Aspartame And Our Health

equal-frontAspartame is a pervasive ingredient that is used as a low-calorie sweetener in a wide range of food and beverages. I got into a discussion about it recently because I was drinking a Diet Mountain Dew, which is sweetened using aspartame, and was informed that instead of being helpful as a way to watch Calories it would actually make me gain weight and that it causes all kinds of other health problems. I’ve heard many of these claims before and, being the skeptic that I am, was is the antithesis of scientific skepticism.  So I decided to look into what the side-effects of aspartame might be.

Janet HullDoing a Google search, one of the first websites I came across was hosted by Janet Starr Hull who is the creator of the Aspartame Detox program. This page reinforced my skepticism because, while I know very little about Hull, her homepage begins by hawking her book, then immediately follows with a link to submit your case of how aspartame negatively affected you. In the next paragraph she tells a vivid, yet completely unverifiable tale about how she was misdiagnosed with Graves disease in the early 1990s but restored her health with her own detox program. This is all very reminiscent of the tactics used by Dudley LeBlanc to hawk Hadacol in the 1940s and by Super-Charlatan Kevin Trudeau in all of his bogus blatherings. Furthermore, Hull refers to herself as Dr. Hull but is vague about her professional credentials, her website states that she has a doctorate in nutrition but she does not say from where, which sets off my skeptic alarms even further:  One can purchase a Ph.D based on life experience for $849.  I am not accusing Hull of purchasing her doctorate but since she is not forthcoming on her website about where she received it we can’t easily tell. After a little digging I found that she got a Ph.D in holistic nutrition from the Clayton College of Natural Health, which, before it closed was an unaccredited institution, that specialized in “alternative” medicine.  Finally, she promotes other things on her website that are definitely bogus. For example you can link to her online hair analysis program with the assurance that if you send in a hair sample it will help you detect any toxic chemicals in your system as well as nutrient and vitamin deficiencies. Hull’s credibility is definitely suspect but whether this because she is a charlatan or just overly-credulous I do not know for certain. I do, however, know that she is not an authoritative source and that I don’t trust her for objective information. The problem is that she has been cited in at least one research article as the source of claims about the ill-effects of aspartame. So, credible or not, she is evidently affecting public opinion about aspartame.

Aspartame chemical structureIt is with this in mind that I decided to look at some of the actual research on aspartame to see if there is any real concern to be had. Aspartame was discovered in 1965, and unlike other artificial sweeteners it is the only one that is completely broken down by the body into its constituent components: amino acids, aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol.  All of these components are present in other foods and are used by the body the same way whether they come from aspartame or other sources.

With regard to potential side-effects, there was a study done in 2005 that did find that people who regularly drank diet sodas had a 41% increase in the chance of being overweight for every can or bottle of diet soft drink he or she consumed. This, however, says absolutely nothing about the role of aspartame in the process. Even the study’s authors concluded that soda is not the root of obesity and conclude that it may be something that is correlated with diet soda drinking that causes the weight gain. There are other concerns with aspartame, though. It has been speculated that aspartame may cause increased allergic reactions based on anecdotal reports of increased headache and other allergic signs and symptoms. However a study out of Duke University found no difference between placebo and aspartame groups in allergic signs. Other studies have confirmed that aspartame is no more likely than a placebo to cause allergic sensitivity.

One real potential problem with aspartame is that one of the constituent components is methanol. Methanol breaks down into formaldehyde, which then breaks down into Formic acid. These can be toxic to humans at high enough levels. However it has been shown that we break down and excrete formic acid faster than we accumulate it through consumption of aspartame.

There is more to this controversy but the fact is that Aspartame is one of the most studied and tested food additives ever approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It has been shown repeatedly that aspartame is safe for most people (there is a notable exception for those individuals with a condition called Phenylketonuria). So relax and enjoy your low calorie yogurt and your diet soda, just consume them in moderate amounts and you’ll be fine.


Morality and Fat?

Last week NYU psychology professor, Geoffrey Miller got himself into hot water for posting a tweet that read: “Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.”


Aside from Professor Miller’s clear lack of understanding of nutrition (it’s not just about carbs) his tweet brings up an important point regarding obesity. We here in the US don’t often treat obesity solely as a potential health problem, rather we treat it is a moral issue. This is the result of prejudice rather than reason and is not helpful at all to anyone who is trying to lose weight. So to address the question of whether we should be viewing body weight as a moral issue we really need to step away from our cultural perceptions and look at our biology.

