Forget What You Heard, Organic Food is Still Better

Categories: Controversy

organic artichokes flickr.jpg
Flickr/SummerTomato
Organic artichokes at the Ferry Building Farmers Market.
The food world is aflutter. Stanford just released a study detailing how organic food is no more nutritious than non-organic food. Everyone is talking about it. I never realized how many people have truly bitter feelings toward the organic movement. What's that about? If you don't want to pay extra for organic food, you simply don't buy it. You don't have to be such a hater about it.

This study isn't really my bag though because I'm not someone who chooses organic for health reasons. My dang sheets are organic -- I'm not eating those. I buy organic products because of the environment. Many of the people totally jazzed about this review seem to forget that for a lot of us, organic is an environmental issue. Even the head researcher noted, "If you look beyond health effects, there are plenty of other reasons to buy organic instead of conventional." And she cites the environmental benefits and animal welfare. The National Resources Defense Council has much to say on this:

Pesticide or fertilizer laden runoff from farmlands washes into rivers, lakes, and streams, contaminating waterways, and destroying habitat. Many pesticides are also toxic to health, and have been linked to respiratory problems, neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, cancer and reproductive problems. Every year, farm workers and people living near conventional farms suffer from poisonings and serious health effects from pesticide spraying.

So maybe your non-organic apple is okay to eat, but it's not harmless by any means.

Back to the nutrition issue: Did people actually think an organic vegetable has more vitamins than a non-organic vegetable? I didn't know anyone thought that. It's not about what the organic food has, it's about what it doesn't have: crazy hormones and antibiotics. I have few phobias, but one is super-bugs that develop from antibiotic-overuse and take over the world! Not that I eat the stuff, but the review found that organic chicken and organic pork reduce your risk of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And if you meat-eaters stop eating super-bugs, you're less likely to cough them up on me! I'd appreciate that.

And let's not forget about pesticides! While not all non-organic food poses a great risk for pesticide exposure, the review says organic food reduces that risk by 30 percent. Now, if you aren't sure whether to be concerned about pesticides, this report is not going to help you. While they analyzed a zillion studies on organic foods, they only ranged from two days to two years. The longterm health concerns from non-organic food hasn't been studied. Sorry!

I leave you with this quote by Betsy Wattenberg, a toxicologist at the University of Minnesota, via Discovery News:

It is really difficult to draw a conclusion from the paper except that there is a lack of good comprehensive studies.... I wouldn't say the conclusion is there's no difference (between organics and conventional foods). It's that we just don't have the evidence to say there's no difference, which is different from saying there's no difference.

I hope that clears things up for you.

Megan Rascal writes our Week in Vegan column and is a regular contributor to Vegansaurus.

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11 comments
JenDiggityDirt
JenDiggityDirt

@MeganRascal Great article! I don't know anyone who thought VITAMIN CONTENT was different either. the guy in the comments is an idiot.

cbenbrook1
cbenbrook1

Not only did much of the media coverage overstate the Stanford team findings, the metrics used are deeply flawed.  E.g., this story speaks about the impacts of organic food on pesticide risk.  The Stanford study had nothing to do with pesticide risk, their analysis ONLY focused on the percent of samples of organic vs. conventional food with one of more residues.  Residues do not equal risk.  Risk is a function of how residues are present, their levels, and the pesticide's underlying toxicity. State-of-the-art analyses of the mountains of gov't data on residues in organic vs. conventional foods, coupled with EPA dietary risk assessment methods and data, shows that organic fruit and veggies pose 10-15 times less risk per serving, or weight of food consumed.  Not only is the magnitude of this difference hugely significant, it is also based on very high quality, huge and contemporary datasets. The Stanford team's methods were based on how doctors conduct clinical trials, and in many ways were not appropriate for application to the results of farming systems studies, where so many variables come into play and can drive variability in the results (What the Stanford teams calls "heterogeneity" in results).  Its too bad that the Stanford team did not recruit some plant and nutrition scientists who have done this sort of research, as well as a pesticide toxicologist, because a team with broader expertise would not have made so many rookie mistakes. 

