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Simonson 1 Jordan Simonson Professor Karma Chavez, Teaching Assistant John Ivens Communication Arts 262: Theory and Practice of Argumentation and Debate 8 November 2012 Organic Benefits Unclear for School Lunches According to the Center for Disease Control, 20 percent of children ages 6-11 are obese in America (Childhood). Childhood obesity is a problem in America and people are beginning to make changes, with the most sweeping reform being school lunches. Americans want children to eat healthy and nutritious meals while at school. One proposal is to require the use of organic food in these school lunch programs. Many consumers assume that organic food will be healthier for children and better for the environment. The definition provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states: Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used. (National) Nowhere in this definition is the word “healthy” used to define organic food, even though many organic companies continue to use health claims to substantiate using organic food, including advocating organic food usage in schools. Organic Valley has started a program called the “School Lunch Lottery,” where organic food is perceived and marketed as a healthy alternative to a traditional school lunch. Requiring organic food to be used in schools should not be allowed because it would force undue economic hardships on schools and families for unknown health and environmental benefits. Until organic food is proven to have significant health benefits or the price is reduced significantly, there is no reason to convert school lunch programs to using organic food.


Simonson 2 Some Americans advocate organic food usage in school lunches for health reasons, but organic food has not shown any noticeable health benefits, especially not to warrant the increased costs. According to a recent Stanford study, “published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria (Brandeau, 348).” Pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be controlled with proper food handling procedures. This study also states “consumers can pay up to twice as much for organic than conventional (Brandeau, 348).” To further illustrate this issue, a study by CERTCOST, a research project analyzing the economics of certification systems for organic food and farming, found “the great majority of consumers did not know that the use of the term ‘organic’ is regulated and thus they did not trust products only labeled with this term without a logo. For almost all tested organic logos, consumers were on average willing to pay a price premium compared to a similar organic product without a logo (Hamm, 19).” This study shows the average consumer does not understand what organic food is, yet are still willing to pay more money for it. Much of the concern over traditional agriculture practices lies at a much smaller level that what the eye can see. The use of hormones in milk and beef are of concern for the general public, even though the estrogenic content of a 500 gram piece of white bread is 42,857 times that of a 500 gram steak implanted with hormones (Questions). The use of antibiotics in conventional farming is a warranted concern by consumers, pointing out that antibiotics may lead to antibiotic resistant strands of bacteria. Antibiotics are not the only disease prevention method though, as mentioned in an overview of antibiotic usage in livestock by Scott McEwen, “Age-segregation, all-in all-out management, biosecurity, sanitation, and vaccination are just a few examples of


Simonson 3 nonantibiotic practices that may be used in the prevention and control of many infectious diseases of livestock (McEwen, 243).” A growing health complaint of conventional farming is the use of genetically modified (GM) crops in food production. According to an overview of GM crops by Charles Schmidt, “despite public fears, the health risks of eating commercialized GM foods on the market now appear to be negligible, experts say (Schmidt, A531).” GM crops have shown the opportunity to increase yields significantly, a common criticism of organic food production. By not allowing GM crop production, organic food producers are further reducing abilities to increase yield. It is estimated that organic food production is 80 percent of conventional farming, with a high standard deviation due to different crops and cropping systems. There is evidence that as conventional yields increase, this gap becomes even larger (De Ponti). Being able to feed the world is a huge issue for agriculture to have to face; an issue further exacerbated with organic food production. The world can increase life expectancy faster from reducing hunger than the possible life expectancy gain from eating organic food. Harming the poor and hungry is no justification for our remote chance at a healthier life. Another long-standing perception of organic food production is that it is better for the environment, but studies have shown that there are questionable environmental benefits. While organic farming is considered better for the environment per land unit, there is evidence to suggest otherwise per food unit. “Organic farms tend to have higher soil organic matter content and lower nutrient losses (nitrogen leaching, nitrous oxide emissions and ammonia emissions) per unit of field area. However, ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions per product unit were higher from organic systems (Hodge, 309).” The amount of food produced by organic agriculture is actually more harmful per food unit due to the differences in food production amounts. The meta-analysis goes on to recommend “research efforts and