Body fat is just stored energy, if you consume more energy than you expend, you store it as fat. Our bodies have evolved over several hundred thousand years to survive in our environment; one of the ways that we did so was to adapt a way to store food energy, which allowed us to eat enough to fuel both our present need and to store energy for later when the food supply may be scarce, like during periods of famine. Our DNA doesn’t know that those of us in the affluent middle classes of the developed world have regular access to far more Calories than we need (1). By influencing us to eat more than we need, our genes allow us to store energy for the future, which enables proper development and guards against starvation (2). One of the things that happen when we diet and lose weight is that our resting metabolism slows down. In other words our bodies get more efficient and use less energy, which is certainly a good adaptation to prevent starvation, but a major pain for those of us who want to lose weight (3). Our bodies don’t only slow down our metabolism when we cut back on calories and lose weight, they also signal us to be hungrier (4). Furthermore, there have been over 600 genes identified that play a role in weight gain and obesity (5).

Now, while it is true that our bodies have evolved to hold onto the food that we eat and drive us to eat more than we need, I am not suggesting that biology justifies us in abandoning our efforts to improve our health by eating well and making positive lifestyle choices; we are thinking animals and it is now, as it always will be our own responsibility to take care of ourselves.  I am, however, suggesting that if you are a person who struggles with your weight, you have not morally faltered. There will always be those who disagree with me on this point but I am curious as to what their goals actually are with weight loss. It is probably not health.

According to historian and author Peter Stearns (6) the attitudes in the United States about fat result from our cultural need to morally compensate for excessive and wasteful consumerism. The problem with this line of moral reasoning is that it creates an unfortunate paradox, because our biological drive to eat is motivated by the need to store energy for later, which, contrary to being wasteful, is, from the physiologic perspective, actually a very thrifty thing to do. In the case of body fat, our cultural and biological perceptions of thrifty behavior are in dynamic conflict with each other.

Attaching morality to this problem can cause us to believe that unsuccessful attempts at weight loss are an indication of our own moral shortcomings, which can lead us to search for implausible or even harmful alternative solutions.  If, however, we keep in mind that weight loss is a physical and mental challenge that has nothing to do with our moral value it is possible to see that it is completely unwarranted to deem our lives unworthy simply because we have to struggle with something.

So to Professor Miller I say this: Get your biases and prejudices under control, Sir before you post foolish comments for the world to see. You are free to be a sanctimonious pedant in your private life but as an academic and a potential thought leader you have a responsibility to demonstrate better critical thinking.


  1. Statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States. Data spreadsheet available at:…/FoodConsumptionNutrients_en.xls
  2. Tooby, J., Cosmides, L. 1990. “The Past Explains the Present: Emotional Adaptations and the Structure of Ancestral Environments.” Ethology & Sociobiology, 11: 375-424.
  3. Leibel, R. Rosenbaum, M., Hirsch, J. 1995. “Changes in Energy Expenditure Resulting from Altered Body Weight.” New England Journal of Medicine, March 9 332(10): 621-628.
  4.  Jhanwar-Uniyal, M., Beck, B., Jhanwar, Y.S., Burlet, C., Leibowitz, S.F. 1993. Neuropeptide Y projection from arcuate nucleus to parvocellular division of paraventricular nucleus: specific relation to the ingestion of carbohydrate. Brain Research 631:97-106. This study shows one of the mechanisms by which our bodies make us hungrier when calories are low an increase in a neurotransmitter called neuropeptide Y, which causes cravings for carbohydrate, a quick energy source, to increase. This stuff gets released in really high amounts during calorie reduction, which is, of course, interpreted by the body as starvation.
  5. Pérusse L, Rankinen T, Zuberi A, Chagnon YC, Weisnagel SJ, Argyropoulos G, Walts B, Snyder EE, Bouchard C. The human obesity gene map: the 2004 update. Obes Res. 2005 Mar;13(3):381-490.
  6. Stearns, P. Fat History: bodies and beauty in the modern west. 1997. New York, NY :New York University Press.

