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Monday, January 31, 2011

Rethinking Public Dollars To Promote Organic Adoption


This post originally appeared on "Red Green and Blue" on 1/31/11.  For a list of all my posts, click here

There was a news story this week about how there are $1.5 million of Federal funds available to help farmers in Nebraska convert to Organic.  This is part of an Obama administration initiative to promote the expansion of Organic agriculture.  Frankly, this is a token effort that will have little effect, but there is an absurd dimension of this that is worth considering.
In case you haven't noticed, we are well on our way back into the sort of food crisis that sparked riots back in the 2007/8 timeframe (see graph above).  Population growth, economic development in the Third World, Climate Change, increasing energy costs, and biofuel demand are all combining to strain food supplies and to raise food prices in ways that will severely hurt the poor around the world.  This is a time when "bread basket" nations like the US need to increase their output of food, but to do so in a land-use-efficient manner.  It is this context that makes the small time promotion of Organic so absurd.

What About Organic?

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service conducted a first-of-its-kind, detailed survey of Organic crop production in 2008.  The results were released in 2010 and I just finished an analysis of those data in comparison to data on all crops. I posted this analysis in downloadable form on SCRIBD.  What that study showed is that the Organic harvested area is extremely small (0.52% of US Cropland).  It also showed that Organic is much less productive on a per acre basis.  How much less productive? For 2008, to have produced what US agriculture produced all Organically, we would have needed 43% more harvested land.  That is more additional cropland than in the 6 biggest crop states combined.  This additional land demand represents a land mass the size of France or 77% the size of Texas!

The Husker Context

Since the article was about promoting Organic in Nebraska, lets take a look at what Organic means for the Husker state.  Organic makes up less than one quarter of one percent of the acres devoted to Nebraska's seven major crops (see graph above).  Organic yields range from 90% of the state average for the tiny, 176 acre Organic dry bean industry, to 29% of state average yield for the 5,174 acre Organic, Proso millet industry.  Overall, to have produced Nebraska's total crop output in 2008 at Organic yields, it would have required 8.5 million more acres - a 50% increase.  Obviously, $1.5MM isn't going to move Organic from <0.25% of Nebraska ag to 100%, but even the slightest change is in the wrong direction.

Bottom Line

So here is the problem.  The world is facing an increasingly daunting task of feeding itself in an age of climate change, peak oil, and growth.  Food shortages and high food prices drive not just human suffering but also political instability.  Organic farming is clearly a lower productivity option.  So, why exactly would we use dollars borrowed from future generations of Americans to encourage farmers in Nebraska (or anywhere) to do less than they could to help feed humanity today?
You are welcome to comment here or to email me directly at feedback.sdsavage@gmail.com
Graphs by Steve Savage based on USDA data

A Detailed Look at US Organic Farming


(This post was originally published on Sustainablog on 1/31/2011.  For links to all my other posts on various site click here)


In 2008, the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the USDA (USDA-NASS) conducted a first-time, in-depth survey of the US Organic farming sector.  A summary was published in 2010 from which it is possible to see state-by-state and crop-by-crop how many Organic acres were harvested, how much they produced, and how much the crop was worth.  USDA-NASS conducts the same sort of surveys of overall US agriculture every year, so I took both data sets and put them side by side in order to compare Organic with the rest of crop agriculture (not animal agriculture).  I have posted that analysis as a downloadable PowerPoint slide set on SCRIBD, and I invite you to take a look at the details if you are interested.  I will present a brief summary here.

There are four main take-home messages from these data:

  • Organic is a very small part of US agriculture
  • Organic is significantly less productive on a per area basis
  • Organic acreage, and to a greater extent, Organic production, is skewed to the dry, Western states
  • Farmers are paid higher prices for Organic commodities, but when combined with lower productivity, income per acre is no always much higher and even sometimes lower


Organic: Still Tiny After All These Years

Even though I've been observing Organic for more than 30 years, I'm always amazed at how small it is.  In spite of all the hype about Organic being "the fastest growing segment of the food market," the extensive marketing, the celebrity endorsements, and the brand recognition - the amount of harvested Organic cropland in 2008 represented only 0.516 percent of the total (1.6 million acres out of 309.6 million total cropland acres.  See chart above).   The fact that so little cropland is Organic after more than 30 years of commercial and research progress suggests that Organic will never be more than a niche.
For the important grain crops like wheat, soybeans, or rice; Organic is well under one percent of acreage and even a smaller proportion of production.  The largest of all Organic crops on an area basis, Hay (402,000 acres), represents only 0.7% of the total.
There are somewhat higher percentages of Organic for certain vegetable crops.  About 6% of spinach production is Organic and a similar proportion of squash and sweet potatoes.  However, Organic peppers, garlic, cantaloupes, snap beans, sweet corn and tomatoes are all less that one percent on a production basis.
In terms of fruit, apples have the highest percent Organic (just under 5% in terms of production, slightly over 5% in terms of area).  Most fruit crops are in the range of 1-3% Organic.

