Alex Avery: Organic Foods – The Controversy
Aging Gratefully
Dr. Peter Brill

Episode 30 - Alex Avery: Organic Foods – The Controversy

Ever wonder if organic foods are worth their high price? Are the marketing claims true? Are organic foods really more nutritious, safer, and better for the environment? Do the benefits of organic farming really outweigh the benefits of conventional farming? Can you handle the truth?  If you’re an organic food devotee, get ready to be enraged.

Alex Avery is the author of the controversial book, “The Truth About Organic Foods.”  He is the Director of Research and Education at the Center for Global Food Issues, a project of the Hudson Institute.  Since joining the Center in 1994, Avery has spoken to a wide variety of national and international audiences and has represented the Center at the United Nations World Food Summit in Rome.   

In his book he challenges widely accepted notions that organic food is better for your health.  A university study comparing the amount of bacteria on conventionally-grown and organically-grown produce found that the level of the common bacteria E. coli on certified organic produce was "not statistically different from that in conventional samples." Avery has attacked the researchers for their pro-organic "bias."  In this podcast he passionately takes on all dissenters.



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David Debin:  Hello and welcome to ”The Third Age” on your radio dial.  Welcome to The Third Age with the doctor and the man from Hollywood.  I’m David Debin, the man from Hollywood and the doctor is Peter Brill M.D.

On this show we turn the myths of aging upside down, we sort out the scientific and trendy, the medical and the cultural and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about living in the third age.  Remember we guarantee if you listen to us you will never grow old.

Peter Brill:  And I’m the doctor, Dr. Peter Brill.  The third age usually starts somewhere between 45 and 50.  It’s a time when you start to feel a stronger desire for deeper meaning and fulfillment in you life.  You first age is childhood, your second age is career and family.  The third age is a major change or transition to a whole new set of problems, values, opportunities and gratifications.  So join us as fellow travelers in this journey of discovery to find out what bring passion, purpose and joy into this uncharted time of life.

David Debin:  I have a question for you, some figures.

Peter Brill:  OK

David Debin: Here’s a real good figure for you.

Peter Brill:  OK

David Debin:  The world population will grow from 6.5 billion now to approximately 9.5 billion in the next fifty years. So its growing by 33% right, the world population?

Peter Brill:  Well now I’m going to have to help you with your math.

David Debin:  Oh, OK, its not a pretty picture.

Peter Brill:  No its 50%.

David Debin:  50%, that’s right.  We’ve all heard that organic foods are better because they contain no harmful chemicals.  You know we’re going to have to feed all those people.  So there’s a trend in some locals towards local farming here in Santa Barbara because it decreases energy costs.  Today’s show will present what we believe, or what our guest believes to be the facts.

Our guest is Alex Avery who is the director of Research and Center for global food issues at the Hudson Institute and formerly the senior and cultural analyst at the US State Department. We’ll discuss with Alex the coming crisis in global food production, bio-fuels, local farming and genetic engineering.

Peter Brill:  Wow, that’s quite a . . . by the way we ought to just say and we’re going to repeat this when we get Alex on the phone here.  We tried to contact someone to represent the other side of this issue.

David Debin:  Pro-organic.

Peter Brill:  Pro-organic.  We contacted, Marissa, whose not here right this second in the studio, she’s in here but not in this room, contacted the Organic Consumers Association’s spokesperson and they turned us down.  We contacted the food co-op in Bolita, they turned us down.  We contacted Professor David Cleveland . . . oh here’s Marissa, and what happened with him Marissa?

Marissa:  No response?

Peter Brill:  We got no response, and we got the Organic Trade Association and they wouldn’t respond to us.  So I don’t know its . . . and three or four others that I guess we’ve kind of lost who they were but we tried very very hard to get another side on this story.  So maybe . . .

David Debin:  The people who turned you down, what was their reason, did they give you a reason?

Marissa:  Well they said that he was no fun and then . . .

David Debin:  That our guest was no fun?

Marissa:  Yeah

David Debin:  Well I think he’s going to disagree with that.

Marissa:  I think so too, now I know one, but I guess they didn’t really like the discussion that went on.  They thought he was more representing the biotech industry rather than actual organic facts perhaps.

David Debin:  Well, I doubt that but we’re going to see.

Marissa:  Yeah, we’ll see.

