Should You Believe the 'Organic Isn't Healthier' Study?

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
9/7/2012 6:00 AM   :  137 comments   :  23,490 Views

It's been all over the news this week: A new study conducted by researchers from Stanford University, and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, finds little evidence that organic foods are any healthier than conventionally grown foods.
 
If you've been shelling out the extra cash for organic (which does cost more than conventional in most cases), you may feel as if you've been duped!
 
Before you wallow in all of your wasted dollars, let's stop and think: Could this really be true?
 
Don't put those pesticide-free carrots back on the shelf just yet! Like any study, it's important to read past the attention-grabbing news headlines and think critically about the information being presented. If you ask me, this study (and its news coverage) is questionable.
 
What Does the Study Really Show?
This is a meta-analysis, which involves looking at already-published research on a topic. It included 17 studies in humans and 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in foods. It also ignored other relevant studies that did not fit the specific criteria of what researchers wanted to look for. Here is what the researchers concluded after their review:
  • The published literature "lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods." [Note this doesn't say conventional foods are higher in nutrients than organic, or that organic is equal to or less nutritious than conventional. Let's call this a draw for organic and conventional.]
  • There are "significantly lower urinary pesticide levels among children consuming organic versus conventional diets," but these levels are not "clinically meaningful" in adults. [Organic wins, at least as far as kids are concerned.]
  • The risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce. [A win for organic.]
  • E.coli (Escherichia coli) contamination risk did not differ between organic and conventional produce. Bacterial contamination of retail chicken and pork was common but unrelated to farming method. [Organic and conventional tie in these cases.]
  • The risk for antibiotic-resistant bacteria was higher in conventional than in organic chicken and pork. [Organic wins again.]
News outlets are specifically focusing on the first point above, so let's discuss that some more. How easy is it to actually measure nutrient levels in foods? Not easy at all. And the variables go far beyond whether the food was grown with chemical fertilizers or not. Many studies look at a single vegetable in a single field to make comparisons, but that is too simplified of a view.

As Allison Aubrey and Dan Charles wrote for NPR:

"When it comes to their nutritional quality, vegetables vary enormously, and that's true whether they are organic or conventional. One carrot in the grocery store, for instance, may have two or three times more beta carotene (which gives us vitamin A) than its neighbor. That's due to all kinds of things: differences in the genetic makeup of different varieties, the ripeness of the produce when it was picked, even the weather.

"So there really are vegetables that are more nutritious than others, but the dividing line between them isn't whether or not they are organic."

Why Has This Been So Newsworthy?
When reading any story, especially a controversial or surprising one, remember that news outlets have to create news…Every. Single. Day. And they will often latch on to studies like this one, slightly twist headlines to be more attention-grabbing so you'll buy, watch, read and click on their stories. News, after all, isn't a public service. It's a business.
 
As for why this particular study is getting so much attention—and glossing over the fact that there may be many more reasons to buy organic other than vitamin levels—some people have pointed out that this research has been bought and paid for (and later promoted) by groups who have an interest in bashing organic foods and promoting conventional agriculture. That alone, if true, makes it pretty darn biased—and also explains why it's gotten so much hype.
 
Here's My Opinion on Organic—and This Study
I am not a scientist or a dietitian, but I do consider myself to be pretty well-informed on these issues. I am an organic food consumer. 90 percent (or more) of the foods I buy are organic. If I ever have the choice, it's organic. I will avoid conventionally-grown food whenever possible, and I will continue to buy organic food even after seeing this study and its related news stories. Why?
 
Although this study would lead us to believe that people like me buy organic food because we think it has more vitamins in it, that's not even a factor in my mind. I buy organic food for what it doesn't have in it: chemical fertilizers and pesticides that I'd rather not eat day after day and year after year. Where is the evidence that ingesting all these pesticides is "healthy" or ideal, especially for the most vulnerable populations like pregnant women, babies and children? It has been documented that organic foods contain far less pesticide residues and that people who eat organic foods have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies and urine. This study showed that as well. While its researchers have glossed over that saying that these levels were within "acceptable" levels—there is no mention as to whether these levels are optimal or ideal. Personally, I consider zero to be an acceptable level for a foreign chemical in my body.
 
