Organic food is a $26-billion business in the U.S. The organic stamp on grocery goods oftentimes doubles the cost, but despite a slow economy, the organic industry grew by more than 8% in 2010. The demand for knowing your food and where it comes from has amplified our conversations about agriculture to a whole new level.
Although today’s consumer is three or more generations removed from the farm, these communities that support local, organic farmers and getting back to the basics and are paying top dollar for food they believe is superior -- both in safety and nutrition.
Not so fast. Before you fork over extra bucks for that organic label, you may want to check out a new study that asked the question: Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?
Conducted by Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy, a group of physicians who believed the health benefits of organic foods were unclear conducted 17 human studies and 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, eggs, chicken, pork and meat. They compared health, nutritional and safety characteristics of organic and conventional foods.
The results of the study were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study concluded that the studies showed a lack of strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but not by much. Foods with pesticide residue were still under EPA standards, and that risk could be eliminated by washing produce before consuming, which consumers should do whether eating organic or conventional.
Apparently, when these physicians embarked on this study, they anticipated that organic foods would be superior, and they were surprised to discover that there was no real measurable difference.
Of course, traditional farmers and ranchers who raise conventional food have been saying this all along, and unfortunately, many organic farmers have slammed traditional methods in order to promote their label. At the end of the day, whether organic or conventional, U.S. food is safe and nutritious, and we are lucky to have so many choices. I don’t believe we should bash one segment to endorse another; I believe the food that we raise should stand on its own merit, without degrading the other options available in the produce aisle or at the meat case.
Holly Spangler says it well in a column for the Prairie Farmer. She says food is a measured risk, just like driving a car. Read her thoughts here.
Cheryl Wetzstein for the Washington Times writes, “Apples are apples and oranges are oranges, and it makes little difference whether they are bought as organic products or not.”
Amanda Hill for Texas Table Top adds to the discussion: “Organic foods are no more nutritious than foods grown by conventional farmers. And, when it comes to food safety, organic and conventional products are at risk for the same contaminants. Organic products are just as susceptible to bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. Fortunately, the bacteria will be killed with proper preparation and cooking. Those who are passionate about buying organic products will continue to evangelize the benefits they see.”
- And, here is another great viewpoint from an organic farmer.
After reading this study, if you still prefer organic foods, that’s great. This is America after all, and we are privileged to be able to choose. However, don’t feel obligated or guilted into purchasing organic because you’ve read about the “dirty dozen” and feel pressured to buy something that is deemed superior.
The proof is in the pudding. All American farmers and ranchers are held to the same standards. We are pretty darn lucky here in the U.S. to have and abundant source of safe, wholesome, affordable food.