David Debin:  So it’s going to be a lively conversation I’m sure and hopefully we’ll have a caller or two.  And something that, it may seem far away but if you go to your local supermarket right now you will notice that the prices are going up and up and up and up.  There are a lot of reasons for that but one of the main reasons is what’s going on in farming and bio-fuels is really one of the main reasons is that they’re using so much of the farming . . .

Peter Brill:  Corn

David Debin:  Corn.

Peter Brill:  Corn, which is the worst bio-fuel that virtually there is.

David Debin:  Yes it is, but we’ll talk about that.  Peter.

Peter Brill:  Anyway we had a fabulous fabulous workshop this weekend.  We’ve been telling you about it on the air, we run it at City College.  It’s in the Shot Center there in the auditorium and we filled the auditorium with people coming there to be part of our workshop.  That shows the interest is extremely high.  And we asked them to tell us a lot of information about why they had come there.  And so here are some of the issues that they focused on in terms of their most primary reason for being there.  I just thought it was kind of interesting.

A fair number were there because they are looking for some kind of future fulfillment in the area of spirituality.  Probably the largest category were people who wanted to have a change in their family in some way in terms of their adult children or were sitting with some kind of scars left over that were unresolved with their adult children.  There were a significant number of people who were there for some kind of career issue, love life issue, those were the major ones. In terms of things that people want in the future they wanted some adventure and a lot of friendships.  What was interesting is we were able to find a process by which everybody was able to work on their major issue that they had come there for.  And at the end I asked them for a show of hands of how many people had gotten what they for?  That is, they now had some idea of where to go, how to get moving.

A lot of people came and said the kind of had a vague idea of what they wanted to work on but not how to get moving.  And all the people that walked out of there said, we are now very clear about what we need to do and we feel the motivation to do it.”  So it’s really very gratifying.

David Debin:  And a big thing, I think, was the feeling that everybody is seeing that everyone whose in the aging process is in the same boat in some way. 

Peter Brill:  Absolutely.

David Debin:  It’s a change of life, there’s new stuff happening, you’re not making a hundred percent sense of it and when you see that you’re not the only one in this position it makes a big difference, right?

Peter Brill:  It sure did.  Anyway we’d love to hear from you.  If you’d like to write us or contact us you can reach us at, or 969-9794.  We’d like to hear about your issues, your problems and your thoughts about this show.  Contact us and let us know, its area code 805.

David Debin:  We also had a lot of people who were interested in groups, in joining our third age groups.

Peter Brill:  Yep, and if you are you can certainly contact us and we’d provide them.

Do you know what time it is?

David Debin:  I think it’s time for [gong sound] the news story.

You know this is really getting ridiculous, you know the drug testing that employers do.  I understand, to some degree I understand that although its not really, it doesn’t sound really right to me but . . .

Marissa:  It’s not a true indication of yourself.

David Debin:  This comes from Denver, union officials in Colorado say a Qwest supervisor tried to cut down . . . Qwest is a big company, tried to cut down on lengthy bathroom brakes by telling workmen to use disposal urinal bags in the field.  The manager distributed the bags to 25 male field technicians telling them not to waste time leaving a job site to search for a public bathroom. 

‘”We deal with a lot of silliness in corporate America but you have to admit it takes the freakin cake”  Reed Robertson, administrative director at the Communications Workers of America told the newspaper.  He didn’t return a message left by the Associated Press.  And Qwest spokesman Jennifer Barton said this, “We have no policy whatsoever requiring field technicians to use the bags.”

So Peter have you brought your urinal bag with you, in case you have to . . .

Peter Brill:  It’s the only way I can survive this program, you know what I mean?


David Debin:  We ought to put a sign over the door, “Do not enter this room without a urinal bag.


David Debin:  OK

Peter Brill:  All right, so we’re going to have one very very interesting show.  We’ve all heard about organic food, we’ve all heard about the global problems of food production.  We have an expert who is going to talk to us about that.

David Debin:  A man that a lot of people are afraid to talk to it appears, from what we’ve found out so far.  His name is Alex Avery, he’s the author of  “The Truth About Organic Foods” and he’s the Director of Research and Education at the Hudson Institute Center for Global Food Issues.  For over a decade Alex has spoken to audiences around the world on the magnitude of the 21st century food challenge and why we need modern farm technologies and methods to meet that challenge without converting the world’s remaining wild life habitats into farmland.  These are major issues.  Welcome to the show Alex.