Organic food is also free from genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs haven't been proven to be harmful per se, but they also haven't been proven to be totally safe either. Most people agree that it needs more research, although we're all just assuming it's safe because it hasn't been proven to be bad. Is that logical? If you think GMO food is questionable, that's yet another reason to buy organic.  I'd rather not find out the effects of consuming GMOs over my lifetime until more research is finally available. Unless it's been proven as healthy and desirable—or better than what nature created—I think I'll pass for now. I'd rather not be a science experiment. 
 
I also buy organic because of the way it's grown—naturally, with methods that enrich the soil and don't pollute the planet. I'm a bit of a hippie at heart. I care about the environment and I'm not convinced that all this chemical agriculture is good for our bodies, let alone our waters, our land or our animals. Made from petrochemicals, fertilizers and pesticides linger in our soil and water—negatively impacting the environment and polluting streams, oceans and groundwater. Chemical fertilizers artificially put nutrients into the soil that make it into your food, which means the nutrients in the food you eat are man-made chemicals as well. (Tasty!) But ultimately they strip the soil of all nutrients so that it's even more dependent on chemical supplementation. Eventually, chemical-laden fields become completely unable to grow any food at all. I don't believe this is the best way to grow food—it's far from sustainable and it does result in environmental damage. So I buy organic because I think it's better for the planet.
 
So how do we get from the results above (that organic "isn't significantly more nutritious") to the sensational headlines that "organic is not any healthier" or "organic is no more nutritious"? Are nutrients alone the only way to measure the healthfulness of a food? Perhaps more importantly, is nutrition really what organic is all about?
 
Hardly. It was never intended to be, either.
 
Mat McDermott, a blogger for the eco-centered news site treehugger.com perhaps said it best when discussing this study:

"…I think the major shortcoming in all this is, particularly in much of the reporting: It's a fundamental mistake to look at the benefits of organic agriculture on individual health without simultaneously considering the benefits for the system as a whole, that is human communities, non-human communities, and the intersection of these."

Organic is about much more than nutrients. And the healthfulness of a food can't be measured by vitamins alone. This study won't change my buying or eating habits.

More On Organic
SparkPeople's official opinion on organic food is that it's a personal preference. We want our readers to eat more fruits and veggies--organic or not. The health benefits of eating more fresh, wholesome foods far outweigh the potential risks of pesticide exposure, and you'll do your health more harm by avoiding fruits and vegetables entirely, according to our dietitian Becky Hand. So eat up! If organic does interest you, or you'd like to buy more organic food on a budget, check out these resources:


How about you? Do you buy organic? Why or why not? Do you (or did you ever) believe that organic is more nutritious than conventional food?





