Is Organic Food Really Healthier?

organic squash imageA study from Stanford University, California, concludes that organic food is no more nutritious than conventional. But how correct is that?

A furor of debate is breaking over a statistical analysis of data on food. Over 200 studies on organic and conventionally raised produce, grains, eggs, milk, poultry and meat were collated by Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy and broken down for comparison. The research was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine this month and concludes that organic produce has little nutritional value over the conventionally raised. This isn’t the first such study Green Prophet has reported.

Some argue that soil conditions of the organic produce wasn’t accounted for in the studies. Depleted soil will yield poor produce, no matter if organically farmed, and the soil conditions of the tested produce is unknown.

But the greater weight of the pro-organic argument falls upon the undoubtedly higher levels of pesticides, hormones and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in conventional produce. Consumers say that they’re less concerned with nutrition than with avoiding those evils. Even in the Middle East there are enough health-conscious consumers to justify opening organic stores.

Another consideration is reducing damage to the environment, and field workers, caused by conventional farming.

Conventional produce, according to the study,  has a 30 percent higher risk for pesticide contamination than organic produce. We are meant to be reassured that these levels of pesticides are safe, as they’re under the limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency.  But we don’t know what safe levels really may be, because pesticide residues take years to accumulate in human tissue and we are only starting to discover the effects of pesticide buildup. “New” carcinogens appear regularly in commercial foods – not new substances, just substances in long use and newly discovered to cause cancer. Of the 237 studies analyzed, only 17 were conducted on humans, and no study lasted longer than two years.

The study shows that conventional chicken and pork have a 33 percent higher risk for contamination with antibiotic-resistant bacteria than organic products. It can be argued that antibiotic-resistant bacteria will be destroyed in cooking, like any other bacteria. But it seems a weak argument, considering that many like their eggs runny and their steaks rare.

Another, more eerie fear is that bacteria genes resistant to antibiotics may learn to co-exist with human pathogens. Imagine  pneumonia bacteria fighting off life-saving antibiotics – or scarlet fever reverting to pre-antibiotic strength and  making the rounds of offices or schools.

As far as nutrition, there’s no doubt that a ripe conventional fruit contains more vitamins than a green organic one. But that’s self-evident, and another empty argument. Health-conscious consumers will allow their melons, peaches and avocados to ripen in their kitchens rather than swallow another tiny dose of pesticide with every bite.

The University of Stanford study evades the most pressing issues in the conventional vs. organic debate. Nutrition isn’t the great issue here, although it has its place. The issue is: what’s healthier for people and the planet? You guessed it: organic.

Green Prophet reports on organic food in the Middle East:

:: Stanford University

Photo of autumn squashes by Miriam Kresh.

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5 thoughts on “Is Organic Food Really Healthier?”

  1. Miriam Kresh says:

    I’d like to be able to agree, JTR, but it’s known that some organically grown crops receive pesticides blown over by the wind from conventional farms. It’s almost impossible for the consumer to know if what he’s buying has been affected or not.

  2. JTR says:

    Organically grown fruits and vegetables contain no pesticide residue.

  3. Miriam Kresh says:

    Thanks for the correction, Maya.

  4. Maya says:

    Note that the caption and text refer to “Stamford” University, but the link at the bottom of the article refers to Stanford. A little confusing since it is consistent throughout and not a one time typo.

    Thanks for this article.

  5. James says:

    A great post following up on this story, Miriam. The media’s gossipy, and often dangerous, reporting on health matters is appalling. We just had something similar happen in the US with a study that the media reported as evidence that eggs are just as unhealthy as cigarette smoke.

    I urge everyone to use their common sense. How can eating pesticide laden veggies that are grown in fake soil actually be better than or equal to organic? I know a lot of Israelis are suspicious of the marketing behind organic (maybe they should be…I don’t know enough about it), but USDA certified actually means a lot in the US….for now anyway.

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