Being the devout organic shopper that I am, I've occasionally gotten into debates with friends about the benefits of buying organic vs. conventional food. They often snicker, "Is it really worth your 'whole paycheck'?" And my argument has always been that it doesn't have to be your "whole paycheck" if you shop smart, not everything you buy needs to be labeled "organic," and ultimately, yes, I'd rather spend more on my food in the short-term, because I see it as an investment in my long-term health. But researchers from Stanford University seem to have a bone to pick with that argument.
They combined data from 237 studies and examined a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats over the course of four years for signs of health benefits from adding organic foods to the diet. Their sweeping conclusion? Organic food isn't necessarily more nutritious than non-organic. Unfortunately, the study didn't take into consideration the real reasons people like me go organic.
The researchers said that not only were organic fruits and veggies no more likely to have extra nutrition benefits, but they weren't any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E. coli. And they claimed there were "no obvious health advantages to organic meats." Huh???
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That's odd, because 38 percent of conventional produce tested in the studies contained detectable residues of toxic pesticides (especially harmful to kids and pregnant women, but that usually means they're no good for the rest of us either), compared with just 7 percent for the organic produce. And organic chicken and pork were less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Duh. Those sure look like "obvious" benefits and advantages to me!
Ultimately, the glaring issue with this study is that the researchers weren't looking at the reasons people buy certain groceries (like the "Dirty Dozen") organic. I don't stick to organic strawberries and organic poultry because I think either food will provide me with more of anything ... be that vitamin C or protein. I'm buying organic, because I want fewer toxins. I want to know it came from a farm that abides by certain regulations, like the prohibition of synthetic, man-made pesticides (which can remain in the body and build up in the liver, causing mild to severe reactions at even government-approved "safe" levels), hormones, and additives. I want to know my chicken was fed an all-vegetarian (meaning no heavy metal-filled fish-meal -- yes, that's what regular chickens are often fed!), hormone-, antibiotic-free diet.
I personally have very specific health concerns that can be exacerbated by polluted food. But I know plenty of other shoppers who won't be deterred by this research, because they're buying organic for a variety of reasons the study didn't address. Like the fact that pesticides and hormones can impact development of their kids or that farming of organic foods doesn't take such a toxic toll on our planet.
In the end, this research will likely be spun and taken out of context by those hoping to make the case that organic food is all hype. But there's no doubt plenty of people still know better and will keep buying the foods we know are more beneficial to our health and the environment overall.
How do you feel about buying organic? If you do buy organic, what are your reasons for doing so?
Image via Shantel Ruiz/Flickr