Alex Avery:  Thanks, thanks for having me.

Peter Brill:  I asked you before the show, during the break, you know, why are all these people afraid of you or why won’t they be on with you?

Alex Avery:  Yeah, and it’s a good question.  I think that they’ve collectively decided that rather than having to deal with the tough questions from somebody who is knowledgeable and a non-believer, and I’m not anti organic but I kind of put the needle into all of their inflated claims.  And rather than deal with that they try to foster a media blackout.

Peter Brill:  Lets qualify you though a little bit about . . . your institute, is it paid for by agricultural contributions from major corporations?

Alex Avery:  We do get some of those, we also have foundation grants and I’ve actually submitted proposals to some pretty ‘green’ fostering foundations but they’ve not seen fit to fund any of our activities.  But corporate donations, I think are about 17% of Hudson’s total funding base.  We’re just part of the Hudson Institute.

Peter Brill:  I see, so you’re not an arm of the agricultural?

Alex Avery:  No but I am on the side of the technological divide, if you will, or the philosophical divide that believes in synthetic fertilizer, believes in genetically engineering our crops.  Because we can make it more productive and softer on the environment.  In fact, far more so than organic can.  What’s kind of sad is the organic side is so ideologically rigid that they can’t compromise and they can’t see that biotechnology is in fact a step away from the DDT area and very much toward the organic approach to agriculture.

Peter Brill:  Now your background is what?

Alex Avery:  I’m a plant physiologist by training.  You mentioned the State Department, that’s actually my father.

Peter Brill:  Oh, I see, I got the wrong Avery, huh?

Alex Avery:  Yeah, he’s the economist at the USDA and then the State Department.

Peter Brill:  That shows you the Internet’s not perfect, or I’m not.


Alex Avery:  But, yeah I’m a plant physiologist by training and I started working with Dennis just on one project and blossomed from there.  And it’s an amazing time in the world’s history.  You mentioned the population growth.

Peter Brill: Yeah

Alex Avery:  And we’re farming about 40% of the planet’s total land area.  When I mean total land area I’m including Antarctica and Greenland, the frozen north.  So we’re farming about half of the area that’s not under ice cover.  And that allows us to leave wildlife habitat unfarmed and un-messed with, if you will.  But if we had to go organic you would have to take a lot of that land away from nature to product the food and the animal feed that we need.

David Debin:  Speaking of the Artic, there was a piece on “60 Minutes”, I don’t know if you saw it, on Sunday.  Right near the North Pole the United Nations has a seed bank in which it’s one of the largest underground facilities ever, it’s built to last forever, its built in the snow, in the frozen tundra. They’ve got every seed that’s ever been found on earth as long as they can go back.  And I think one of the reasons is their afraid that something might happen to our food supply and they have to have enough of everything to be able to bring it back.  And also a lot of them help cure ills that some plants have, is that true?

Alex Avery:  No, there’s a lot of misconception in that.  It’s in Svalbard, Norway and its actually being overseen by a quasi UN organization.  But they don’t have every seed going back, as far back.  They have the national collections that various governments have given, as well as, I believe the ones from the consultative group, the CTIAR international projects. 

What they don’t have are the modern seed varieties.  They don’t have any of the, say for example, the 98% of the crops, including organic crops, are planted with commercial seed here in the United States, they don’t have any of those commercial varieties in that seed bank.  So if a catastrophe happened and we needed to rebuild agriculture as productively as we have now we couldn’t.  Because what we have in that seed bank is the genetic heritage of our current crops.  So we’d have to reinvent the wheel from the genetic pieces, in those, what are essentially older seed varieties, gene banks, seed banks.

Peter Brill:  OK, but let’s go back to the primary thing.  Your contention is, in your paper, in one of the ones that you sent us, that we can’t feed the world’s population as it grows with organic farming, is that . . .

Alex Avery:  That’s absolutely correct.

Peter Brill:  Why don’t you tell us why.

Alex Avery:  The nitrogen, the Achilles Heel of the whole organic equation is nitrogen.  And prior to 1910 we had only one way to really get nitrogen, or two ways.  You could grow legume crops like soybeans or clover or you can get it from some other place.  And for about 75 years we used bird guano and we ran out of bird guano, this is from the islands off the coast of Chili and what not.  That’s why Germany was down in the Amazon prior to World War I. 

