Last week, I was featured on the Global BC News Hour about the recent Stanford University review of the health benefits of organically grown food.
The original study, which has been all over the media since it was published, can be found here. I felt compelled to write further about this as I feel that the mainstream media has really leveraged this study to tell the public that organics don't really matter and that they don't live up to the hype. And I strongly disagree.
So do a lot of other voices that I respect. Here is Marion Nestle's take. And Grist, the fantastic eco-minded news site, compiled a host of other opinions on the topic.
If you take the time to look at what the researchers found, it is that the research on organics is kind of all over the place. There aren't enough studies in any one line of questioning to prove overwhelmingly whether organic foods are safer or healthier in terms of clinical outcomes. But who would waste time and valuable research dollars measuring whether or not organic foods have more protein or phosphorus? Researchers who have no understanding of why organics are important.
Studies within the review demonstrate that organics deliver on what is probably the most critical promise: reducing your exposure to potentially toxic pesticide residues. One study in children was perhaps the most compelling: upon removal of conventionally-grown food in the diet, pesticide residues in the urine dropped.
Organic foods have never promised to deliver more vitamin C or calcium; reducing the notion of health to the ingestion of nutrients is nutritionism at its worst. In fact, if just a bit of calcium or iron or vitamin D were all we needed to be healthy, all of those over-processed, fortified foods we eat would be saving our lives. They aren't.
Choosing organic foods is better for the farmers who grow them and the soils that foods are grown in. Choosing organics allows you to control the amount of pesticides and genetically engineered foods you are exposed to in your food supply. Organic regulations also stipulate that certain ingredients, such as artificial food dyes, and practices such as "preventative" antibiotics may not be used.
As as our research grows more sophisticated, we may find that organic foods do offer more traditional health benefits as well. In fact, a team of researchers in Spain have been working with tomatoes and find that organic tomatoes have more anti-oxidant polyphenols than conventionally grown tomatoes. Given the amount of attention we pay to the role of anti-oxidants in the diet, this is exciting news to me.
At the end of the day, I choose organic foods because I believe they are a better choice for my community, the environment and my family's health. Organic foods are not yet economically feasible for all; however, for those of us who can afford to divert a little more money away from goods we don't need into better quality food, I believe that they are a critical investment in a healthier future.
What are your thoughts on organic food?