Healthy Skepticism: High Fructose Corn Syrup

Recently a friend and colleague of mine lost a noticeable amount of weight and I asked him about it. He told me that he had recently switched over from regular soda to a so-called “throwback” soda that is, as he put it “healthier because it has real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.” He further explained Pepsi throw backthat he has lost 12 pounds since he made the switch and that he feels a lot better now. I must admit I was pretty impressed by the fact that he lost weight by changing his corn-syrupy ways.

Corn syrup is believed by many to be very unhealthy and is often accused of being a major player in the rise in obesity that has occurred since the 1970s. Of course I am skeptical of the claims made about corn syrup because, at least as far as weight management goes, the evidence still indicates that calorie balance (what you consume compared to what you burn) is of the greatest importance. This colleague of mine, however swore by his plan and further there was obvious visible evidence that he had lost weight…I could see it with my own eyes.

Based on that conversation and the general fact that this colleague is a smart guy whose judgment I am inclined to trust, I found myself believing that there may be some truth to the corn syrup claims. The next day, however, I ran into him at the gym. We started talking and he told me that when he decided to give up corn-syrup he also had decided to start working out and that he was now also using an app on his phone that helped him track his Caloric intake so he can avoid eating too much. I asked him if he thought it was possible that the exercise and Calorie restriction might be why he’s lost weight and feels so much better rather than just the corn-syrup. He said it was possible but that he didn’t think so, he felt extremely confident that it was in fact the corn syrup.

Whether corn-syrup is bad for us is debatable (about which more in a bit), however it is very important to remember why, when wading through information on this or any scientific topic, testimonial or anecdotal evidence has very little value as scientific evidence. Anecdotes like the one offered to me by my colleague (who is very astute and intelligent) often seem convincing.  However, particularly with health matters, it is easy to misalign cause and effect. A subtle yet pervasive reason for this is something called the Fallacy of False Cause, an oft made mistake in which we assume that two events are causally connected.

a rooster crowingIf, for example, I observed that every morning, just before sunrise, a rooster crowed then concluded that it was the rooster crowing that caused the sun to rise, I would be committing this fallacy. Okay so this example seems a bit far-fetched but think about my friend who, while he gave up corn-syrup, also reduced his Caloric intake, started exercising, and lost weight, then concluded that his weight loss was attributable to the lack of corn syrup rather than all of his hard work and discipline. This despite the fact that research has proven time and again that eating less and exercising more is the most effective path to healthy weight loss.

High-fructose corn-syrup (HFCS) was developed in the 1960s and has since been increasingly used in the food supply as a sweetener because, in the U.S., it is significantly cheaper than cane or beet sugar. HFCS is not meaningfully different in composition or metabolism from other fructose-glucose sweeteners like sucrose (otherwise known as refined sugar or just sugar) but it does account for roughly 10% of the Calories we consume daily in the U.S. and for roughly 42% of added sweeteners in the food supply,  which is quite significant.


There has been a substantial amount of research on the topic of HFCS. In a 2004 review, Bray and Colleagues point out that the consumption of HFCS has increased substantially since its introduction and conclude that this increase may play a role in the rising levels of obesity. While this is a well-written review with sound conclusions it’s important to note that the authors blame an increase in HFCS consumption for the rise in obesity. This does not provide any damning evidence against corn-syrup as a food; it merely shows that we are consuming too much of it. Further, in a 2007 review by Forshee and colleagues the authors point out that the ratio of fructose to glucose in the U.S. food supply has not appreciably changed since corn syrup was originally introduced, they further conclude that based on the available evidence, HFCS does not contribute to weight gain and obesity any differently than other nutrients do. These conclusions are supported as well in separate reviews by White, and by Moeller and colleagues.  

Based on the available evidence it is clear that HFCS can indeed lead to caloric imbalance when we consume too much of it. However the same could be said of “natural” sugar.  There is not a lot of doubt that HFCS is a pervasive ingredient in many processed foods, however to assume that it is the cause of obesity because it is inherently hazardous, rather than factoring it in to the big picture is a more subtle, and perhaps more disruptive example of the fallacy of false cause.