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Comments

  • 87
    Food is much better for us without all the pesticides and other "Lord knows what's in there"
    I buy organic and I buy from the Amish. I especially like buying from the Amish because they have farmed their fields for generations, know how to rotate their crops - so there are more nutrients from the soil in their crops - even some organic farms might have poor soil if they are newer and the land was not previously farmed by non organic farmer who used pesticides. - 9/8/2012   3:16:14 PM
  • 86
    I buy organic and non-GMO as much as I possibly can. I also buy locally grown as much as I possibly can. When I first started buying organic, I noticed that the vegetables had more taste which reminded me of my childhood as someone else mentioned, but more importantly they lasted longer after I got them home - which translates into they really didn't cost me any more because I wasn't throwing things out by the end of the week. It was even more evident in meat and poultry - the first time I ate organic chicken my first thought was "wow, I forgot what chicken tasted like." As far as GMO's go - the jury is still out on that and by the time it is "in" I suspect it will be much too late. The claims of needing less insecticide is already proving to be false because of the creation of "super bugs" that are being blamed on GMO's. And when one of the primary GMO products are "round-up ready" how can we believe that there will be less pesticide? They are creating vegetation that round-up does not kill - presumably so that round-up can be used to kill the weeds but not the vegetables, soy, whatever. - 9/8/2012   3:02:43 PM
  • 85
    Happy consumer of GMO and non-organic. While I agree with the regulation and testing of everything marketed as fit for human consumption, 7+ billion people means the use of methods that have a hope of sustaining us all. - 9/8/2012   2:35:53 PM
  • 84
    I'm only likely to buy "organic" if I know the grower personally. Personally, I'm more concerned with how they handle crop rotation on their fields and nourish the soil - because the nutrition value of produce is directly tied to the health of the soil. That's not something an "organic" label in a major supermarket tells me. - 9/8/2012   1:20:29 PM
  • MIZINA730
    83
    I grow my own organic food, buy organic as much as I can. And GMOs are a can of worms, in my opinion. - 9/8/2012   12:26:06 PM
  • 82
    I strongly support consuming foods that have been carefully raised and cared for using NO chemicals, NO genetic modifications. From previous readings, I am pretty convinced - at least 90+% convinced - that many of our country's health and weight issues stem from consuming items "re-designed" or "recreated" by agribusiness engineering (hybrids, GMO, etc). Pesticides and chemical additives/ fertilizers/ enhancers have contaminated our soils and foods, increasing our exposure to toxic and carcinogenic factors.
    I fully support the sustainable, organic style farming and food production. Thus, I spend our food and nutritional supplement dollars with farmers, food producers, and corporations that ACTUALLY practice these principles [check out Nutrilite vitamin & mineral supplements, for example].
    I am NOT convinced that the USDA Organic label always indicates that an item is actually "better" than the neighboring small-farm's item without that sticker. Sadly, our agribusiness and USDA/ FDA/ government bureaucracies do have a well-known history of 'deal-making' and corrupt practices designed to favor large lobby-intense companies such as Monsanto over the individually owned small-business farmer/ producer. Yet, the small-business farmer producer's practices are often MORE ethical, MORE sustainable, and CLEANER than those of the Super-sized Agribusiness corporations.
    So I choose smaller, local, sustainable, and organic whenever possible -- even though that makes me one of very few shoppers in my across-the-street Whole Foods who doesn't fit the stereotype of dedicated health-food shopper (i.e., aging hippies, tatoo-covered college kids, 'tree-hugger' liberals, etc. :)
    And I will step off my soap box for now!
    Maryjean - 9/8/2012   12:04:24 PM
  • 81
    It is not nutrients it is the chemicals I do not wish to consume. The chemicals is why I buy organic - 9/8/2012   11:40:55 AM
  • 80
    I hadn't ever heard anyone argue that the organic foods were more nutritious before. I HAVE heard arguements that the conventially grown food was more nutritious. I think the concern in produce is more the insecticide. (as for those who think that they are not a problem, when I had cancer the question most asked was about if I was around toxic chemicals like insecticide) I can't really afford all the organic foods, but I try to buy that way when I can. I have sure found the strawberries taste better and they are easier to eat than the giant ones in the conventionally grown packages, which are either hard or getting moldy. For GMOs, there haven't been long-enough term studies to tell whether they are dangerous or not. For many that say nothing dangerous would be allowed here in the U.S., what about all those things the FDA approved to be used that have proven to be carcinogenic or to cause heart attacks that had to be recalled and taken off the market? I would rather wait to see what affect the GMOs would have another decade from now. - 9/8/2012   11:36:08 AM
  • 79
    Thanks for validating my thinking mind thoughts!! Good read! I'll pass this along to some friends who are interested. - 9/8/2012   11:26:28 AM
  • KRISKOALA
    78
    My understanding is that GMO crops require fewer pesticides.
    Among the reasons EU blocks GMOs is pressure from their farm lobbies because US agriculture products are cheaper, not because they have been shown to be unsafe. - 9/8/2012   10:39:31 AM
  • CHRISTINASP
    77
    Well, I'm no scientist either. I like that the article paid attention to the topic and offered a few more thoughts than the headlines did.
    A lot of organic fruits and vegetables TASTE better. When I buy them, I am happy that they don't have pesticides on them. Unfortunately I cannot afford to buy all organic fruits and vegetables - I try to have those foods that I use most and that are on the list of most sprayed, organic. - 9/8/2012   9:33:25 AM
  • 76
    To JENNALYN216: Agreed about the food safety. Neither the EU nor Australia thinks some US foods are safe. Meat products and dairy or any derivatives are seized and destroyed by Customs (the Quarantine Inspector in Australia). The EU & Oz believes there are too many hormones added to your dairy cattle so no milk products, whey proteins etc. of US origin are allowed unless you have a license. Of course after what I found out about whey proteins recently that might not be such a bad thing...

    Following this topic with interest! - 9/8/2012   9:30:35 AM
  • 75
    Many excellent points have been made in this blog. Here are my thoughts:

    I am suspicious of the study. Although the technical analysis of the "nutrition" may be similar, it is my understanding that the human body can utilize the nutrition in the organic food more efficiently, since the origins of the organic food nutrition evolved as the human body evolved vs. some of the nutrition in conventional food being man made (man made vitamins for example). This same reasoning has lead me to be against gmo's.

