Organic food and pesticides

There’s a fairly interesting article in today’s Guardian about the benefits or otherwise of organic food. It would have been a very good article, but for two pieces of lazy journalism.

The first is the ‘spurious confession’ spin – common in political writing – where a perfectly ordinary statement is spun as a shocking inconsistency. In this article the Chair of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (an independent Government group) admits that he eats organic food sometimes. Admits? One can see Leo Hickman (the writer) battering the helpless professor with question after question till, unable to hold up against the onslaught, he finally whimpers for mercy and confesses that … yes … he … he … eats … organic food. But then, why shouldn’t he? Just because he is something to do with pesticides doesn’t mean that he has to eat nothing that hasn’t been dipped in Weedol. He doesn’t say he ONLY eats organic, just that he does sometimes if it’s not too expensive. But by portraying him as a hypocrite or in some way unfaithful to ‘his cause’, Mr Hickman can do some double spin – himself as valiant investigative journalist, and Prof. Ayres as the slightly shady scientist who doesn’t believe the lies that the industry pay him to spout.

The second bit of lazy journalism is the modern-day “things will never be the same again”:

Well I’m baffled that the onus seems to be on us, the receiving public, to beg our public-health agencies to find out whether pesticide residues could be unhealthy, as opposed to the manufacturers being made to go through more hoops to dispel, once and for all, the public’s evident anxieties – especially as there seems to be a genuine danger of those unable to afford organic moving away from fresh fruit and veg as a result of these concerns.

Or, in summary, “if some people are uncertain, there must be more research”. It’s a popular approach with three types of people – first, the tobacco companies and oil lobbies excoriated earlier in the article; second, creationists who pressure people to “teach the (artificial) controversy”; and third, journalists who are too lazy to reach a conclusion for themselves.

But I can’t hang around, I’ve got to go and check whether the Earth goes round the sun. Apparently, some people still aren’t sure.