But then we invented a way to take the nitrogen in the air you and I are breathing, squeeze it under heat pressure and turn it into ammonium and ammonia nitrate and that’s were we get the vast majority of our nitrogen fertilizer today.  We’re doing that instead of using land just to produce organic fertilizer.  And if we had to give up the synthetic fertilizer, and this was the first rule of organics, organic agriculture arose actually in the 1930’s, after the invention of this synthetic nitrogen.  They said we don’t want to grow our crops with this synthetic nitrogen because we don’t think it will be as nutritious and our kids will be nutritionally deficient.  Well they were wrong and that’s not the case. 

We now know that plants cannot distinguish nitrogen from organic materials and nitrogen from this synthetic process, they’re chemically identical.  And if we had to give that up you’re talking about plowing down half of the remaining wildlife habitat on planet Earth just to meet the current food demands, let alone when the planet has 9 billion people on it in the year 2050.  So there’s no physical way that an organic farming system can produce a diet that people are willing to live on with our current resource base.  And that’s why they also push vegetarianism, because they say, “well if we all stopped eating meat we could meet it with organic methods”.  And even that, you know, is a stretch.  And nobody wants to eat a purely vegetarian diet, no cheese, no dairy products, no eggs, its very austere. 

David Debin:  Well there are a lot of people who find reasons to do it, but . . .

Peter Brill: I’m not going to be one of them.

David Debin:  Right, go ahead Peter.

Peter Brill:  So then the second question is, OK so we certainly can’t do it without organic fertilizer, but what about all these new seeds and all these new plants and genetic engineering and so forth, aren’t those dangerous?

Alex Avery:  No, and in fact they’re quite wonderful.  For the last 50 years one of the most widely used organic insecticides is a protein from a bacteria called bacillus thuringiensis.  It’s actually a bacterial cousin of anthrax but it’s not worrisome in that way. And this protein is toxic to caterpillars and certain insects and they culture it up in a broth and then spray it out of a sprayer onto their crops and it will kill the bugs for about for or five days until the sunlight breaks it down.  What the genetic engineers have done is taken the gene from that protein, from the bacteria and they’ve put it into the leaves so that the leaves always have a certain amount of this natural protein that’s toxic to these insects.  And understand that this protein is non-toxic to me and you and birds and fish, it’s only toxic to these crustaceans, these insects.

Peter Brill:  We’re going to have to take a break; we’ll continue this story in just a minute.  It’s a very interesting story, there are many sides to it and we’ll be right back with “The Third Age”.

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David Debin:  You’re listing to “The Third Age” with me, David Debin, the man from Hollywood and the doctor, Peter Brill, M.D.  We’ve also got Lisa [xx] here, our engineer and Marissa [xx], who is our associate producer.  And the most important person of the day, our guest of honor who is Alex Avery, who is the author of “The Truth About Organic Foods” and Director of Research and Education at the Hudson Institute Center for Global Food Issues.

Welcome back Alex.

Alex Avery:  Yeah, good to be back David.

Peter Brill:  So we were talking about this . . .

Alex Avery:  The BT.

Marissa:  Yes

Peter Brill:  Yes, and Marissa had a cou . . . she’s been . . .

Alex Avery:  Yeah and the bottom line now, to finish that story is that because they’re protected within the plant, you don’t have to spray them and so you’re not burning the tractor fuel, you’re not spraying the toxic something or other five times a season, so it’s a much softer thing for the environment.  And its more economical and greenhouse gas friendly too.

Marissa:  Well what about the unintended harm to other organisms with the protein that’s killing off like the supposed species, but what about the other species that just happen to be there?

Alex Avery:  Right, and that’s a great question, and in fact they go up because you’re not spraying something that kills everything like a lot of conventional pesticides, insecticides.  Like cotton for example, they were spraying those 15 times a season that killed everything, the beneficial, the innocent bugs; all of them were being killed. 