Lower Productivity

To be fair, productivity was never an explicit goal of the Organic philosophy or of the Organic rules.  Restrictions to "natural fertilizers" and to "natural pesticides"  make it difficult for an Organic farmer to optimize plant nutrition during periods of rapid growth and difficult to control insects, weeds and diseases.  Thus, Organic yields tend to fall in the 60-80% range with a few higher values and many lower values.

This may not sound like all that dramatic a difference, but for 2008, for the US to have produced the same total crop output at the Organic yield levels, it would have been necessary to have harvested from an additional 132 million acres - a 43% increase.  That would have represented more than the cropland equivalents of the 6 biggest farming states (IA, IL, ND, FL, KS and MN).  132 million acres is a land area the size of France or 77% of the area of Texas.  Obviously, this would be impossible because there simply isn't that much suitable land available.

Organic and Rain Don't Mix Well

The Local Food Movement decries the degree to which fruit and vegetable production is concentrated in states like California and Washington, but this is even more true of Organic cropping.  The West represents 12% of all US cropland and 43% of Organic.  Part of this can be attributed to the lack of good fungicides in Organic.  Plant diseases usually require moisture for infection, so disease issues are less serious in the irrigated, desert West.  In the Midwest, East and Southeast, there is much more rain during the growing season, and with only the old Copper-based fungicides, diseases take their toll on Organic.  Apples are a good example:  In Washington State, Organic apple yields are 82% of the state average.  In the three biggest apple states outside of the West (NY, PA and MI), Organic yields are 33%, 32% and 56% of state averages respectively.  Not surprisingly, 93% of Organic apple acres are in the West and 97.5% of the apple production (vs 59% and 71% for all apples).   California yields are low because, with global warming, California gets more of its precipitation as spring rain rather than winter snow in the mountains.  It has been causing severe disease issues for Organic apple growers in the Golden State.

As another example, Organic cabbage yields in California are only 59% of the state average, but in wetter GA, NY and NC, the Organic yields are 23%, 6% and 14% respectively.  One implication of all this is that Local and Organic don't go together well for much of the US.  The other implication is that the West's significant farming problems (limited water, limited labor, urbanization) are even more exaggerated for Organic moving forward.

The "Organic Premium"

Organic farmers tend to get paid more for each bushel, ton or hundredweight they produce, and of course this is passed along (usually with additional "premiums" through the chain) to the consumer.  For instance, an Organic potato grower in California gets paid 1.8 times as much as a conventional grower for each hundred weight of potatoes.  However; because the average Organic potato yield in CA is only 56% of average, the total income per acre is exactly the same as for conventional.  Whether that is more or less profitable for the grower depends on many other differences in cost structure and really isn't addressed in this study.  A California peach grower is paid 4.1 times as much per pound, but with 40% as much yield, only 1.6 times as much per acre.  An Organic peanut grower in Texas was paid 1.7 times as much per pound, but with 86% average yield that means 1.45 times as much per acre income.  Again, net grower economics are much more complex than this and really have to include year-to-year risk factors.  The bottom line; however, is that whatever the economics, they have not been sufficient to drive very much adoption of Organic in US Agriculture

Conclusion

I'm glad that the USDA completed this study, and I hope they will do so periodically.  The discussion of the merits or limitations of Organic has long suffered from a lack of hard data.  At least we now have this snapshot of 2008.
You are welcome to comment here or to contact me directly at feedback.sdsavage@gmail.com
Graphs by Steve Savage based on the USDA data

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Technology Will Enhance Biofuel Potential


(This post first appeared on Red Green and Blue.  For links to my other posts click here)


Today Chromatin, Inc. announced that it has successfully employed it's "mini-chromosome" technology in sugarcane as a part of it's collaboration with Switzerland head-quartered Syngenta.  What this technology allows is the simultaneous addition of several genes, something that is difficult or impossible to to with standard genetic engineering methods.  This is particularly important for a crop like sugarcane that is vegetatively propagated (not grown from seed).  To move traits into multiple varieties of such a crop would be prohibitively expensive under current regulatory limitations.

