‘Nasty chemicals’, the naturalistic fallacy and the organic scam

Twice this week people have been trying to sell me something and used phrases like ‘natural’, ‘chemical free’, or ‘organic’, churning these well worn phrases out as though they make something inherently and obviously better. Maybe they think that, as a personal trainer, I am into diet woo, and perhaps many are, but the thing with me is that I really fucking love science, and, furthermore, I have a philosophy degree. So I demand that you provide citations for your claims, and I insist that your arguments are logically sound. Double whammy.

Ok, in all honestly I don’t often pull people up on the spot on their claims, because, let’s be fair, it’s likely a lost cause. In my experience, those wedded to dogma are deaf to any sort of challenge. I just hope that one day they can find their ways out of the web of bullshit and propaganda to a position based on peer reviewed, referenced and properly researched consensus. In the meantime, I just come here, to my blog, to let off steam and have a bitch. Maybe try to educate a little. Well, I can try.

So, let’s look at these claims. ‘Chemical free’. Well, nothing is chemical free. Everything is made up of chemicals, your skin, your sofa, your lunch. Definitely all your beauty products and foods. So nothing is chemical free. If you are daunted by scientific names for things then I suggest you get science literate, because you literally, and yes, I mean LITERALLY, cannot avoid chemicals.

’All natural’ – this is known as the naturalistic fallacy and has been around for a hundreds years. It is the idea that that which is natural is better, because it is natural. It has no basis, no foundation. It relies on unquestioning acceptance. It’s also a cornerstone of social Darwinism – y’know, killing the weak and disabled. Not that I’m suggesting that people who don’t like GMOs want to do away with the vulnerable, but just that they’re two sides of the same coin. Many awful conditions and fates exist in nature, like small pox and polio and famine, and many less awful but nevertheless inconvenient ones too, like tooth decay and food inflation. Science has done wonderful things for humanity in combatting both the awful and the inconvenient, and I can’t understand the position of those who oppose its advances.

Organic – if you want to buy organic, do, but don’t be thinking it’s better for your health or for the environment. Over 600 studies have shown that genetically modified crops are safe from humans and the environment. There has been no evidence that organic food is better for health. It requires more land to be cleared for farming than conventional methods, and uses more pesticides, often with a higher level of toxicity, than conventionally farmed crops.  Remember, natural doesn’t mean better – pesticides created in a lab can be much les harsh than natural alternatives. I, for one, choose to support genetically modified products where I can, because of the potential for good they can do in a world where many people are starving or ravaged by drought or famine. There is something to be said for buying locally, carbon footprint and all, but, as for organic, it’s nothing more than a marketing gimmick.

So if you find yourself telling someone that something is organic or better or chemical or GMO free, stop yourself and ask, what science supports my view? Because you might be talking to someone who is scienced up.

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