Organic Food Still Better

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Stanford University released a controversial study last week suggesting that organic food is no more nutritious than conventional food. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen expressed sheer delight at this news in his editorial titled The Organic Fable, saying:

Organic has long since become an ideology, the romantic back-to-nature obsession of an upper middle class able to afford it and oblivious, in their affluent narcissism, to the challenge of feeding a planet whose population will surge to 9 billion before the middle of the century.
With all the uproar and questions raised about the sanity of those of us who try to cut back on our exposure to chemicals, I decided to draw my own conclusions about this study. In an article written for the organization HandPicked Nation, I outline five facts I believe the mainstream media missed about this study.

  1. Lower urinary pesticide levels. The study's abstract states, "Two studies reported significantly lower urinary pesticide levels among children consuming organic versus conventional diets." Since this study is an aggregate of more than 200 studies over a 40-year period, I can understand why two studies may not be enough to draw a conclusion. However, the study goes on to say that "studies of biomarker and nutrient levels in serum, urine, breast milk, and semen in adults did not identify clinically meaningful differences." From what I can gather, no study found significantly lower pesticide levels for those who ate conventional foods. My conclusion? Two studies supporting the premise that organic foods contain fewer pesticides is significant.
  2. Higher levels of phosphorus. The study's abstract states, "All estimates of differences in nutrient and contaminant levels in foods were highly heterogeneous except for the estimate for phosphorus; phosphorus levels were significantly higher than in conventional produce, although this difference is not clinically significant." Phosphorus helps with bone formation, digestion, protein formation, hormone balance, cell repair, and much more. I find the elevated levels of phosphorus in organic food significant.
  3. Higher levels of phenols. The study showed that organic produce contained more of the phytochemical phenol. Phenolic compounds such as flavonoids and tocopherols are known for their antioxidant properties. The phenol found in green tea is thought to help with cancer prevention. Other phenols provide flavor. Raspberry ketones, for instance, are responsible for the flavor of raspberries. Capsaicin gives hot peppers their warmth. If the natural phenol content is higher in organic produce, no wonder organic tastes better than conventional!
  4. Lower levels of pesticide residue. The study's abstract states, "The risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce." A reported 38 percent of conventional produce showed detectable levels of pesticides, compared to 7 percent of organic produce. The abstract plays down this finding, saying that "differences in risk for exceeding maximum allowed limits were small." I choose to buy organic because I want fewer pesticides in and on my food. I don't care about "safe limits." We're exposed to so many chemicals on a daily basis that I'm confident I'll do better with fewer of them in my food.
  5. Lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The study's abstract states, "Bacterial contamination of retail chicken and pork was common but unrelated to farming method. However, the risk for isolating bacteria resistant to 3 or more antibiotics was higher in conventional than in organic chicken and pork." The study shows a 33 percent difference between organic and conventional meat. Most antibiotics in this country are used in animal feed and we know the drugs easily disrupt the animals' gut flora and immune systems. This makes them perfect hosts for antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." I find the 33 percent difference enough for me to continue supporting my local organic farmers.
To read the article in its entirety, see Organic Food is Still Better at the HandPicked Nation website.