Food & Health

The Organic Debate Involving Emma Watson’s Met Gala Sustainable Outfit

The Organic Debate Involving Emma Watson's Met Gala Sustainable Outfit
Written by Jennifer Nini

No topic is so ethically charged as agriculture as it’s closely linked to all we hold dear – food and fashion. It is the subject that often yields the most passionate of debates, particularly the question of whether organic really is better for us.

One only needs to read the Facebook comments on Emma Watson’s recent Met Gala photo, to learn how intensely people will debate “organic” agriculture. Despite the show-stopping off-the-shoulder pants/dress ensemble prominently displayed, organic farming took centre stage in the Facebook comment thread.

I happened upon the sustainability debate surrounding the outfit – a creative collaboration between Calvin Klein and Eco-Age – when Wendy, a stylist girlfriend of mine, tagged me on Emma’s Facebook photo.

An ethical fashion style icon.

Now I worship at the alter of this ethical style goddess and feminist, and agree with most everything Emma had written on the post, if in fact she had written it (with my background in digital marketing, I am only too aware that this job may have been outsourced to a creative agency).

So you can imagine my wide-eyed interest when I saw this comment by a “Simone”:

Love the dress and the sustainability , but the chemical and organic thing…Fact is, organic usually uses even harsher chemicals, but they are just labelled as organic, are usually less effective, and more toxic than many non-organic chemicals.

What ensued were more comments in support, like this one by “Roshni”,

“Organic” does not mean spray-free or “chemical” free. They just use different sprays and chemicals, usually unregulated and not tested as rigorously as conventional sprays.

which instigated a response from a Paige:

Agreed Roshni, they are practically not tested at all. I exchanged emails with someone in the USDA pesticide residue testing program asking about which pesticides they test for and found out that they don’t actually test for organic pesticides on their organic crops. They test for conventional pesticides in order to see if conventional pesticides have been used. Which is then where they get the ‘organic crops use “__”% less pesticides than conventional’ propaganda. Which if you think about it, it makes sense that there is less residue on organic from pesticides that aren’t supposed to be used on them

The Sustainability Debate Surrounding Emma Watson's Met Gala Dress

And of course, it wouldn’t have been a social media debate if the copying and pasting of URLs to prove one’s point wasn’t in the mix, which in this case it was. The link to a web page with the meta title Pesticides in Organic Farming was conveniently shared, although when I saw it, I did think that the URL itself is misleading, making it seem like a research paper conducted by the university of Berkeley when in fact it is a blog article by a Berkeley grad named Louis Hom, a highly intelligent researcher/scientist type given his admission to working at “Cornell Vet School, studying reoviruses.”

So where do I sit on this organic farming debate?

As a critical thinker and a freelance writer, I have an in-built bullshit detector. I like to question everything. As I am fond of saying, beliefs are just that, beliefs. Our beliefs are usually biases borne out of our own experiences and our environment. Sometimes we change and edit our beliefs as we receive more input. And sometimes our ego clings harder to beliefs, even when faced with hard evidence that proves our beliefs are hogwash.

Now most people would readily assume that as I live on an organic farm which is currently undergoing the process of certification with the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia, that I would automatically justify my pro-organic farming position. Most people would be wrong. 

Related Post: So You Think You Can Farm?

However as no one had provided links to research papers proving that “organic farming is worse” than conventional farming, I needed to press them in case there was a gap in my extensive research and own thinking.

pesticides in organic farming

So it is in this spirit of coming to a greater understanding of these opinions so clearly alternative to my own – that I added my own comment to the thread, (intended for the original commenter Simone):

“I’m interested to learn more about your point of view. As it so happens my partner and I are currently certifying our small farm as “organic”. We are based in Australia. We chose to go down this route of organic certification as we decided that the system of farming promoted by organic is aligned with our agricultural philosophy that balances human, environmental and animal welfare. Also consumers are beginning to care about how things are grown and we thought certification makes perfect sense – even if a little more expensive and paperwork adds more work. While it is all new to me as I don’t have a background in agriculture or farming, I am unsure as to what you mean by organic being “worse” as I would have to make this determination based on many other studies. Are you able to provide some so that I may understand how you arrived at your conclusion? We use crop rotation to help with soil management and pest control and the inputs used on the farm are locally produced and also certified organic which isn’t to say that they don’t contain harmful residues, but I would imagine much less than in conventional farming.”

