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Choose organic if you like, just not for nutrition advantages

People who feel better about themselves by eating organic food, should, by all means, continue to spend the extra money on these products.

Just don’t assume that you’re getting healthier, more nutritious, more environmentally friendly tomatoes or artichokes because they have been grown with natural fertilizers and no synthetic pesticides. A recent study by Stanford University dispels the myth that organic foods—fruits and vegetables, grains, milk, eggs and meat products—are more nutritious than those same products produced conventionally, with synthetic fertilizers, regulated amounts of approved pesticides and appropriate antibiotics to manage livestock diseases.

For more information about the study see:

The study also looked at pesticide residue and found that levels of pesticide in both organic and conventional products were well within the USDA guidelines. Studies found in conventionally-produced products—to no one’s surprise—detectable levels of pesticides significantly more often than in organic, but the report noted that finding levels for either conventional or organic food that exceeded allowable levels “was uncommon.”

The study found no difference in the amount of vitamins found in organic versus conventional food.

The two principal investigators in the study, Dena Bravata, MD, MS, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy, and Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, MS, an instructor in the school’s Division of General Medical Disciplines and a physician-investigator at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, commented on the study.

“There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health,” said  Bravata.

Smith-Spanglersaid that people should aim for healthier diets overall. She emphasized the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, “however they are grown,” noting that most Americans don’t consume the recommended amount.

The study did mention that organic food may sometimes cost up to twice as much as conventionally-grown food.

It did not consider productivity or labor demand differences between the two. I don’t have studies to prove the point, but anecdotal evidence from organic farmers I’ve interviewed over the years indicates that producing organic is harder, demands more energy—either fossil fuel or manual labor—than does conventional production. Weed control, for instance, requires either hand hoeing or cultivation. In some cases, mulch may be effective.

This may not be true for all production, but some organic producers also find yields significantly lower than conventional production. They hope to make up the difference with the significantly higher prices for organic products. Sometimes they find an advantage; sometimes the increased production costs and the increased income are a wash.

Pest control also creates a dilemma. All-natural products are available, but manual labor may also be necessary to keep products free from insect damage.

So, is organic food a bad thing? Absolutely not. Organic agriculture plays an important role in the country’s varied, diverse, bountiful food industry. It offers opportunities to small-acreage farmers, as well as large farms with the wherewithal to hire the labor and set aside the land necessary to produce profitable organic crops.

Organic agriculture also provides options for consumers. Anyone who feels better, healthier and more environmentally responsible by selecting organic products should have the opportunity to do so. Most grocery stores now have sections devoted to organic-only produce. And most have shelves of plainly-labeled organic products, along with cage-free eggs and grass-fed beef. I’m glad it’s there.

I’m equally happy—well maybe more so—that the grocery stores I frequent also stock their produce sections, dairy cases and meat markets with conventionally-grown food products, offering more affordable and equally nutritious choices for consumers.

Is this a great country or what?



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