonies to their hearts' content. I think that's a far more rational and productive strategy than trying to create an entirely rational sustainability movement from scratch, not least because no large group of people is ever entirely composed of strict rationalists, and I don't want to end up being the Popular Front of Judea.

It is an unfortunate reality of organisational politics that you sometimes need to grant concessions to certain constituencies in the interests of actually getting anything done. However, as long as diverse groups groups of people need to co-operate in order to achieve shared goals, that's just the way it's going to be. Are you familiar with the maxim that "the perfect is the enemy of the good"?

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