Now you don’t have to do that, and in fact the bugs that aren’t eating your crops are doing great.  So the biode goes up there and the protein breaks down rather quickly, it binds in the soil and then breaks down and they’re not finding it in streams or any impact in streams.  I mean, remember that this is the same protein that the organic farmers are spraying as well.  And the one they’re spraying, in the bacteria, it’s overproduced and makes crystals so if there’s an ecological concern it’s an ecological concern for the organic farmer as well.  And all of our knowledge, and we’ve been using this for fifty years, says this isn’t a problem; this is a good safer way to protect our crops. 

Peter Brill:  Well if the organic farmers are using it, in what sense is it organic?

Alex Avery:  Well because it’s a natural bacterial protein, it’s a natural bacterium.  They’re allowed to use a lot of pesticides.  That’s one of the big myths about organics; people think its pesticide free. They’re allowed to use, in most countries they still are allowed to use nicotine from cigarettes, which is a nerve toxin and when you concentrate it, sulfate it, it’s a wonderful insecticide. 

They can use pyrethrum from chrysanthemums, they use [xx] in a lot of places still.  They’re not allowed to, I don’t think, in the US anymore, they banned it in the 1990’s because it was affecting aquatic species. 

Peter Brill:  So what you’re saying, let me see if I got the essence of what you’re saying.  If they spray this insecticide on the plants its called organic farming and if we genetically engineer it into the leaves, the same essentially, then its not called organic.

Alex Avery:  No, they prohibit that and they have actually tried to prohibit that development from being commercialized and put into farmers’ fields and they failed.  They wanted it only for their use; they were worried that if all these other farmers are using it, even if it makes our entire system better for the environment, they didn’t want that because they were afraid that eventually the pests might develop resistance to it because of its wider use.  And in fact that hasn’t happened and the latest biotech varieties are doing what they call stacking, where we can get natural variants of it, the proteins are more effective against certain pests.  And we can put two or three of them in the crop so that the pests would have to become resistant to three different compounds at the same time, three different proteins at the same, which is highly unlikely.

So it’s just interesting how they react when it makes us all better off.  Why are the acting against the public interest in this regard, I don’t know?

Peter Brill:  And when we say ‘they’, for our audience lets clarify who ‘they’ are.

Alex Avery:  The organic industry.

Peter Brill:  The organic industry, which has grown to be how big now?

Alex Avery:  Fifteen billion dollars.

Peter Brill:  And is that, what percentage of the farming that we do?

Alex Avery:  About three.

Peter Brill:  Three percent?

Alex Avery:  Yeah

Peter Brill:  How did they get so powerful if they’re only about three percent?  Is it because they have public opinion on their side for some reason?

Alex Avery:  I believe so, people have a lot of misconceptions and all of them are to the favor of . . . I mean understand this is the highest profit margin food category in the supermarkets.  Which explains why the supermarkets are pushing it as well, because they end up making more money on the higher dollar product.

Peter Brill:  OK, so here’s another thing that we . . . which is local farming and the claim that we ought to . . . to save fuel costs we ought to stay local.

Alex Avery:  Well let me start by saying I like the local food movement because I think most of the people are way too ignorant about what happens on farms and why.  And the more we can foster relationships and understanding between consumers and farmers, I think that’s all to the good. 

But lets not kid ourselves about: a. how much our food really could come from local, well, depending on how you define local, if you say within sixty miles, most places, most consumers couldn’t do that because there’s just not land area or the climate is not right, et cetera.  The other thing is this really over inflates the issue because modern rail and ship, you know, a lot of our vegetables and fruits from overseas come by refrigerated ship.  It’s very fuel-efficient and that’s reflected in the price.  If it wasn’t fuel efficient per unit of product the price would be huge given the cost of fuel right now.  In fact it costs pennies to ship a pound of product in bulk around the world.

Peter Brill:  And then you pointed out that we would be subject to actually less food production because if we grew potatoes down in the Amazon versus sugar beets everywhere would produce less food.

Alex Avery:  Yeah, exactly, I mean really we should stop growing sugar beets and let the world’s sugar come from sugar cane in the tropics because its actually quite a bit more productive per unit of land.  And the sugar beet crop area could grow something else more efficiently.  But, you know we have a sugar program to pay off the sugar farmers in this country so we pay too much for sugar.

David Debin:  You’ve inspired a caller.

Peter Brill:  A caller, yes.

Alex Avery:  Excellent.

Peter Brill:  OK

David Debin:  I think this is Barbara – Barbara?