    I am also suspicious of claims of being "organic." Another blogger indicated that some organics come from China. I have heard this before, & I am aware of some major stores purchasing broccoli from China (Although this was a few years ago. I remember some of my favorite places to shop pulled broccoli from the stores, which is how I found out that the broccoli came from China, but I can't remember the specific problem that occurred). I also have reason to believe that safety & regulations are not followed to the extent that we would expect in the US.

    Re: the point that has been made to just wash the produce. You can't wash off the pesticide that has permeated into the interior of of the fruit or veggies. Whether the produce has a peel or not, the exterior is permeable.

    Another point for me is that I question some of the ethics of the big players (stores) in organics. In one case a very large store chain decided to get involved in a political issue that I thought was very inappropriate & harmful to the public. In the case of some local stores that are part of a different store chain, the local distributor has been cited for unhumane conditions of the produce workers supplying to the local stores.

    Financially it is a stuggle for me to purchase organic although I buy as much as my budget will allow. In general I do believe organics are better for humans & the planet. - 9/8/2012   9:13:02 AM
  • 74
    I agree: nutrition in the produce was never a concern of mine in deciding whether or not to go organic. So this new research does provide some interesting information but won't change my purchasing decisions.

    What I find most interesting, though, as others have mentioned, are the comments from everyone. "Naive" is the word that comes to mind when I read a lot of what people are saying.

    So, you're a scientist. You really believe that the research MUST be unbiased because it was conducted by a university and reviewed by other scientists before being published? Too simplistic; there is always an agenda in research like this, and I don't think they'll advertise why and for whom the research was initiated.

    And you really believe that just because the food is on our shelves, it MUST be safe? Then why are certain ingredients and practices allowed in the U.S. but outlawed in every other country of the world? Sure, some new chemicals and GMOs haven't been proven to be dangerous yet, but why would you want to risk your health if there's even a small a chance it could hurt you?

    Basically, if we use common sense, I think we'll all agree that people today (and our environment), in general, are NOT healthier than a couple generations ago. What has changed? Sure, more people are sedentary in their jobs now, people might work longer hours and not sleep enough, etc. But there is NO DOUBT that the foods we eat have changed, too. So, personally, I'm going to do whatever I can to try to eat as cleanly as possible, even if it means spending a little more. - 9/8/2012   9:07:00 AM
  • 73
    To CMBELISLE: I hope you realise that ALL beef is grass-fed...However, some animals (in addition to grass) are also fed grains (quite often GMO pesticide and fertiliser treated grains) to fatten them up, are injected with antibiotics to keep them healthy etc. By all means buy the meat because you like it and it tastes good but don't think that grass-fed is necessarily synonymous with healthy! Terms like free range, cage free, grass fed, 'made with' etc. all try to give people a certain idea of some idyllic picture to make you buy their product which is not necessarily the case.

    Cage free hens are not always running about happy go lucky on a farm somewhere. They can be jam packed into a big barn/warehouse where they are often de-beaked to stop neighbour pecking because of tight space restrictions. Just think about how humans act when they are in a tight space together...
    If I make 20 pounds of a product and add a tablespoon of oats/flax/chia seeds (whatever the flavour of the month is) to this 20 pounds of product, when I parcel it out I am well within my rights to put 'made with whole grains' or 'contains whole grains' or something similar on the label. The moral of the story is KNOW WHAT LABELS MEAN! - 9/8/2012   8:48:26 AM
  • 72
    More interesting than this article, or the news report it is based on, is the reactions of people who are commenting. I certainly understand the economics- been there, done that. I am now blessed to be retired, have saved all my life to live comfortably, my child is grown and gone, and it is easier for me now to spend a little more on my food. . DH and I eat less and buying organic is getting easier. We have recently started supporting a home delivery service which provides local, mostly organic produce. The prices are lower than the grocery store and I can go to their website and find out which farm in our area each item comes from. The food tastes better, is fresher (no more week-long trips to reach me from other parts of the country/world.)