SF108
SF108

That Stanford study that everyone's quoting was totally fraudulent.

 

The study's co-author, Dr. Ingram Olkin, has a deep history as an "anti-science" propagandist working for Big Tobacco. Stanford University has also been found to have deep financial ties to Cargill, a powerful proponent of genetically engineered foods and an enemy of GMO labeling Proposition 37.

 

The following document shows financial ties between Philip Morris and Ingram Olkin http://tobaccodocuments.org/bliley_pm/22205.html

 

Olkin worked with Stanford University to develop a "multivariate" statistical algorithm, which is essentially a way to lie with statistics. This research was a key component in Big Tobacco's use of anti-science to attack whistleblowers and attempt to claim cigarettes are perfectly safe.   

greenmeanmachine
greenmeanmachine

Its really very simple, I don't like my  food grown in toxic waste.  That's the primary reason, the majority of us chose Organic fruit and vegetables, over conventional.  Certainly it's your choice to eat any kind of food you want, but this quasi special report makes me wonder, who's financing this 'hit' on the Organic industry. 

 

topjobsman
topjobsman topcommenter

Ms. Rascal, you do a disservice to your cause when you are so disingenuous with your reporting, not to mention defensive.

 

1. "Did people actually think an organic vegetable has more vitamins than a non-organic vegetable? I didn't know anyone thought that." Really? Almost every vegan I meet thinks that. 

 

2. The National Resources Defense Council is an advocacy organization. Notice it writes in generalities. Ever read about the many causes of death due to allergies to organic foods?

 

3. "While not all non-organic food poses a great risk for pesticide exposure, the review says organic food reduces that risk by 30 percent." This is interesting since UC Berkeley's Biochemistry Department has repeatedly found that 99.9% of the pesticides in our food is naturally occuring. 

 

4. "the review found that organic chicken and organic pork reduce your risk of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria" This is actually quite an amazing claim especially when there are all kinds of bacteria and the risk is incredibly small to start with. I have a feeling this is an overreach, and one of the areas where Ms. Wattenberg notes we cannot draw a conclusion.  

 

5. "The longterm health concerns from non-organic food hasn't been studied." Do you even believe this sentence of yours? Most of us have been eating non-organic foods far longer than "organic" foods. Those "non-organic" foods have greatly increased longevity and general health over the last century. What do we know about organic foods? 

 

McClure_SF
McClure_SF

@AlmanacBeer But… that's WHAT I've heard!

MeganRascal
MeganRascal

@JenDiggityDirt right? I've never even heard that idea.

MeganRascal
MeganRascal

@JenDiggityDirt right? I've never even heard that. And I'm like, this is why we don't want to eat chemicals, so we aren't cray like you!

weeona
weeona

 @topjobsman What? "Most of us have been eating non-organic foods far longer than "organic" foods. Those "non-organic" foods have greatly increased longevity and general health over the last century. What do we know about organic foods?" Seriously, what? Until fairly recently there wasn't really any need to label organic because ALL food was organic. That is, it wasn't grown with GMO seeds, persistent petroleum based pesticides/herbicides or sprayed with sewage sludge. In the days of our grandparents (and their grandparents, etc.) the food they ate was grown in ways we'd consider organic now. NON-organic growing methods are new and we don't know how they'll affect us, long term. Organic is not new, it's just now being labelled because conventional farming (better farming through chemistry) began to dominate and is the new norm.

 

Organic was how food was grown in the past, it has decades of data to support healthfulness and safety. GMOs and all the new heavily pesticide sprayed, monocultured conventional foods are still a study in progress, we won't know for sure how they play out for quite a while yet.

topjobsman
topjobsman topcommenter

 @weeona  @topjobsman @weeona: I am going to guess that you're either a relatively young person or an extremely old one.

 

Have you heard of DDT? We have been using pesticides and various kinds of fertilizers for several lifetimes now.

 

What you seem to be talking about are the newer pesticides and means of growing foods. BTW, monoculture has been around a very long time as well, e.g., the Cavendish banana. And we've been playing with the genetic structure of foods for centuries; it was called hybridization.  

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