Barbara:  Hi, how are you all?

David Debin:  Hi Barbara.

Barbara:  I’m glad you brought up this topic, it is very old and also according to Maldonado, economy of California oriented.  It’s very crucial right now.  And I heard on your radio station an hour ago that brown moss was found, apple moss from Australia was found in Carpinteria and that really upsets me because I happened to get out of town one weekend in October and I was in Monterey and I’d read about that they were going to spray up there and wouldn’t you know just they day I was there they sprayed.  And in the night, nine to eleven, I was right in the city of Monterey, I heard the planes leaving every night. 

And I came home at midnight two days later and I threw up and I had horrible stomach problems.  I told my doctor and I read about it in Monterey and they are no longer spraying for that in Monterey because so many people got . .. and I was sick for a week.  I wasn’t just sick for a night, my stomach was . . . and I’m a pretty healthy person.  I get acupuncture and I do a lot of things to maintain my health.

David Debin:  Do you have a question for our guest?

Barbara:  My question is what are they going to do about the brown moss in Carpinteria?

Alex Avery:  Do you know what they sprayed up in Monterey?

Barbara:  No, its something to do with keeping the males away from the females, a hormone.

Alex Avery: Oh, a pheromone.  Yes, in fact pheromones are used very heavily by organic farmers.  In fact they’re used heavily by all of the fruit tree farmers, organic and conventional.  What they do is they synthesize a compound that’s very close to the female’s pheromone.  And understand that when they put these . . . they’re putting little filter papers that have been dipped in this out and tying them to the trees and you can spray it as well.  And it just . . . they can’t find the females then because the whole environment is saturated with that hormone which is what they usually home in on.  And those have approval for organic use and are widely used.  I’m surprised that you had a reaction to that and I wonder if maybe you had a reaction to something else?

Barbara:  No, I didn’t have anything that wasn’t cooked.  I eat very carefully.

Alex Avery:  The other they’re spraying in these instances is another organic.  Because of the concerns they switched from spraying a non-organic synthetic to an organic one, which is called Spinoza, which is new.  And it’s got organic approval and is being widely used because it’s affective and a biological based insecticide.  But it was actually developed by Dupont.  So its interesting when you start thinking about it how organic farmers are now using a Dupont invented insecticide and happy because they finally have something that’s more affective.

Barbara:  May I ask one more question, a quick question?

Peter Brill:  You’re going to have to hold through the break to do it Barbara, can you do that?

Barbara:  Yes sir.

Peter Brill:  OK, so we’re going to go for a break right now, it’s a very interesting topic.  We’ll be right back with “The Third Age”


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David Debin:  Welcome back to “The Third Age”, David Debin, the man from Hollywood with Dr. Peter Brill.  We are talking to Alex Avery, who is the author of “The Truth About Organic Food”

Alex, by the way is there some place that, I’m sure there are going to be people who want to get your book and read your version of where we’re going and where we are, how do we get it?

Alex Avery:  The website,,, or you google it, my name and about organic and you’ll be able to find it.  And I should also make clear that the author’s share of the profits go to supporting the Hudson Institute.  I don’t make a nickel off the book.

Peter Brill:  Well good for you and maybe foolish of you, but good for you.


Alex Avery: So far not too foolish because we’re not talking very much money.

Peter Brill:  Oh, OK.  You mentioned in one of your articles about, I forget which chemical it is that they genetically engineered into a plant to prevent vitamin A deficiency.

Alex Avery:  Oh yes, they do beta-carotene which . . ..

Peter Brill:  Beta-carotene, yes.

Alex Avery:  . . . is the pre cursor and yeah it is actually expected to be in the farmers fields in about two to three years.  They’ve gotten it into the hands of . . . they gave it away to the individual countries who are then . . . their agencies are breeding it into the local rice varieties.

Peter Brill:  But there was some resistance to it right, I mean lawsuits and problems?

Alex Avery:  Yeah, well Green Peace has been against, and again because it is genetically engineered.  Even though they used a petunia natural plant gene, for the initial proof of concept they used a bacterial genes and then they found the right genes from plants and used those in what’s is going into farmers fields.  This was still unnatural for many to complain.

Peter Brill:  But isn’t there . . . I mean Europe bans various kinds of genetically altered . .

Alex Avery:  Most, they . . .