Healthy Skepticism: Genetically Modified Foods

In my recent post on Organic foods I came to the somewhat ambivalent conclusion that, though there is not a lot of evidence to support the idea that there is a huge tangible benefit of an organic diet over a conventional one, it is nonetheless a healthy diet. My only caveat was that we should not mandate the organic methods because those processes lead to a smaller yield on some important crops. One of the biggest arguments made in favor of Organic agricultural methods, however, is that there is potential danger in many of the genetically modified crops that are used for world-wide food distribution.

bigstock-Food-4708340The debates surrounding Organic food and Genetically Modified (GM) foods are often conflated indicating a belief that evidence in support of Organic foods is also evidence against GM foods. It is not. Though these are related issues they are indeed separate; evidence that supports organic health benefits says nothing at all about whether GM crops are harmful.

This is not an easy topic to research because there is evidence to support high-level arguments on both sides of the issue. However, it appears as though opinion on the matter often divides along the same line as the politics of the individuals making the argument. This is terribly unfortunate and can have a very negative effect on public discourse. Science is its own entity and does not adhere to political party lines.

Monsanto logoAn example of political dispute lies in the perception of Monsanto. This is one of the major producers of genetically modified foods and to many on the left it is an example of a purely evil enterprise while many on the right are reflexively defensive of Monsanto and therefore simply dismiss any evidence that may show potential problems with food production or public health.  Whatever side of the argument you are on, vilifying Monsanto is neither a benefit to public education nor to science. Neither is there any benefit in portraying them as saintly. Monsanto is a company like any other company; they have a business model, a product, and they want to make money. While they should most certainly be held accountable if they are negligent in reporting any potentially harmful effects of any of their processes or products, it is unrealistic to assume that they are an inherently evil or an inherently benevolent organization.

Even when the debate doesn’t degrade into partisan arguments it is hard to sift through the wealth of evidence to make sense of the information. In May of 2013 the journal Nature ran a series of articles to help shed some light on the topic. I am going to look at one article by Natasha Gilbert because, while she does seem from the outset to be opposed to GM foods, she approaches the topic with a respectable amount of moderation.

Genetic modifications are made to plants to increase crop output by making them resistant to disease, pests and parasites, and harsh climates among other things. According to many industry advocates, GM foods have increased agricultural production by $98 billion U.S dollars and prevented an estimated 473 million kilograms (that’s over a billion pounds) of pesticides from being sprayed. To this end, it might be safe to assume that advocates on both sides of the argument would find some common ground. However, that is not the case. According to Gilbert there are numerous complexities that have been overlooked by this industry that zealously promotes the above facts despite questionable or inconsistent evidence. Gilbert says that there are three pressing socio-environmental concerns that come to the forefront in the GM foods debate.

Amaranthus_palmeriThe first concern is that GM crops have led to herbicide resistant weeds. There is apparently evidence to support this claim. In the 1990s GM cotton was developed to be resistant to glyphospate (otherwise known as Roundup®), which is the herbicide used to kill Palmer Amaranth, a weed that can be very damaging to cotton crops. Evidently the combination of GM crops and glyphosphate worked very well for a time but then ceased to be effective. According to Gilbert,”The herbicide crop combination worked spectacularly well – until it didn’t. In 2004, herbicide-resistant amaranth was found in one county in Georgia; by 2011, it had spread to 76.” It was estimated that farmers were losing half their crops to weeds.

Now this is certainly a vivid example that will definitely rile someone who doesn’t like GM crops, Round upit even riled me a bit, but it is important to remember that herbicide resistance can happen in non-GM crops as well, and while there may well be better evidence to support this, the above information does not show whether the herbicide resistance occurs as a result of the GM crops transferring their glyphospate resistance to the amaranth or as a result of the weed adapting to repeated exposure to the herbicide, which happens frequently in changing ecosystems. According to Lingefelter and Hartwig (pg 18), depending on the herbicide family and weed species, herbicide resistance can occur within 5 to 20 years. Well within the time-frame described above. Again it may well be that the Palmer Amaranth in the example was altered through cross-contamination. My point is that we can’t tell from the above example.

Gilbert’s second pressing concern is that GM cotton has driven farmers to suicide. This is a rather alarming claim that seems to warrant serious investigation. According to Gilbert, however, it is a rumor that began when Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist, made the claim that “270,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since Monsanto entered the Indian seed market. It’s a genocide.” This information has indeed been satisfactorily disproven. Research shows that between 1997 and 2007 the number of suicides did rise from 100,000 to 120,000 but that the number of suicides among farmers actually remained somewhat constant at about 20,000 per year (Gruère, G. P., Mehta-Bhatt, P. & Sengupta, D ). These suicide numbers are alarming statistics in their own right but since Monsanto did not begin selling GM seed in India until 2002, five years after the increase began,  it is clearly incorrect to blame them for the problem.