How It Works

Chromatin uses the DNA of the host plant to make an additional chromosome that has all that is needed for it to be replicated along with all the other chromosomes.  Starting with that basic structure, the new chromosome can carry several new genes.  The new chromosome is stable in the plant and there is no "random insertion" into the host genome as with a standard GMO crop.

Why Sugarcane?

Sugarcane is already far and away the most efficient biofuel crop, but this technology could be used to further enhance that advantage.  With both energy prices and global food prices rising, this crop becomes a very logical candidate for alternative energy with minimum food impact.

An Option For Other Vegetatively Propagated Crops?

Many important food crops are also vegetatively propagated (technically speaking, "cloned.").  These include potatoes, cassava, garlic and all fruits.  For most of those crops it has never made economic sense to invest in genetic engineering.  The Chromatin technology has the potential to change that depending on the regulatory environment.  For instance, there are genes in wild versions of cultivated potatoes or grapes that could be moved into the desirable, commercial varieties of those same species to address major disease problems for those crops.
It will take many years for all of this to play out from a technical and regulatory perspective, but today's announcement is definitely a key milestone.  There will be plenty of time to discuss and study the ramifications of this technology before it goes to a commercial scale.
You are welcome to comment here or to email me at feedback.sdsavage@gmail.com
Sugarcane image from Rufino Uribe via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Interesting And Disturbing Population Trends

This version of this post originally appeared on Red Green and Blue on 1/25/10.  I have re-posted it in response to a recent GRIST posting saying we need to talk about "population control."  The comment stream includes many examples of people who have a very negative attitude about our own species, but what few people seem to realize is that birth rates in the developed world have already dropped - in many cases to alarmingly low levels.  In those parts of the world the problem is not over-population but rather the implications of a rapidly aging population.  (Click here for a list of other posts on various sites)

Trends in the proportion of children
Fertility rates are declining around the world and most of what is written about this trend casts it in a positive light.  The cover story of last November's Economist magazine carried the headline: "Falling Fertility - How the Population Problem is Solving Itself."  It claimed that countries like China are enjoying a "demographic dividend" over the coming decades.  As positive as an end to human population increase might be for the planet, the question that is not getting much attention is, "what next?"  After population reaches an inflection point and begins to decline, what will society be like?  I won't live to see this, but my grand daughter who was born last month certainly will.
My good friend John sent me a link to the IIASA website (International Institute for Applied System Analysis) where it is possible to download data from their models of global demographic trends (I've made some graphs of that data).  Most such models stop at 2050 but this one goes out to 2100.  If these models are correct, there are some major challenges ahead for humanity.  The most immediate is how to feed the population that will continue to increase until about 2060.  The next is how to deal with a population that is getting very old.  If you are an American, the trends in the following graphs should be seriously unsettling.  We have a dysfunctional, hyper-partisan-dominated, political establishment that is chronically unable to find reasonable solutions to the challenges of medical costs, Social Security insolvency or immigration reform, and yet addressing these very issues will become even more critical in the future pictured in these graphs.

Fewer and Fewer Children

The first thing that strikes me (see graph above) is the declining proportion of children.  This global trend is well under way in the developed world and is only slightly less so in North America because of immigration.  I wonder at what point colleges will start competing for the few remaining students?

Proportion of societies that will be over 80

More and More Old People

The opposite trend is occurring in terms of the octogenarian segment of the population. Look at the graph above and imagine what Medicare is going to cost in 20-30 years!  Maybe we can start converting elementary schools into assisted living facilities.

Proportion of the population in the traditional working age category

A Declining Workforce

The biggest concern that I see is the impending decline in the proportion of the "working age" population in every part of the world except Sub-Saharan Africa.  Who is going to do the jobs that require physical stamina?  Who is going to do construction or take care of labor-intensive crops?  Why should people continue to come to work hard in a place like the US that unethically continues to rely on a force of immigrant laborers to whom they won't even give "guest worker status?"  In not that many years, the nations of the world will be competing for a shrinking supply of able-bodied folks willing to do physically challenging jobs.  In the decades after that I'm relatively sure that labor-intensive crops (like many fruits and vegetables) will become very high priced delicacies.  Only the crops that can be highly mechanized will be affordable in a world that will still have a major food supply challenge until the last part of the century. 