Peter Brill:  So there must be some concern that people have.  I mean we don’t know what’s going to happen with these genes.  We’re changing the way in which they’re circulating in a biosphere, is there no danger?

Alex Avery:  Very little.

Peter Brill: How would we know?

Alex Avery:  Well . . .

Peter Brill:  If you’re predicting the future and you’re predicting an uncertainty how do you know how big or small it is?

Alex Avery:  Well understand that organisms exchange genetic material a lot more frequently then we give them credit for if you actually talk to the experts in this area.  Bacteria are very promiscuous, if you will.

Peter Brill:  I know, I’ve tried to talk to them about that.


Alex Avery:  And plants are as well and we’ve been actually radically changing plants for a long time and the good is that when you’re talking about genetically engineering domesticated crops we have now altered them so much that very few have wild counterparts.  You’re talking about, sunflower has a wild counterpart and a couple of others.  But there’s not . . .

Peter Brill:  But that’s true selective.

Alex Avery:  Yeah, and we’ve been doing it for thousands of years.

Peter Brill:  But we’re selective, but that’s different than introducing bacterial genes into plants.

Alex Avery:  Yeah, but understand also that unless they confer a significant competitive advantage they’re not going to be retained.  So, yeah we have to manage this but this is a concern that is blown way out of proportion.  And the human health issues, you know we have done multi-generational long term testing on every . . . biotech crops are the most tested food crops in human history.  And they’ve not been found to be unsafe in any trial, including Europe.  Their food safety authority says they’re safe.  In fact they’re probably safer than the natural crops.  We’ve bred plenty of crops naturally that have ended up having very toxic proprieties.  Celery so toxic that the people picking it got huge red rashes up and down their arms just from touching it and that was all done naturally. 

David Debin:  We’re talking about crops, how does this affect things like chickens and eggs and meat and milk and things like that? 

Alex Avery:  You mean in genetically engineering the feed crops?

David Debin:  Yes.

Alex Avery:  None at all, they’re as healthy as ever.  In fact they’re healthier because the crops protect themselves from insect damage they have less fungal toxins.  Some of the worse things that we find in our food are the natural fungal toxins.  And organic grains actually have higher levels of these fungal toxins.

David Debin:  So we’re saying that you’re safer if you don’t buy an organic chicken?

Alex Avery:  Yeah.

David Debin:  Because everybody goes and says you’ve got to have a free-range organic chicken.

Peter Brill:  That sounds awful, I mean that . . . ugh!

Alex Avery:  Well but it took three times or twice or three times longer for that chicken to reach market weight which gave you two to three times more chance for Camplyobactor or salmonella to contaminate the bird.

Peter Brill:  Yeah, on the other hand, many of them they grow in such tight cages.

Alex Avery:  No, no, the only ones in cages are the egg layers and they are four or five to a cage.  They’ve got lots more room than people believe to roam around.  And we do that because if you let them all in one big space they start actually killing each other.  And that’s natural chickens too.

David Debin: Yeah, it’s like the Mid East.

[laughter]  [cross talk]

Marissa:  What about like the gene transfer that could happen to non-target species? And I know that a lot of companies that have the patent on a certain gene, with genetically modified food there have been some lawsuits that were filed.  Especially by a company named Monsanto against like farmers, and they’re claiming that . . .

Alex Avery:  Yeah, and in fact the one that’s the most celebrated case is Percy Smizer up in Canada.  He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and lost because his own testimony basically put the lie that he was trying to use Monsanto’s herbicide resistant technology without paying for it.  And in fact, I’m told there are people who are now willing to come forward and maybe admit that they sold him, illegally sold him the seed.  So he lost all the way to the Supreme Court.  And the bottom line is if seed companies cannot return their investment on developing the new and better crops that we need to protect wildlife habitats then they’re not going to put the money into developing them. 

David Debin:  So is there anything good or better about organic foods? To sum up, a quick final sum up, anything good or better about organic foods?

Alex Avery: A lot of organic products are wonderful products and are the good gourmet stuff at the supermarket and I buy it.  When the food is in quality better, if it’s a better apple, you know, smells sweeter, and all of that and the price is worth it, pay for it.  But if you’re buying it out of fear, if you’re buying because you’re afraid there’ something in there that’s going to harm you or that your daughter is going to go into early puberty because you heard there was some sort of hormone there, that’s all lies.  And if you want to know the details of those lies read the book, I lay it all bear.

