Dennis Avery is a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute and Director of its Center for Global Food Issues, where his son Alex Avery also works. He is also an Advisor to the American Council on Science and Health, and author of 'Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic' and of a nationally syndicated weekly column for the financial newswire Bridge News.
Avery is a fervent supporter of biotechnology, pesticides, irradiation, factory farming and free trade.
Avery claims organic farming takes up too much land and thus destroys wildlife habitat. He argues that if it were widely adopted it would cause an 'environmental catastrophe' not to mention 'mass starvation'. Alternatively, says Avery, it would lead to measures for population control - possibly forced abortions. He has suggested its promotion may be part of a deliberate strategy to achieve such goals.
Avery is the originator of the 'E. Coli myth' - the idea that people who eat organic foods are at a significantly higher risk of food poisoning. Avery published an article entitled 'The Hidden Dangers in Organic Food' in the Fall, 1998, issue of American Outlook, a quarterly publication published by the Hudson Institute. Avery's article began:
- According to recent data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who eat organic and natural foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E. coli bacteria (0157:H7).
However, according to Robert Tauxe, M.D., chief of the food borne and diarrheal diseases branch of the CDC, there is no such data on organic food production in existence at their centers and he says Avery's claims are "absolutely not true".
- looking at a few selectively reported cases from a single year doesn't seem to be convincing anybody who doesn't already have a predilection to believe you in the first place.
However, stories about 'killer organic food' have appeared in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Ironically, a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report concludes that organic practices potentially reduce E. coli infection and reduce the levels of contaminants such as aflatoxins in foods. FAO says:
- The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) identifies the main source for human infection with E. coli as meat contaminated during slaughter. Virulent strains of E. coli, such as E. coli 0157:H7, develop in the digestive tract of cattle, which is mainly fed with starchy grain as research at Cornell University has demonstrated. Cows mainly fed with hay generate less than 1% of the E. coli found in the faeces of grain-fed animals. It is one of the most important goals of organic farming to keep the nutrient cycles closed. Therefore, ruminants like cattle and sheep are fed with diets with a high proportion of grass, silage and hay. It can be concluded that organic farming potentially reduces the risk of E. coli infection.
Avery's attribution of danger to organic farming on the basis that it makes use of manure is, in fact, nonsensical. In the UK, for example, conventional farmers use about 80 million tonnes of manure a year as a fertiliser. Just 9000 tonnes goes on organic land.
He calls organic food a “gigantic marketing lie. Avery believes that ‘Genetically modified foods are significantly safer than organic and natural foods. Over the last decade, consumers have eaten millions of pounds of genetically altered foods, and millions of tons of feed corn and soybean meal have been used to produce our meat and milk. So far, not even a skin rash has been linked to these new-tech foods’.
Avery was a contributor to the book called “Fearing Food - Risk, Health and Environment”, edited by Julian Morris and Roger Bate, at the time from the right-wing think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. Other contributors included Lynn Scarlett then from the Reason Foundation and Bruce Ames the controversial cancer scientist on the board of SEPP and a Director of the George C Marshall Institute and academic advisor to the Reason Foundation. Although Avery’s focus is meant to be agriculture, he is also a signatory to many of the CEI letters on climate (see CEI).
The Hudson Institute is funded by many firms whose products are excluded from organic agriculture: eg, AgrEvo, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, Novartis Crop Protection, Zeneca, Du Pont, DowElanco, ConAgra, and Cargill.
Before joining Hudson, Avery served from 1980-88 as the senior agricultural analyst for the US State Department where he was involved in assessing the foreign policy implications of food and farming developments.
- Marian Burros, Eating Well: Anti-Organic, and Flawed, New York Times, Feb 17, 1999. Article analyzing Avery's anti-organic scaremongering.
- J. Morris & R. Bate (1999) Fearing Food – Risk, Health and Environment, Butterworth, Heinemann
- PRWatch: Dennis Avery
- A. Rowell (2003) Don’t Worry – It’s Safe to Eat – the True Story of GM Food, BSE and Foot and Mouth, Earthscan, p194-195
- Amy Rebecca Sapkota, R. Michael Hulet, Guangyu Zhang, Patrick McDermott, Erinna Kinney, Kellogg Schwab, Sam W. Joseph. 2011. Lower Prevalence of Antibiotic-resistant Enterococci On U.S. Conventional Poultry Farms That Transitioned to Organic Practices. Environ Health Perspect. doi:10.1289/ehp.1003350. This study concludes, "the voluntary removal of antibiotics from large-scale U.S. poultry farms that transition to organic practices is associated with a lower prevalence of antibiotic-resistant and MDR Enterococcus."
- John Vidal, Is Organic Food Dangerous?, The Guardian, May 16 2000. Article analyzing Avery's anti-organic scaremongering.
- Cited in John Vidal, Is organic food dangerous?, The Guardian, May 16, 2000, acc 11 Aug 2011
- Cited in Organic Trade Association, Organic Trade Association Speaks Out About Safety of Organic Foods, PRNewswire 08/27/99, acc 11 Aug 2011
- Gregory Conko. 2000. Greg Conko's Response to Avery: Organic Debate Continues!, AgBioWorld, March 9, acc 11 Aug 2011
- FAO. 2000. FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY AS AFFECTED BY ORGANIC FARMING, TWENTY SECOND FAO REGIONAL CONFERENCE FOR EUROPE, PORTO, PORTUGAL, 24-28 JULY 2000, acc 11 Aug 2011