Organic Food: Good for the Body and Planet or a Waste of Money?

A new "meta-analysis" by Stanford University finds few differences between conventional and organic produce and meat, with exception of lower pesticide residue levels.

Organic fruit and vegetables have no clear health advantages over regular produce and are no more nutritious despite often costing twice as much, a new Stanford University study has found.

The study, released Sept. 4 in an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, used data from more than 200 earlier studies conducted over the past 40 years. Researchers, who did not use any outside funding in order to not be perceived as having bias, looked at for evidence that organic fruit, vegetables and meats had more nutritional benefits and less dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli.

But the only advantages to organic products researchers found was that these tended to have less pesticide residue, although the levels were almost always under the allowed safety limits. According to their analysis, 38 percent of non-organic produce contained pesticide residue compared to only 7 percent in organic produce.

No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce.

There was also no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though evidence from a limited number of studies suggested that organic milk may contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

The U.S. sales of organic produce increased from $3.6 billion to $24.4 billion over the past 15 years, according to researchers, affiliated with Stanford’s School of Medicine.

Mark Kastel, a senior farm policy analyst with Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin organization that promotes organic food as a way to support family farms, released a statement Tuesday, saying Stanford researchers "failed to look outside the box" discounting many studies that have shown decreased nutritional content in the conventional food as a result of poor soil. 

He also said that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have become ubiquitous in processed food, contaminated with patented genes by Monsanto and other biotechnology corporations. 

“Consumers should not lose sight of the important impacts of organic agriculture, which produces foods without the use of toxic pesticides that have been linked to an array of health problems, including cancer and ADHD in children," Kastel said. "This study confirmed once again that organic foods contain significantly lower levels of pesticide residues, and that alone should be enough reason for every family to consider exclusively purchasing organic foods."

Do you buy organic? Will these findings change your shopping habits? Tell us in the Comments below.

Kathryn Saenz Duke September 10, 2012 at 04:16 PM
I wish that the general media’s coverage of this study had paid more attention to the title of the medical journal article: “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?” Despite this title, the media I read often focused on findings about “nutrients,” probably based a common but very limited understanding of the overall health value of foods. For me and my children, I prefer organic food for safety issues such as pesticide residue issues, and for also for reasons noted by the study’s published finding that the risk of antibiotic resistant- bacteria “was higher in conventional than in organic chicken and pork (risk difference 33%).” That is a major health and safety issue that needs much more public attention.
Jaan Carter September 10, 2012 at 04:37 PM
These so called "studies" by Stanford and other supporters of big business are part of the campaign to put down the popular (and populist) effort to label GMO foods, coming to a ballot near you in November. As noted by several others above, there is a deliberate avoidance of the real issues, which are not as simple as whether organic food is more nutritious. We are in a fight, literally, for our lives, waged against us by corporate agribusiness. As we're all well aware, Big Money fights dirty in this country. Propaganda, misinformation, direct lies, and all the rest. Take a look at the way Monsanto treats us: A biochemical company, the same one who brought us Agent Orange, in charge of modifying our food in ways that have NOT BEEN TESTED ON HUMANS (Wanna be a guinea pig? Too late, you already are!)? Along with lovely companies like Dow and DuPont, these corporate behemoths are destroying our land, our water, our bees, birds... and US. Sounds like I'm a freaky, paranoid hysteric? Um, no. I've been researching this for a while now, and we're in DANGER. Why is it GMO's are banned in many countries around the world, but we can't even get them LABELED? While Monsanto marches on, over the dead bodies of Indian farmers, and sues the few little farmers left in our country and absorbs their farms... We are in the fight of our lives, folks. Be aware.
Ruth Schrager September 10, 2012 at 07:48 PM
The world of nutrition loves to focus on one micronutrient or or one specific outcome - which completely ignores the holistic nature of nutrition. Organic goes much farther than impacting micronutrient levels in food, and it's a shame to determine a product's health based on that one quality. For example, genetically modified tomatoes can offer higher levels of lycopene and some genetically modified rice contains more vitamin A. But is that healthier for us? For you? Nutrition is an individualized process, and your priorities should depend on your financial, health, political, etc needs. Studies like the one highlighted here are deceptive to the layperson and we all need to become better educated about the food we eat and our individual needs.
Jennifer Loring September 11, 2012 at 03:06 AM
"This Stanford study raises more technical questions about analytical methods and metrics than it answers, and several of its “answers” are highly suspect." http://civileats.com/2012/09/05/what-was-left-out-of-the-organic-study/
Tom Brody September 12, 2012 at 09:18 PM
"Organic foods" that are plants are likely to have more insect eggs inside the plant food, and are more likely to contain more insect parts, and are more likely to contain carcinogens from fungus that grows on the organic food. Insect eggs cannot be washed off. Carcinogens from the fungus are also not likely to be easily washable, because the fungus infests the plant food and becomes, more or less, a part of the plant. In contrast, insect spray and fungus spray are likely to be easily washed off from a plant food. I always use warm water and a bit of detergent to wash all of my plant foods, such as lettuce and potatoes. My reason for this, is that all of our foods, both "organic" and non-organic, contain residue from droppings from birds, rats, rabbits, and insects. (I don't like animal droppings, no, no, no.)


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