Stephan Neidenbach
Mar 6 · 6 min read

Clif Bar published an open letter today to their “largest competitor” in the New York Times. The letter asks the CEO of KIND Snacks, Daniel Lubetzky, to join them in transitioning to ingredients grown by certified organic farmers.

We would like to issue a challenge: do a truly kind thing and make an investment in the future of the planet and our children’s children by going organic. To make it easier, we at Clif Bar & Company will help you. We know how strange this offer sounds coming from a competitor, but more than ever we believe that making the world better means making it organic.

The letter continues to describe reasons why Gary Erickson & Kit Crawford, Clif Bar’s co-CEOS, believe Kind Bars should use such ingredients.

Reduced pesticide residues in food
Farmers, farmworkers and rural communities exposed to fewer harmful pesticides
Far fewer synthetic fertilizers polluting soil and water
Organic foods are non-GMO
Organic farms are more profitable than conventional farms
Many more jobs created compared to conventional food production
Fights climate change by storing more carbon in the soil

In other words, Clif Bar wants Kind Bar to lie to consumers. The list provided is extremely deceitful.

Scientific American breaks down the myths about pesticides used in organic farming:

….turns out that there are over 20 chemicals commonly used in the growing and processing of organic crops that are approved by the US Organic Standards. And, shockingly, the actual volume usage of pesticides on organic farms is not recorded by the government. Why the government isn’t keeping watch on organic pesticide and fungicide use is a damn good question, especially considering that many organic pesticides that are also used by conventional farmers are used more intensively than synthetic ones due to their lower levels of effectiveness. According to the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, the top two organic fungicides, copper and sulfur, were used at a rate of 4 and 34 pounds per acre in 1971 1. In contrast, the synthetic fungicides only required a rate of 1.6 lbs per acre, less than half the amount of the organic alternatives….

It’s not the use of pesticides, it’s the origin of the pesticides used. Organic pesticides are those that are derived from natural sources and processed lightly if at all before use. This is different than the current pesticides used by conventional agriculture, which are generally synthetic. It has been assumed for years that pesticides that occur naturally (in certain plants, for example) are somehow better for us and the environment than those that have been created by man. As more research is done into their toxicity, however, this simply isn’t true, either. Many natural pesticides have been found to be potential — or serious — health risks….

Not only are organic pesticides not safe, they might actually be worse than the ones used by the conventional agriculture industry. Canadian scientists pitted ‘reduced-risk’ organic and synthetic pesticides against each other in controlling a problematic pest, the soybean aphid. They found that not only were the synthetic pesticides more effective means of control, the organic pesticides were more ecologically damaging, including causing higher mortality in other, non-target species like the aphid’s predators….

Are organic farms inherently more profitable? Not necessarily. This blog post comes from Jennie Schmidt, a farmer who switched to conventional FROM organic.

The first year we planted Bt corn was 2000. As you can see from the chart below, it has out-performed conventional corn every single year. What is most noteworthy however, is the importance of its performance in unfavorable growing years. We had drought conditions from 2010–2012. A healthy crop is a more productive crop and in bad years, that can make the biggest difference to the financial sustainability of the family farm. I previously had included our organic corn data in this chart but have since removed it. We grew conventional, biotech, and organic corn simultaneously but stopped our organic production in 2011. It average was below 50 bushels per acre and makes a very poor comparison. We decertified our organic ground and for that reason, I no longer include the data.

In fact Dr. Steve Savage, an expert in agricultural technology, took a look at USDA survey data:

For 292 of those comparisons, the organic yields were lower (84% on an area basis). There were 55 comparisons where organic yield was higher, but 89% of the higher yielding organic examples involved hay and silage crops rather than food crops. The organic yield gap is predominant for row crops, fruit crops and vegetables….

The reasons for the gap vary with crop and geography. In some cases the issue is the ability to meet periods of peak nutrient demand using only organic sources. The issue can be competition from weeds because herbicides are generally lacking for organic. In some cases its reflects higher yield loss to diseases and insects. Although organic farmers definitely use pesticides, the restriction to natural options can leave crops vulnerable to damage.

Does organic provide more jobs? Possibly, but only because it relies so much more on manual labor. In fact, California gave a special exemption to organic farmers when they banned hand weeding.

“You go along on your knees,” he said. “There is a constant, numbing pain. By the end of a year people develop a lot of problems with their bones.”

In 2004 farmworker groups lobbied the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration to restrict hand-weeding. Organic farmers led the backlash against the proposal….

Don Villarejo, an agricultural policy analyst who conducted the largest-ever clinical study of farmworker health in California, argues that while pesticide exposure is important, it’s not the most crucial health issue on the farm. Villarejo pointed to data on reported workers’ compensation claims between 1990 and 1999. Of the major claims, where insurance companies paid $5,000 or more, only 1.5 percent stemmed directly or indirectly from pesticides. Almost half were strain injuries, followed by fractures, sprains and lacerations.

Just this past week John Oliver reminded us of why it’s not such a bad thing that only 2% of Americans are farmers.

And while it is true that the use of crops created with genetic engineering is prohibited by organic standards, there is just no reason for it. There is no evidence that they pose any more risk than any other method of breeding.

What about these environmental claims made by Clif Bar? There is evidence that biodiversity is greater on organic farms, but that ignores a million other factors. Organic farms require more land to be used, meaning any widespread adoption would have a negative impact on non-agricultural land. In the United States forests have gone up while agricultural land use has gone down, all due to the advancing of agricultural technology.

While organic farming may not use synthetic fertilizers which causes problems when runoff enters waterways, what they do use is no better. “Natural” fertilizer comes from animals, and animals require additional land to graze and “produce” the fertilizer. Not to mention that runoff from fertilizer is a pollutant, regardless of whether it is synthetic or natural.

According to 2010 estimates from the EPA, manure accounts for 19 percent of the nitrogen and 26 percent of the phosphorous entering the [Chesapeake] Bay. These excess nutrients can fuel the growth of algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses and, during decomposition, rob the water of oxygen that plants and animals need to survive.

Storing carbon in the soil is the goal of any farmer, and both organic and conventional farmers are adapting sustainable methods. One study simply concluded that:

the claim for beneficial effects of organic farming on SOC is premature and that reported advantages of organic farming for SOC are largely determined by higher and often disproportionate application of organic fertilizer compared to conventional farming.

Clif Bar is essentially concern trolling KIND snacks.

Urban Dictionary defines a concern troll as “someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with ‘concerns.’” In other words, it’s someone who pretends to support you but couches their disagreements in the form of “concerns,” which allows them to justify criticism as the result of worrying about you. “I’m on your side,” they say, “but you shouldn’t do X, Y, and Z. It looks bad to some people — not that I agree, but I thought you should know.”

By claiming they “just want to help” they are able to publish an advertisement to scare consumers into buying their candy bars over their competition. And let’s face it, at the end of the day a Clif Bar is really just a Snickers bar with a health halo.

The Method

Promoting sustainable technology and exposing those who demonize it.

Stephan Neidenbach

Written by

Middle School Teacher, Father, Blogger &Twitter @welovegv. Email: COI Statement —

The Method

Promoting sustainable technology and exposing those who demonize it.

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