    I still buy non-organic, non-local produce at times. For example, before I go hiking up the mountain in the early morning, a banana helps me regulate my potassium and have a better walk. There are no bananas available that are "local" and I know I'm not eating the peel, so I do buy bananas and don't worry about "local" and "organic". As Spark teaches us, it's all about balance. - 9/8/2012   8:12:22 AM
  • 71
    My hubby, who isn't what we'd call a health concious eater, heard this study and said, "Isn't the whole point of eating organic to avoid the pesticides, not necessarily increase the nutrition content?" I think that says it all. When I do spend a little extra for organic, I try to keep it as local as possible because my understanding is that imported produce is sprayed with pesticides upon entry to reduce transmission of foreign pests into the U. S. Also, there are regulations here that set a standard for what is labeled organic.

    Something not mentioned was grass-fed beef. I know from experience that there is a difference. Our daughters' stomachs revolt against regular ground beef but have no problems with grass-fed beef.

    Ultimately, it is a personal choice. As more people choose organic, more farmers will head that direction as well. Ultimately, supply will increase and prices will fall. - 9/8/2012   7:25:36 AM
  • TOMNJERI
    70
    I don't buy organic, it's a waste of $$. Just wash your food properly. - 9/8/2012   7:16:31 AM
  • 69
    I try to eat organic vegetables and fruits to avoid the pesticides and chemical fertilizers used in conventional farming. One concern I have is, Organic grains. I bought Organic Quinoa, which is Gluten Free. I remember reading an article about GMO's and not to be fooled when buying items that claim they are Organic. The UPC label starts with 89125. I remember reading that if the number starts with an 8, that it is a GMO. Is this correct? This product is stamped Certified Organic. - 9/8/2012   6:19:14 AM
  • 68
    I'm with you on this one. I grow a lot of our veggies - pesticide free and I buy non-GMO seeds. The less chemicals you take in, the better for you. Organic is the way to go! - 9/8/2012   6:05:24 AM
  • 67
    Even if it is a wash for the health of humans there is the health of the planet to think of. From my reading, no one mentioned that. We know pesticides kill animals and plants in unintended ways that are detrimental to healthy populations. - 9/8/2012   6:02:24 AM
  • 66
    I never bought organic food, because I believe general precautions make "normal" food safe enough for an average human being.
    And I shall believe this until there is evidence proving that organic food makes people live longer, or at least be healthier.

    Also, most people cannot afford buying organic food.
    Also, I don't think earth is able to produce enough organic food for all inhabitants.
    Therefore I think it is for a wealthy minority who can afford to pay a lot of money for something what looks nice but is not proven to be good for health.

    On the other hand, it is surely healthier way of spending redundant money than buying alcohol or tobacco. - 9/8/2012   4:24:01 AM
  • RUNGRL2013
    65
    This study reeks of industry involvement. Perhaps profits are declining and they need us to keep buying conventional foods. I recently watched a documentary that opened my eyes to the power of the food industry and what they do to keep their profits up (to our detriment). The documentary is called "The Men Who Made Us Fat" from the BBC, but you can watch it on YouTube. - 9/8/2012   4:14:47 AM
  • 64
    I just can't help but think that food is so much better for us without all the pesticides. - 9/8/2012   2:21:05 AM
  • 63
    I'm sorry Nicole, but I don't agree with you on this one.

    The reason I don't buy organic is because I don't know what's in it. There is no standard to say what it means to be organic, just an assumption that people seem to have. The truth of the matter is that many organic foods are grown using pesticides, just not current ones. Think on that for a second. Current pesticides are more environmentally friendly, and are required to meet many regulations. For older ones, this isn't always the case.

    Also, did you know that many "organic" foods comes from China? Do you think their definition is the same as ours?

    Until there is some regulation on the organic food industry and a solid definition of organic defined...I just can't justify spending more for something that is essentially the same, or maybe even worse than the non-organic foods. - 9/8/2012   1:34:58 AM
  • 62
    YAY! I am so glad you wrote this. thank you. - 9/8/2012   1:14:04 AM
  • 61
    I have to agree with SLEEPINGCAT and others on this blog who are scientists and researchers, like myself. And while I did earn two degrees from Stanford, that should not distract from the weight of my message: the premise of the claims in this article is faulty and sophomoric.

    1. One of the issues with the public's consumption of research is their (admittedly by the author) lack of scientific background or understanding of the confines of research. Certainly the academic rigor involved in designing a research project is subject to many, many levels of scrutiny.

    Use of metadata is a legitimate research methodology. There's nothing wrong with questioning variables, but within a research environment, and during the Internal Review Board process, reliability and validity ARE considered and rigorously pursued.