No responses as yet. But stay tuned.

Two hours later I still haven’t received a response which is fair enough given that I am unsure as to where in the world Simone is based. Also, who’s to say I will even receive a reply given that her comment did garner, at the time of this writing, 42 replies. She may not feel like providing justification for her beliefs.

But if I do receive a response, I will update this post so that you may learn with me and perhaps together we can increase our knowledge of organic farming, or perhaps, increase our awareness of how to handle the naysayers.

Now after writing my response, I decided to read further and noticed a comment from “Alex” pertaining to the same organic case:

The Sustainability Debate Surrounding Emma Watson's Met Gala Dress

This time though, I decided not to comment. Not because I think Alex is right – although he does raise some valid points about the yield in organic farming and demonising technology that may improve sustainability – but because I really only have room for one deep discussion on Facebook at a time.

So what about you? Do you believe organic farming helps create a greener world or not at all? Would love to know your thoughts so feel free to leave your comment below.

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About the author

Jennifer Nini

Jennifer Nini is a writer, activist and the founding editor of Eco Warrior Princess. In 2010, after studying Fashion Business, she launched Eco Warrior Princess to explore her interests in fashion, politics, social justice and sustainability. Jennifer is also the founder of The Social Copywriter, a digital agency harnessing the power of copywriting and content marketing to help mindful businesses reach more people. When she's not perfecting a sentence or coaching business clients, you will find her at her certified organic farm reconnecting with nature.


    • Hi Amelia, yes most people think the same. In fact, the core of the organic movement is really a shunning of SYNTHETIC fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides etc but organic farmers can rely on NATURAL alternatives. I think in the US it is different – and I can only assume they mean the US given the number of comments referring to USDA. I’m based in Australia and there are 7 certifying bodies who have to follow the strict government guidelines, but each have variances in their requirements. From personal experience, we have to keep records and submit them each year for the certifiers to scrutinise, particularly our inputs and farm/soil management activities (natural fertilisers etc). Also farming inputs are required to be derived from 95% organic ingredients and the rest can be non-organic but from a list of approved ingredients. I honestly don’t know where these commenters are getting their information from, but I want to know in order to get the facts and dispel if the information is wrong. It is dangerous for the sustainability cause if people gravitate to incorrect information, which they may do, to absolve themselves from responsibility in being a part of creating a greener world. This kind of delusion and apathy hinders any attempt that helps create a better world.

      • This is a good debate. In fact a lot of people assume “organic” means “no chemicals”, but in fact natural pesticides / herbicides are chemicals in their own right. If you take a look at the organic certifications such as GOTS, they never ban chemicals, but they restrict their usage and there is a list that is prohibited. To me this is much better than not being organic.

        • Absolutely spot on! We are undergoing the process of organic certification for our farm and you’re right. And as a side matter, this is why I’m so interested in how words evolve and how people come up with meaning and attribute it to words (and that could be because I am a writer too lol!). p.s. I have yet to receive a response from the original commenter. I will conclude that I may not get one.

  • omg – some comments huh?
    I think this debate is so funny, and it’s the same with natural beauty and whenever things are labelled as toxin-free.. People clearly don’t have a clue about basic chemistry. EVERYTHING IS CHEMISTRY, and thus chemicals etc…
    I still support Organic, and will continue to do so. 🙂

    • I know right?! It is especially funny when people get the meaning of the word “organic” wrong and then promote their incorrect use of the word as if their definition is the right one! LOL! Also I dislike people who try to push the false dichotomy that if you buy and eat organic, then you are automatically “unscientific” in your thinking. That really bugs me.

  • The issue this highlights for me is the use of terminology, organic / non-organic – I’ve long since wondered does it actually ensure that the food is any better than my local farm shop where I can talk to the farmer and she can tell me exactly what products she uses on her farm. Also, the dangers of social media, it’s so easy to express an opinion but how do we know who to trust? The more I get into all this, the more of a minefield it seems … I try to live by the rule of less is more, the fewer processes and products used the better. I will be watching for any response you might get. keep up the questions!