Trends in the working age population

Aging Baby Boomers

Of course, In the short term, the big shift will be the huge increase of people in the 60-80 year-old range as we "baby boomers" age.  It has been obvious for decades that our generation would break the existing Social Security system that is based on a massive wealth transfer from the younger generation to the older.  Of course that obviously inevitable problem has never lead to any reform or adjustment of the system because it has always been too easy to turn logical ideas into negative campaigning ammunition.  It is clear that we are going to need to keep as many of the baby boomers as possible in the work force (and tax base) until 70 or 75.

Trends in the dependency ratio

A Growing Burden for the Young

IISAA tracks an interesting statistic called the "Old Age Dependency Ratio" which is simply the projected population over 60 divided by the projected population of "working age" people between 20 and 60.  Look how many regions will have six people over 60 for every ten working people by 2050!  Even if we manage to keep people working past 60, the most age-challenged countries will increasingly want to be able to attract people of reproductive age through immigration and tax policy.

Population growth and the resulting increase in food demand is certainly an issue for now, but simultaneously we need to find ways to deal with these demographic trends and their impact on societies.

I would be interested to know your reaction to this information. You are welcome to comment on this post or to email me at feedback.sdsavage@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Concern and Encouragement In The News About Climate Change and Food

FAO Price Index Trends
(This post originally appeared on Sustainablog on 1/11/11.  For a list of my previous posts on various sites click here)
Last week, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released a reportwhich described the current upswing of global food prices (see chart above).  They characterized it as a “polite warning” of things to come in an era of climate change.
This rise is reminiscent of the 2007/8 food-price spike. That phenomenon raised American food prices by a modest 5%.  That same spike caused food riots in several countries that are highly dependent on imported food and for whom food is a large part or a family budget.  It looks like we are headed for a similar crisis again.

The Role Of Climate Change

Climate extremes played a significant role in both of these food price spikes, but there were other factors involved (rising population, rising income levels in China and India, increasing energy costs, biofuel demand).  This troublesome brew of factors is likely to combine with greater frequency and intensity according to all the models of climate change.  In the future, supply issues with phosphorus fertilizer could become another driver of food shortages.  In the absence of a coordinated international response to climate change, it is prudent to be doing the work to try to prepare our food system for these inevitable shocks.

A Bit of Hope for the Food Supply

That brings up the hopeful bit of news from last week.  Pioneer Hi-Breds (owned by DuPont) announced that it will commercially launch a new line of AquaMax corn hybrids for farmers in the Western Corn Belt of the US in 2012.  These seed options will give farmers around a 5% yield advantage under drought limiting circumstances.  This is a very significant advancement, but it was not the first of its type.  The seed companies Garst and NK (owned by Syngenta) have previously announced that they will start selling their own Agrisure Artesian  drought tolerant corn hybrids in that market in 2011.
This may not sound that significant, but drought tolerance has long been something of a "holy grail" for the seed industry.  Most of the world's farms are "rain fed" meaning that they are completely dependent on precipitation to support the growth of the crop.  In some areas like Iowa (see Chart below), growing season rainfall is commonly in the 18-24 inch range that is optimal for a corn crop, but there still are years that are too dry or when the pattern of the rainfall is non-ideal.  Areas like Western Nebraska are frequently dry enough that yields are severely limited.  The new hybrids that are soon to be available will actually help growers in both areas and actually represent a significant and long-sought advancement.  Enhanced drought tolerance has always been a desirable trait, but climate change makes it even more important.
108-year Rainfall Data From NOAA
In both cases (DuPont and Syngenta), these new drought tolerant lines were developed using "marker assisted selection" (MAS).  This is just traditional breeding informed by the ability to track the movement of hundreds of genes in the crosses via biotechnology.  There are also efforts underway to enhance drought tolerance with transgenic methods, but it will be several years at best before those make it through the regulatory process.  The MAS approach is also being extended to other crops like wheat.

A Case Where A For-Profit Effort Is Good For Society and Can Be Extended to Non-Profit Activity

There are some people who seem to think there is something intrinsically wrong with a for-profit seed industry, but this is a good example of how competitive, commercial companies make multi-million-dollar, long-term investments that would otherwise never occur. In this case, an investment that will not only benefit the farmers and the seed companies, but also the poor of the world who really feel the impact of food price spikes. In addition, the technology advancements from these commercial seed markets are being leveraged on a not-for-profit bais to deliver similar benefits to small-holder farmers in the developing world.  It is estimated that climate change could drop production for poor maize farmers by 30%, so this is important.

