There have been quite a few stories of late in the paper and online regarding a study — Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review —done by Stanford University, published on September 4.
Much like the initial questions and confusion surrounding organic and conventional food, the coverage by mainstream and somewhat more underground news sources can be equally baffling. It’s a very interesting time in our country; as people become more aware and educated there is less acceptance of taking things at face value.
This speaks as much to the state of the media —split between mainstream news outlets often bankrolled by a handful of billionaires with a story to tell and the “truth-seekers” popping up everywhere on the Web — as it does to the state of our food production. (In the food model, think multi-billion dollar agribusiness vs. mom and pop local organic farmer.) The system is ripe for exploitation and lies, so where does the truth lie? As with most things, probably somewhere in the middle.
But I digress.
The authors of the Stanford study basically found that, in general, organic produce is no more nutritious or safer for you than conventionally grown produce. Other studies done in the past seem to corroborate these points, others debunk it. Which basically brings us back to square one. But at the end of the day, most people who eat organic do so for a myriad of reasons, many of which go well beyond the apples to apples comparison of vitamin and mineral content.
People choose organic because of taste, because it’s pesticide and antibiotic-free (mostly), the growing methods used are better for the environment, and more humane practices toward animals are the norm. And proponents of organic can easily make the argument that less pesticides and antibiotics are, in fact, both safer and healthier by definition.
With regard to pesticides, the study found that organics are 30% less likely to have pesticide residue. And two other studies looked at by Stanford during their research showed lower levels of pesticide residue in the urine of children on organic diets. Additional findings noted that organic chicken and pork seemed to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. That being said, conventional food fell within a safe range with regard to pesticides and bacteria according to the study, though some claim the standards themselves are not safe.
The Stanford study didn’t even touch on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food production, which pose the largest threat in my opinion due to the complete absence of long-term studies on their health effects.
It will be interesting to see what comes of the Stanford study; at the very least, it puts food in the spotlight, and that’s a good thing. Now we have to move on to labeling. Let consumers know if something is organic, conventionally grown with pesticides and fertilizers, highly processed, or GMO. Then they can take all of the studies they have read and all of their personal experience and make an informed decision and choose for themselves.
Now that’d be good, old-fashioned democracy.
More Viewpoints: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
- Annals of Internal Medicine
- Organic Foods Offer Few Definitely Nutritional Benefits
- The Organic Fable
- Study Examines Benefits of Organic Food
- The Case for Organic Food
- Cargill and Others Behind Anti-organic “Stanford Study”
- Busted! Co-author of Stanford Study That Bashed Organics Found to Have Deep Ties to Big Tobacco’s Anti-Science Propaganda