The third pressing concern is that transgenic DNA is spreading to other plants. In 2002 a paper was published in Nature by David Quist claiming that genetic analysis revealed that corn in Oaxaca, Mexico was tainted with DNA that was used to express transgenes that make Monsanto corn insect and glyphospate resistant. Quist and colleagues speculated that this resulted from the local corn having cross bred with GM corn and become tainted. This led to a large media blitz for the people of Oaxaca and led many to blame Monsanto for tainting Oaxacan culture, where corn is considered sacred. The problem was that when other researchers tried to replicate Quist’s results they weren’t able to do so. Further there were many criticisms of the methods used by Quist and his team. Ultimately the editors of Nature, while not retracting the Quist study, did state that “In light of these discussions and the diverse advice received, Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper.”

Based on the above three cases it’s relatively easy to see that the evidence is somewhat nebulous on both sides of the debate making it easy to interpret the information in a way that confirms what we already believe. This is confirmation bias and it is prevalent in all decision making.  In our search to find answers to important questions such as these, none of us has an opinion that is free of bias. The fact that there is contradictory or inconsistent evidence is likely an indication that we aren’t asking the right questions. This phenomenon is not new but in fact has been recognized for over 50 years.

In 1960, P.C. Wason conducted an experiment where he observed how we come up with and then test our own conclusions (Wason, 1960).  In his study, he presented subjects with a triplet of numbers then asked them to figure out the rule that was used to generate the sequence (is the sequence all even numbers, all odd numbers, all consecutive numbers?). The subjects then tested their proposed rules by suggesting additional triplets, after which they were told whether their suggestions were consistent with the actual rule.

What Wason found was that his subjects only looked for number triplets that were consistent with their preconceived rules. For example, if the subjects were given the triplet 2-4-6, they were likely to assume that the numbers were successive even numbers. They would then go on to test whether this hypothesis was true by coming up with several different combinations of successive even numbers. If however, the actual rule were simply that the next number had to be higher than the one before it, these subjects, for their lack of testing any alternatives, would conclude that they were correct, when in fact they weren’t.

So what does an old cognitive psychology experiment have to do with GM foods? Well, the debate about GM foods is carried out by humans and, for better or worse, that means it will always be driven as much by a desire to be correct as it is by the spirit of inquiry. So far people on both sides of the argument seem to have generated hypotheses that are consistent with some of the evidence but as of yet we haven’t found reliable answers. This is likely because the debate only appears to consider whether GM foods are a natural hazard or if that notion is complete nonsense; a false-dichotomy if ever there was one.  Very little consideration appears to be given to the idea that there might be another more accurate conclusion, like the presence of smaller, yet potentially manageable risks associated with GM foods.

Based on the evidence it may prove to be true that GM crops can transfer DNA to non-GM plants of the same species and perhaps even across species leading to herbicide-resistant weeds. This does present potential problems for food growers. If, however, we are able to feed more people because of GM foods, it is a tough argument to make that we shouldn’t move forward.  There is little evidence that shows that eating GM foods is bad or harmful, which means GM will likely continue to advance as an important branch of food science.

To be honest, when I sat down to research this post, I was strongly in favor of GM foods. Frankly, I still am, however I can’t escape the idea that it’s worth giving some thought to the potential problems associated with herbicide resistant weeds because the estimated annual loss of productivity caused by noxious weeds in 64 crops grown in the U.S. is roughly $7.4 billion. That is substantial amount of money that  has the potential to drive up food costs by a significant amount. I wish there were an easier answer to the question of whether we should simply let GM foods move forward unregulated or if we should monitor them with suspicion but there isn’t at this point. We have to continue to weigh the evidence while doing our best to dodge that problem of confirmation bias.