Leveraging The Investment for Poor, Small-Holder Agriculture

Syngenta, through its philanthropic arm the Syngenta Foundation, is working with the independent, international breeding program, CIMMYT, to make their drought tolerance technology available for the corn hybrids that are grown by small farmers throughout Asia.  There is a similar project for sub-Saharan Africa called WEMA which is funded by the Gates Foundation among others.  It is leveraging conventional and MAB advances from Monsanto.  This is not about creating markets for the big seed companies, as many falsely claim.  The goal is to provide the advanced technology to the local seed companies and to the governmental breeding programs in the Third World – technology they could never afford to develop.
The bottom line is that we are facing at least periodic food supply challenges that are exacerbated by climate change.  It is a really good thing that companies have been investing in the development of crops that can ameliorate that threat, at least to some degree.  This in no way reduces the need for society to wrestle with the issue of climate change from a personal and public policy perspective.  It is just one small but important contribution.
Graphics by Steve Savage.  Price information based on FAO data.  Rainfall data from NOAA.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Two Examples of Safety Progress: Automobile Travel and Agricultural Pest Control


For A List of Links to All My Posts Click Here

I remember the first time I wore a seatbelt.  It was 1964 and I was nine.  My dad had them installed in our Chevrolet Bel Air Station Wagon.
The lack of seat belts was only one of many safety deficiencies of that vehicle! Obviously there have been vast improvements in the safety of car travel since that time.  No one would be surprised to read that the US rate of fatalities per million miles of vehicle travel has been dropping every year since 1920 and is now down to the range of 2 people per million miles driven.
Vehicle travel is still a leading cause of death, but we have made great strides in the relative safety of this important activity and everyone knows about it.

A Less Appreciated Example of Safety Progress

The safety of pest control in agriculture has also improved dramatically over the same time period, but this is something that most people don’t know about or wouldn’t be likely to believe.  I think there are four main reasons for this difference in the perception of safety progress:
  1. Very few people have any direct or even indirect involvement in farming that would allow them to experience the changes
  2. Few people understand the critical difference between “hazard” and “risk”
  3. The way that the EPA regulates pesticide risk does not allow for relative safety claims
  4. There are numerous groups in society with a vested economic interest in having people be frightened about pesticides and other technologies

The Status Of Pest Control When I Was Riding In The ’63 Bel Air

When I was nine and first “buckling up for safety,” farmers didn’t have particularly good tools for controlling pests, and the ones they had were often nasty.  They had products based on heavy metals (tin, copper, even mercury).  They had products based on arsenic.  They had products based on sulfur or lime sulfur.  They had some synthetic chemicals including DDT and some of the early, and very toxic Organophosphates.  There was no Environmental Protection Agency and only an emerging understanding of the environmental, worker, and consumer safety issues.

What Changed?

All of this began to change in the late sixties and there has been tremendous progress since that time.  I’ve been directly involved in this field since 1977 and I have seen significant changes of at least eight types (listed in declining order based on my best guess of their relative contribution to safety progress):
1. Development of new pesticide products with very low intrinsic toxicity or environmental impact
2. De-registration or discontinuation of the pesticides with serious risk issues for the environment or human health

3. EPA regulation of pesticide use pattern restrictions (minimum re-entry intervals, rate limitations – total and per use, protective equipment requirements, minimum pre-harvest intervals) which limit worker exposure and consumer residue exposure
4. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approaches (scouting, economic thresholds for application,  trap crops, crop rotation, attention to preservation of natural enemies…)
5. Precision Application (seed treatments vs furrow drenches, electrostatic sprayers, drift control technologies…)
6. Advances in genetic pest resistance via traditional breeding, Marker Enhanced Breeding, or Biotechnology
7. Progress in non-pesticidal control methods (pheromone confusion, microclimate management, protected culture…)
8. Biological controls (a very cool approach and one I worked on for many years, but honestly a relatively small part of the solution)

Conclusion

I’ll make this personal.  I’m really glad that my grand daughter will do all her automobile travel in vehicles that are far safer than what I survived (we also had no infant car seats).  I’m equally glad that she has a food supply that is cheaper, safer, more environmentally sustainable, and vastly more diverse than what was available to my family when I was a child.  I just wish that more people understood the later change.