    2. One research project asks specific questions, another asks others (look closely at the hypotheses, data, and conclusions the researchers provided.) They looked at a specific set of variables. Because they did not choose those others are studying is not a reason to question the validity or reliability of THEIR research, much less their credibility in assuming they are on the take???

    3. There's a huge difference between a research project conducted at the university level, which must go through several boards before ever seeing the light of day, and a claim of research on some exercise or new diet commercial where they claim their product is supported by research "in a double blind study at a major university ...) I've seen those spots as well, and they provide no source of this supposed research, and of course, their claims are laughable. The public certainly has the right to question the validity of a claim, but it is slanderous to compare the two and suggest that researchers at Stanford produced a faulty study because you don't like the results. Now THAT'S bad science! Additionally, it's a truly surprising and irresponsible claim.

    This blog does more to discredit the benefits or deficits of eating organic foods than to support those seeking a healthier lifestyle in discerning good information from bad. There is a huge responsibility that comes with being a celebrity. Sorry to say, while I do appreciate the author's significant contributions to the Spark People community (they are many and admirable), I expect much more from someone with a bachelor's degree and certainly one whose voice reaches so many on this site and by using the same popular media she criticizes (cover of "Self" magazine???) We can do better. - 9/8/2012   1:11:18 AM
  • 60
    something else to consider is the actual tested ORAC value of the organically grown foods - has to do with the oxygen activity (I don't remember the exact wording that gets abbreviated to ORAC). Someone who has only started organic farming after only a year or two or five of amending the soil and changing their production practices will not have as high an ORAC value for their produce etc as will someone who has been growing organically and working the compost and amending their soil for the past 20-30+ years. I've been buying dehydrated fermented raw vegetable powders from a company that has tested their soils every few years, and each time it's been tested, their produce has increased in the ORAC value - their produce provides more antioxidant benefits to the consumers. I can really tell a difference between their product and let's say, Jordan Rubin's "Garden of Life" or other similar products available nationwide in health food stores. He's a good guy, I'm not trashing him at all, but he's relatively young in the game. He's a young guy and had to learn his lessons as a young man so I'm not downplaying that at all...anything you can buy that's organic and at the price you can afford is better than nothing at all. But just one relative to another, there will be some organically produced products that are coming from soils that have been properly cared for (they have all the various minerals added as well as compost etc to help add the minerals etc which then get transferred into the nutritional values of the foods produced. etc.).

    I've noticed with processed healthier (but not organic) foods where I have entered the nutritional data on SparkPeople and then maybe a year later I'm entering a food and I see where I entered the food earlier, but already the new nutritional labels on the currently produced food show that protein levels have dropped, or vitamin C levels or iron or calcium levels have dropped...so I believe our soils in general really are becoming more and more depleted. - 9/8/2012   12:57:39 AM
  • LISAJONES2014
    59
    I have one simple comment on the subject. How is that a fruit will go rotten on the inside but look perfect on the outside; Good for you? I have had this happen recently.... - 9/8/2012   12:40:25 AM
  • 58
    I must be weird or crazy. I prefer GM veggies. They work hard to improve the nutrition, and growth cycles of what we eat. I've never seen people choose the smallest, least appetizing piece of fruit or veg in a supermarket. You want to buy vegetables that are out of season and not small and weak, then you have to deal with scientists figuring out how to deliver that to you. - 9/8/2012   12:06:33 AM
  • 57
    I agree with the article. I also buy organic because it provides a healthier work environment for the farmworkers. - 9/7/2012   11:40:54 PM
  • 56
    SLEEPINGCAT: How can you say that people were not healthier before? Every day I hear about a friend of a friend or a distant family member that has just been diagnosed with cancer. And the people affected are getting younger and younger. We live in a toxic environment that is only growing worse. I know it sounds pessimistic, but what we consume today is harmful, carcinogenic, and unnatural - nothing like the organic produce that was eaten before the 20th Century. Our quality of life overall may have improved and we live longer, that is for sure, but I wouldn't necessarily say that we are "healthier". - 9/7/2012   11:04:08 PM
  • 55
    I do not know whether organic or conventional foods are better for you but I do feel that this article was more biased than the published report.

    As a scientist myself, I found the statements and ascertations in this piece were largely based on opinion and speculation. I do not know if the scientists who published in the academic literature were influenced by agribusiness or not but peer reviewed articles are independently assessed by other scientists chosen by the journal. If the scientific method/data was suspect it is very unlikely that it would have been published. To imply that Stanford scientists would corrupt their data to support the argument is also disturbing.
    The data may not accord with what people feel should be right but science seeks the truth, not what public opinion thinks it should be.