  1. Gruère, G. P., Mehta-Bhatt, P. & Sengupta, D. Bt Cotton and Farmer Suicides in India. Discussion paper 00808 (International Food Policy Research Institute, 2008).
  2. Wason, P.C. On the failure to eliminate hypotheses in a conceptual task. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 12, 1960; 129-140. URL

Healthy Skepticism: Fruit Flies and Organic Food

As a self-styled scientific skeptic I often need to remind myself about confirmation bias. This is the very human tendency to seek out the evidence that confirms what we already believe and ignore evidence that disagrees with our existing opinions and beliefs. I had to remind myself of this earlier this week when I read about a well-conducted study that provides evidence that organically grown food may have some benefits over conventional foods. The evidence is not absolutely conclusive but it is compelling nonetheless.

Truthfully, I am not sold on the idea that the benefits of organically raised food extend anywhere beyond marketing. However, this has always been a tough topic for me to discuss because there are a lot of people whom I like and respect that swear by the “Organic” lifestyle. Furthermore a diet that is rich in vegetables and lean meats, whether organic or not, and low on foods that don’t have a lot of nutritional value other than calories, is likely to be a healthy diet.


The reason I think it is worth evaluating is that organically grown food is much more expensive the conventional food, making it inaccessible to many, which has public health implications. The elevated cost, at least in the U.S., is a result of the increased cost and labor involved in adhering to the USDAs guidelines for organic certification. In reality the criteria for displaying the Organic label differ worldwide, but typically for foods to be considered organic they need to be grown without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and without the routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic livestock needs to be fed organically grown feed (that meets the aforementioned standards) and be provided with access to the outdoors and the freedom to move about.

Whether there is an actual health benefit or not is, at this point, somewhat irrelevant from an industry perspective because clearly we believe it in the U.S.   According to the USDA , the Organic Food Industry has grown immensely over the last 15 years.  In 1997 the sales of Organic foodstuffs was $3.6 billion but by 2008 the market had boomed and sales increased to $21.1 billion.  It didn’t stop there, 2011 data from the Organic Trade Association placed the value of the organic food industry at $29 billion. I have no problem with an industry making money, that’s how the economy works; however when I see that much money involved I do tend to be very skeptical of that industry’s claims, particularly where health is concerned.

Organic trade association logo

So back to the article that tested my skepticism.  It was published by Chhabra and Colleagues and was an experiment that evaluated the benefits of an Organic diet on Drosophila Melanogaster fruit flies. Okay, so fruit flies are not human but they do have short lifespans and so make it easy to study the effects of various things on longevity among other things. Further, much of what we have learned about genetics and human physiology over the years began with research on Drosophila Melanogaster so they have been repeatedly validated as a good preliminary model for research on animal physiology. What the authors did was raise separate groups of fruit flies on either diets of conventionally grown bananas or bananas that were grown organically.

Drosophila melanogaster

They found  that  the flies on the organic diet lived for a longer period of time and had improved fertility. This is a significant finding. What is even more interesting about it is the study’s lead author Ria Chhabra was a high school student when this paper was published. According to Tara Parker-Pope who edits the Well Blog for the New York Times, Chhabra came up with the idea for this study after she heard her parents arguing about the worth of organic foods. Now while it’s true that one study such as this certainly can’t completely answer the question about the value of organic foods, Chhabra deserves many accolades for her scientific approach to the problem!

While Chhabra’s study is compelling,  the results can’t be directly translated to humans. In fact, there have been numerous studies done on the value of the organic food for humans and the results have been mixed. However, in a 2012 Meta-Analysis published by Smith-Spangler and colleagues that looked at health outcomes, nutrient levels, and contaminant levels, the authors concluded that the available published literature does not contain significant evidence that organic food is healthier than conventional food.

So despite some interesting evidence demonstrating the benefits of Organic Food on Drosophila Melanogaster (and despite my worries about confirmation bias) there still is, to my mind, not enough evidence to support the claims we often hear about Organic food. However,  there really is no harm to be done in consuming an organic diet if you can afford it, it is generally a healthy diet. Further, if you do eat organically raised livestock you can rest in the knowledge that these animals are likely to have lived a better life than their factory-farmed counterparts, which is, by itself, a worthwhile aim.

There is one vital caveat, however, and that is that for some very important crops, organic methods provide a smaller yield than conventional methods. Therefore if we mandate that businesses use organic processing methods, then we will likely drive up costs and potentially reduce access to food for a large number of people. As a consequence, our well-intentioned attempts at improving public health could end up having exactly the opposite affect.