Simonson 4 policies should be targeted to developing farming systems that produce high yields with low negative environmental impacts drawing on techniques from both organic and conventional systems (Hodge, 309).� Many people point to using “no-till� farming (where you do not plow the ground) and GM crops as possible opportunities to reduce environmental impacts by producing higher yields and nutrient values with less fertilizers and pesticides. Friend School Haverford is using a system I think could and should be implemented across the U.S. Here they have hired a chef to cook a healthy meal every Wednesday during school. The chef uses local produce that does not come from a can and is not frozen (Holmes). As opposed to focusing on using organic food, which has shown minimal health and environmental benefits, the school focuses on using food that is not processed; food that is cut fresh and never frozen. According to a Stanford study, these physical factors can affect nutrient levels: season, weather, soil type, ripeness, cultivar, or storage practices (Brandeau, 358). Nutrient levels depend more on these physical factors than whether the food came from an organic or conventional farming system. School lunch programs and children in poverty cannot afford more expensive organic food choices, but there are stories, such as at the Friend School Haverford, of cafeterias sourcing local, healthier produce and keeping their costs down. Using these resources also pushes these cafeterias to be creative and use products that are in season in a healthy way. For instance, the Friend School Haverford makes bread pudding with butternut squash. Focusing on the quality of the recipes and food being used will have a greater impact on childhood obesity in America than switching to organic food. Requiring organic food to be used in schools should not be allowed because it would force undue economic hardships on schools and families for unknown health and environmental benefits. There are many unknowns surrounding the organic versus conventional farming debate.


Simonson 5 For this reason, it is hard to draw a line in the sand and say organic food should or should not be used. However, the current potential benefits do not outweigh the costs associated with organic food production. The gains in yield using conventional farming are superior to organic farming and are the main reason why organic farming has its limitations. Before even considering the proposal of using organic products in schools: more research needs to be conclusive on the health benefits of organic farming, yields need to increase and prices need to reduce. Works Cited Brandeau, Margaret, Crystal Smith-Spangler, et. al. “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?” Annals of Internal Medicine 157.5 (2012): 348-366. EBSCOhost. Web. 23 Oct. 2012. “Childhood Obesity Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. USA.gov, 7 June 2012. Web. 8 November 2012. De Ponti, Tomek, Bert Rijk, and Martin K. van Ittersum. “The crop yield gap between organic and conventional agriculture.” Agricultural Systems 108 (2012): 1-9. EBSCOhost. Web. 23 Oct. 2012. Hamm, Ulrich and Meike Janssen. “Product labeling in the market for organic food: Consumer preferences and willingness-to-pay for different organic certification logos.” Food Quality and Preference 25.1 (2012): 9-22. EBSCOhost. Web. 23 Oct. 2012. Hodge, I.D., D.W. Macdonald, P. Rjordan and H.L. Tuomisto. “Does organic farming reduce environmental impacts? – A meta-analysis of European research.” Journal of Environmental Management 112 (2012): 309-320. EBSCOhost. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.


Simonson 6 Holmes, Kristin. “Healthy Lunches a Hit at Friends School Haverford.” The Philadelphia Inquirer 2 November 2012: B01. Web. McEwen, Scott. “Antibiotic Use in Animal Agriculture: What Have We Learned and Where are We Going?” Animal Biotechnology 17 (2006) 239-250. EBSCOhost. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. “National Organic Program.” USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. United States Department of Agriculture, 2012. Web. 23 Oct. 2012. “Questions and Answers about “Hormones” in Beef.” Feedstuffs Foodlink. N.p, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. Schmidt, Charles. “Genetically Modified Foods Breeding Uncertainty.” Environmental Health Perspectives 113.8 (2005) A526-A533. EBSCOhost. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. School Lunch Lottery: http://www.organicvalley.coop/community/moo/school-lunch/schoollunch-lottery-choices-for-our-children/ Is organic agriculture “affluent narcissism?”

Communication Arts 262  

This paper was written as a persuasive article against requiring organic produce in schools.

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