    Before the 20th century everything was organic, people were not healthier.

    For the record, I do buy a few organic products as I remain unsure about organophosphates, I avoid others as some organic compounds e.g. aflatoxin, are toxic and I'd rather chemicals were used to be sure they are not present in the food. Remember most lifesaving drugs are synthetic "foreign" compounds, yet they keep countless people alive. Artificial does not equate with bad any more than natural necessarily means good.

    Please try to present a balanced, not a biased, perspective. - 9/7/2012   10:02:23 PM
  • JULIA1154
    54
    Thanks for a very thoughtful article, Nicole. I appreciate your perspective and am heartened to see that so many fellow SP share your viewpoint, as do I.

    To me, a lot of this is about taking care of what we have - for our personal health, the health of our communities and that land, air and water we leave to future generations. - 9/7/2012   9:22:44 PM
  • 53
    NPR reported this morning that the study was funded internally by Stanford. They also reported that Organic is not equivalent to pesticide free so much as synthetic chemical free. Funny how we turn on science whenever it goes against our own notions of right and wrong. - 9/7/2012   8:47:30 PM
  • 52
    The first time I saw this headline, I said, "bet the study was paid for by big agribusiness." - 9/7/2012   7:18:06 PM
  • 51
    This study seems like it was funded by mass producers using chemicals, because it certainly avoids the larger issue: safety. Of course, a study concentrates on only one minute aspect of a larger field of varieties, but most bury the important reminder that this is the case.

    Purchase price on a limited budget is a huge obstacle in having choices.

    Taste, nutritional values, availability and selection, etc asside:
    the main purpose behind my preference for organic foods (I'd go 'all-out organic' if budgeting and accessibility allowed!) is a matter of purity, absence of chemical toxicins. - 9/7/2012   4:38:01 PM
  • 50
    I'm a notorious cheapskate but the one place I have learned not to scrimp is food. Especially food for my children . I will spend extra money if needed to buy the best quality grass-fed meats and dairy products. I will go to the effort to raise my own vegetables or buy them from local farmers with sound (beyond organic) practices.

    I would rather eat less and have better quality food. When I think of the money I used to throw away on junk food, I know I'm better off this way. - 9/7/2012   4:33:58 PM
  • 49
    If the chemicals and potential GMO crops used in conventional farming operations were unsafe for humans, animals or insects, they wouldn't be legal to grow or sell. The industry has a very strict registration and approval process for any product - whether it's a chemical treatment or seed itself - and if there was a risk to safety, the registration submission would be denied.

    If your preference is to buy organic, for whatever reason, all the power to you. I opt not to buy organic - it takes more land and more resources to grow and harvest an organic crop vs. a conventional one, which is (I believe) why it costs more at the store. Conventional farming is more sustainable, in my opinion, and it can feed more people than organic can. - 9/7/2012   4:28:14 PM
  • 48
    I buy very little organic food(fruit). I do buy it only when it looks fresher and the cost is comparative, or it even costs less. Nutritionally, I can understand that the values would be comparable. As for the overall benefits of organic, I am not convinced at this time. - 9/7/2012   4:02:58 PM
  • 47
    I buy organic when I can. Even if the nutritional values are exactly the same as conventional, I believe the benefits to the planet from growing things organically makes it worth buying. - 9/7/2012   3:58:36 PM
  • TMACOOGAN
    46
    I AM WITH SPARKPEOPLE. I CONDUCTED MY OWN LITTLE TASTE TEST. AND I WILL ALWAYS BUY ORGANIC BECAUSE OF THE FARMING METHODS AND THE TASTE IS EXCEPTIONAL. MANY YEARS AGO I TASTED GRAPES AT WHOLE FOODS AND IMMEDIATELY WAS BROUGHT BACK TO MY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF HOW THEY USED TO TASTE. I HAVE BEEN BUYING ORGANIC SINCE THEN AND CANNOT STOMACH THE CONVENTIONAL PRODUCE ANYMORE. - 9/7/2012   3:46:25 PM
  • 45
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7Id
    9caYw-Y&feature=endscreen

