Headlines are screaming: “Organic food no more nutritious than non-organic,” “Organic food is not healthier,” “New study finds scant evidence of health benefits.” Big Ag must be rubbing its collective hands with glee. They shouldn’t.
The report stirring so much interest is a survey published in the September 4 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. Stanford University scientists reviewed 237 studies in an attempt to answer the questions patients were asking the lead author, Dr. Dena Bravata: are organic foods better for me? Are they worth the extra cost?
Since no one had done a meta-analysis of the studies comparing conventional and organic produce, Bravata and her team set out to sift through thousands of papers in search of answers. They settled on the 237 most relevant.
What They Found: A Little Poison Is Okay
Stanford School of Medicine’s Michelle Brandt summarizes their findings: “After analyzing the data, the researchers found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods.”
Overall, the studies found both kinds of food had similar vitamin content. Organic had more phosphorous, but few people have a deficiency in that nutrient. Protein and fat content of organic and conventional milk was similar, though the organic product delivered more omega-3 fatty acids. Organic produce contained less pesticide residue, organic meat less antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, whether or not that was clinically significant was not clear.
None of the studies were long term, so the question of health benefits or detriments remained virtually unanswered. Those using human subjects ranged from two days to two years. Nor is it clear any of the studies compared the effects of a solely conventional or solely organic diet.
Organic produce was found to have less pesticide contamination than conventional, but none of the produce was pesticide free. Given the amount of pesticide contaminating land, water and air, that is hardly surprising.
The studies were the proverbial apples and oranges, and the researchers admit that “publication bias may be present” in some of them. That bias is what creeps in when those undertaking the study have organizational, corporate and/or monetary interest in a particular conclusion.
Photos 1 and 2: Thinkstock; Photo 3 from Secret Tenerife via Flickr Creative Commons
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