Organic ag benefits may be 'over-hyped': study

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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WASHINGTON – Based on a new study by Kansas State University, news accounts of organic agriculture and organic food are more likely to be positive than negative and inaccurately claim that organic food is safer, according to the American Meat Institute (A.M.I.).

Titled “Coverage of organic agriculture in North American newspapers: Media – linking food safety, the environment, human health and organic agriculture,” the study is based on research by Doug Powell, Kansas State University associate professor, as well as researchers from the University of Guelph. Conducted from 1999-2004, the study was recently published in the British Food Journal.

The team explored how topics of organic food and agriculture were discussed in five North American newspapers. Using the content analysis technique, 618 articles collected were analyzed for topic, tone and theme regarding food safety, environmental concerns and human health.

According to the analysis, 41.4% of the articles had a neutral tone toward organic agriculture and food, 36.9% had a positive tone, 15.5%were mixed and 6.1% were negative, Powell said.

“We concluded that articles about organic production in the selected time period were seldom negative,” Powell added. “Organic agriculture was often portrayed in the media as an alternative to allegedly unsafe and environmentally damaging modern agriculture practices. That means organic was being defined by what it isn’t, rather than what it is.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has repeatedly stated that the organic standard is a verification of production methods and not a food safety claim, Powell noted.

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