    Gotta love this kid. I don't feel I'm so paranoid after all when I watch him!! - 9/7/2012   3:26:21 PM
  • LILYOFVALEE
    44
    When I heard the news, I was surprised because I didn't think there would be a significant difference in nutritional value between organic and non-organic foods. As noted in the blog, I choose organic for the lack of pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. I couldn't see why this made the news everywhere, all day. I think those in charge of deciding what goes on the air are clueless on this matter. - 9/7/2012   3:26:06 PM
  • 43
    One problem with Organic--because it does not use fertilizers, it requires more land use to grow crops. Organic has led to deforestation in some areas.

    economist.com/node/8381375 - 9/7/2012   3:21:49 PM
  • 42
    I try to buy organic when I can. Yes, its a little more money, but I like to know what I am putting in my body. I do think the research was bias, and it was never about the nutrition content. I had never even heard an argument about the nutrition content before this. I was buying because I want to avoid chemicals going into my body. Same reason why I quit smoking cigarettes.
    I dont buy organic bananas, though. they go bad too quickly. Organic meat is also too expensive. I don't really eat that much meat, though, and when we can afford it, I buy it. I liked this blog! - 9/7/2012   3:17:51 PM
  • 41
    Of course organic isn't more nutritious. That's never been the point. I still buy more conventionally grown produce than organic, but that is because of cost. I buy as much organic as possible for my pocket book. I make my own baby food and so I try and make 90% of her foods organic. I figure it's better for her tiny body to not be processing chemicals and GMOs. I would love to feed my whole family organic foods from small local farmers, but here that makes it "specialty" and that means EXPENSIVE. For me, organic has nothing to do with nutrition of the food, but the other things that come along with my food and what is better for the earth. - 9/7/2012   3:12:23 PM
  • 40
    There was a great quote I head (I think on NPR) that said "organic isn't about nutrition, it's about exercising our personal right [and responsibility ~ed.] to know what we're putting in our bodies"

    I think the argument that "organic isn't organic" is a false one. A conscientious buyer will know the method, location, and other features of their food. There was a time where people ate seasonally, and the idea of a red, ripe tomato that was absent taste in the middle of winter seemed odd. I am by no means perfect here, but I like the idea of exercising my right, and my responsibility to take control of what I am putting into my body. It's empowering, really. - 9/7/2012   2:59:27 PM
  • 39
    It's not "pseudo science" just because you don't like the results. When you are doing real research, your study has to be focused on a very narrow data set and limited variables, otherwise you'll either never get your research done and/or your research will be sloppy. And then it really will be pseudo science. A narrow, focused study is much more likely to lead to good, reliable, accurate results, the opposite of pseudo science.

    So this study showed that organic vegetables aren't more nutritious than conventional vegetables within the parameters they used. The news media should do a better job of highlighting what those parameters are, but as a relatively intelligent human being, it's not that hard for me to do a little fact finding on things that are important to me. Problems arise on either side of the argument when you attempt to extrapolate limited information out and apply it something far broader than what the study intended.

    Many of the studies that indicate pesticides are incredibly harmful are studies done on mice and they give the mouse thousands of times more pesticides for their size than we would ever consume. I'm not going to interpret that to mean that pesticides are going to knock humans dead. But I am going to interpret that to proceed with a little caution when it comes to the ingestion of pesticides.

    And I think this is where the dialog about this particular study gets all out of whack. The study is interesting, it urges consumers to think about not just the nutritional value of their food but also the cost of their food (which is very important in this economy) and it can help build a foundation for future, more complex studies.

    None of that makes it "pseudo science" or means that it is poor, inaccurate research. - 9/7/2012   2:53:00 PM
  • 38
    I'd have to agree with Squirrelyone. I'm not anti-organic, but I do think the additional cost is a little silly. If I want better tasting tomatoes I'll go to a farmer's market if I must (though I've got my doubts about some of the growers there) but I'd much rather just grow my own.

    Thing is, I'll save my money for gym fees and wash my vegetables from the store. I work and am busy most weekends so can't make it to a farmer's market. This isn't a pseudo-scientific story, they can't possibly cover all parameters in any less than decades of study, so they have to limit somewhere. Also note: the study didn't say that organics were bad or that you shouldn't buy them, just that they didn't seem to have much benefit for the additional cost. I'd have to agree, but, then again, I shop at thrift stores because I don't need name brands and pets have always been whatever I could get cheap, not expensive purebreds, so maybe that's got something to do with my opinion, too. - 9/7/2012   2:05:40 PM

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