    • I love the KISS methodology myself! Now you have highlighted concerns I have myself, particularly as I have witnessed too often how people argue semantics and I often think, let’s get past the word and discuss what meaning we’ve attached and how we’ve arrived at that meaning – then let’s move forward to an agreed solution/compromise/win-win outcome. But then again, doing this is difficult for many people and/or they just don’t want to have a really in-depth conversation because their ideas will come under the microscope – “Simone” has yet to reply to my comment – or their ego is just really loud or they just can’t be bothered to justify their position. It is easy to have an opinion – everyone has one. But to articulate why you came to that opinion is more difficult; through the process we come to the realisation that we base our opinions on nothing more than hearsay, or because our friends or parents told us, or we saw it on the news, without doing any real homework on the subject ourselves. Thanks for your comment. I will definitely update you if I get a reply!

  • I have been very surprised to read this. I just launched a line of sustainable clothing made with organic pima cotton. The fabric has GOTS certified . It´s produced in Peru by a company that ensure this : “We are proud to be the first company in Latin America to be certified under Global Organic Textile Standard (G.O.T.S)… This certification not only guarantees the traceability of the organic cotton that we use, but also our standard of fair treatment to every person involved in the production chain. This assures the sustainability in all of our processes and our respect for the environment…….The organic standards do not allow the use of GMOS. Peru has a ban for GMO seeds, which reduces the risk of contamination that exists in other cotton producing countries. Organic cotton has the advantage of being produced in a land free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and defoliants; being different from conventional cotton. Furthermore, the fact that our cotton is handpicked is a benefit, as it reduces the environmental impact and improves the quality of the production”
    I have been very concerned to read your article and I called to confirm that the cotton that I use hasn´t pesticides, and effectively the company have told me they don´t. Yes, chemicals are used, because they must control pests and fertilize the soil, but the chemicals used are even in our body, because all the elements of the world are composed of chemicals. The same is true with food, I live in a house in the mountains, some of my neighbors and I have organic edible gardens, these gardens were added plant extracts, such as garlic for example, whose chemical components help control pests. I think the biggest problem with cotton water use … However, it´s very difficult to find 100% pure material in nature, ie, a material that doesn´t generate any impact that destroys nature more or lesser extent, after all it´s natural that the cycle of a living being lead to its own destruction. Everything is born and dies, we breathe and oxidize us …I think very difficult to find a way to feed us without causing the destruction of another living being , as the natural food chain, the chain of life includes cycles of creation and destruction and that chain is part of the perfect nature creation. It’s a breakthrough that we can start using only what is necessary without doing more damage than necessary, like other living beings, spiders have poison and destroy for eat. The problem with humans is that destroy more than necessary. I chose the organic cotton and other fabrics, because despite using a lot of water in their manufacture doesn´t contain harmful elements for the human body. Recycled fabrics other hand, as an example PET bottles, could have harmful trace elements for humans … depending on the bottles composition. Like many, I ‘m trying to create habits that seek a harmonious relationship with nature and its cycles …The truth is that you left me very worried, I would like to know more about this.
    A very affectionate greeting and thanks for the info

  • I think the problem here is that you can never say as a whole “organic is always worse than non” or vice versa because all farms will slightly use different practices, some of which will be more or less environmentally friendly in different ways. Some farms may have a much lower crop yield per plant but have better practices in terms of overal land and water usage so have a better environmental impact as a whole.
    Agriculture is such a complicated model that i feel you can’t just have a debate that says “this huge part of a massive industry is inherently worse than this other huge part of a massive industry”, it just doesn’t seem possible to me?

    Though I am interested in hearing more about research etc. Because I did initially think organic meant that no harmful pesticides or chemicals were used at all, but I guess that’s what a lot of organic producers want the general public to think.

    • Indeed. Each farm is different and apart from each being independently audited, we rely on research studies to give us a general idea of the state of agriculture. And with organic certification, we are required to source certified organic items that have been tested against synthetics however it’s not 100% organic per se. Ours is 95% which leaves 5% leniency for things out of our control. I remember when our soil was tested and ours tested higher for arsenic (although still within guidelines) which is naturally occurring in the soil. We know in high inorganic quantities it is lethal but this is just some of the things that are tested as part of certification. That’s why the discussion was interesting. We know that organic is still more preferable because it reduces occurrences of toxic chemicals found in conventional agriculture so I was interested to hear back to see what their bias is or how they came to their conclusion. And yes an old article but still a highly relevant convo 🙂

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