Bel Air poster image from hugo90
Other images from Steve Savage

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What Are Your Favorite Toxins?

(originally posted on Sustainablog, 1/4/11)

Click here for a list of links to my other post on various sites

From what I read on various blogs and their comment streams, it is obvious that there are a lot of people who are very concerned about toxins in their food and water. Many say they want to live in a “toxin-free world.”  Although I would be the first to say that there are some toxins that are worth worrying about, my concern is that there are a lot of people suffering from excessive angst about toxic substances because they don’t know two important facts:

Fact 1. Our world is actually full of toxins – mostly of natural origin.

Some of the natural toxins are really scary, but some of them are delicious or useful.  Some of my favorite natural toxins include the caffeine in my morning coffee, the capsaicin in the spicy Mexican and Thai dishes I love, and the tomatine in the tomatoes I eat.  These are all natural chemicals that are actually toxic – even quite a bit more toxic than a typical pesticide today.  So why is it OK to enjoy these and many other foods that contain toxic chemicals?  That is where the second fact comes in.

Fact 2. There is an important difference between hazardand risk.

The reason that so many people are troubled by the idea of toxins is that our educational system fails to teach us what we need to understand which toxins are really worth concern and which are not.  We don’t tend to learn the difference between hazard and risk.
To illustrate this, consider electricity.  Electricity is an extremely useful thing, but it is also extremely hazardous.  People can and do die from electrocution.  But although electricity will always be hazardous, we take important steps to make sure we are not exposed directly to the electricity and thus the risk is low. Our appliances can be safe even though they are powered by a very hazardous thing.

What About The Toxins in Our Food?

So even though I consume lots of plant-based chemicals that are actually toxic (a hazard), the quantities are low enough that the risk is too low to worry about.   For instance, I calculated that for me (at 175 lbs), it would take 169 cups of strong coffee (~90 milligrams of caffeine in each) to get enough to be lethal (a dose of 192 mg/kg could be toxic to mammals). With a “safety margin” of 169, it is reasonable that few people worry when they consume this toxin every day.
What about the sort of toxins that people do worry about - like pesticide residues on foods?  Each year a group in the USDA buys produce from stores around the US and tests it for pesticide residues.  You can get the data on  line.  The Environmental Working Group uses this data each year to come up with their “dirty dozen” list which they successfully use to scare consumers away from buying as much fresh produce.  That is unfortunate because what the USDA data actually shows is that the pesticides (which are almost all much less toxic than caffeine) are also present at such low levels as to be negligible.
To demonstrate this, I took the data for strawberries in 2008 and calculated the safety margins for every single pesticide residue that was detected (assuming 1/2 lb of strawberries consumed by me at 175 lbs).  The smallest safety margin was 5,895 – thirty five times less risky than a cup of Joe.  The vast majority of residues on the strawberries had safety margins of from a million to a billion (see chart below).  Not much to be scared about here!
Safety Margins Compared

But What About the Long Term?

“But,” many people will say, “what about long-term exposure to low doses?”  This is obviously something much more difficult to study.  The best approach has been to test the medium-term (1-2 year) effects of a fairly high, but non-lethal dose.  Practically speaking, this is the only way to get an answer within any reasonable time and budget constraints (still costing many millions of dollars).   These tests have identified carcinogens and chronically toxic materials among both natural and synthetic chemicals.   Many such tests have been conducted with caffeine and the consensus result is that, no, it is not a carcinogen or chronic toxin of concern at the levels we consume.  We have learned fairly well how to screen for compounds with chronic effects and such tests are required for all pesticides.

The Professional Doubters

The Environmental Working Group ignores this data and maintains that “we just never know” whether there might be low level effects.  If they are right, then we are mainly at risk from natural toxins.  We consume them at far high rates, and in most cases, they have never even been studied for chronic effects.  If we accept the view of the EWG, there really isn’t much of anything that we could eat without fear of some long-term downside.  That sort of view is good for EWG’s fundraising efforts.  It is not a good thing for encouraging the consumption of healthy foods.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather just enjoy my food – toxins and all.
Strawberry and Coffee image from smittenkittenorig
Safety Margin Graph by Steve Savage using USDA AMS PDP data
Still prefer organic? We’ve got you covered… from organic foods to beddingbathing, and care products for the little ones in your home.