Peter Brill:  And the book is?

Alex Avery:  “The Truth About Organic Foods”

Peter Brill:  By Alex Avery, A-v-e-r-y.  You can get him on Amazon or on the net.  Thank you so much Alex for joining us and educating us today.  It’s been quite an interesting contrast to what we hear everywhere.

Alex Avery:  Well I hope it wasn’t too heavy, and you guys take it easy up there, it’s still down in the thirties at night here.

Peter Brill: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that but it’s nothing we can genetically engineer.

Alex Avery:  The garden is out there waiting.  All right guys, bye-bye.

Peter Brill:  We’ll be right back with the next segment.


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David Debin:  We’re back with “The Third Age”, I’m the man from Hollywood and we have the doctor here, the doctor is in the house, Peter Brill M.D.  If anybody should get a seizure or a heart attack here or something horrible happens to them the doctor is on call. 

Marissa [xx] is here with us as well and we just had a very interesting conversation with Alex Avery who wrote the book on “The Truth About Organic Foods”.  And I’m wondering what we found out, I’m not sure that I know where I stand on all this. He had a lot of arguments to make but I don’t know, should I still buy organic food or should I not buy organic food.  Am I going to be eating pesticides, am I going to be . . . he actually said that organic foods can be sprayed with pesticides, so if that’s true, what am I . . . I always thought that I was eliminating pesticides.

Peter Brill:  That I know is not true.  I mean I know that they use various kinds of organic pesticides.  Anyway, so what do you think?

Marissa:  I think we need to have another follow up show and plus it just leaves you in the . . . I don’t know, more of the middle of the line, which route do you take?

Peter Brill:  But you were saying . . . you came in here loaded for bear right Marissa?

Marissa: Yeah, I was thinking it was going to be more like the thank you for smoking guy.

Peter Brill:  And what’s that, what is the thank, for those you don’t remember or didn’t see the film?

Marissa:  This was a film where he’s basically the spokesperson for the cigarette companies so he, no matter what someone said; he would always twist it to his side.  It was a really good movie too.

Peter Brill:  But this seemed like an honest, well-intentioned, very knowledgeable man who is presenting a legitimate perspective.  My problem is I don’t know enough to know but I mean it does seem that we’re not going to be able to feed the globe with our current methodologies.  Now I’ve always thought that we ought to pair some of our efforts, and I’m going to get calls about this, I’m sure the station would, but I think we need birth control to control the world’s population as well as more food.  I think we’re in a chase of ourselves.

David Debin:  We have a caller, it’s the Pope.


Peter Brill:  All right, hello.

David Debin: The Pope is on the line.

Marissa:  Or the [xx] Trust, denies that.


Peter Brill:  Yeah I’m sure there will be plenty of callers but I mean but if we don’t control the population of the globe we’re going to run into a problem no matter how efficient we get.

David Debin:  So let me just tell our listeners that basically as I understand it, what Alex said in terms of practical advice to everybody was that you can eat organic foods, sometimes they may taste better to you.  If you like them there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re perfectly healthy but it’s just as safe and just as healthy to eat foods that are not organic.  And so that’s basically what I think that we got that conversation, do you agree with that?

Marissa:  I agree.

Peter Brill:  I don’t know if I got that.  I got it that . . . because I don’t know, for example, lets take food that’s brought in from Mexico, do they have the same restrictions in terms of insecticides that we have in California?

Marissa:  I don’t think so.

Peter Brill: I don’t think they do so I don’t know if I would say that those foods are just as safe as organic foods.  I don’t know if organic foods can be brought in from Mexico and I don’t know what the law says about the restrictions on when you can use the label?

Marissa:  And I learned that there’s like three branches of the government that deal with this type of topic so they’re kind of dealing with separate entities.  I think it’s like the FDA, the U . . . I don’t know the names exactly but it’s kind of, you know, the mixed organization.

David Debin:  Well, we’re left in confusion here.  If you want to join the discussion you can write us at:  We’ve had a very interesting show; very stimulating show and I hope you’ll tune in next time for another journey into the third age.

I’d like to thank Lisa [xx] and Marissa [xx] for their help today and tune in next time.


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