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Tech Tuesday

Getting the Organic Facts, Just the Facts

Organic study offers insight into food safety and nutrition; conventional choice makes sense.

As someone who likes to eat (just look at my picture) I have my fair share of attitudes about food. Add in that I consider myself a closet foodie, and I write for farmers and you know food is always a hot topic. However, since I write for farmers, and am pretty involved in the science of agriculture, I'm also confident about the safety of conventional agriculture.

Nice to know that Stanford University agrees. Researchers there released a study Monday that looked at a wide range of research and peer-reviewed literature to explore the health benefits of organic foods. They couldn't find any. Organic foods are not nutritionally different, or safer, than the conventional choice according to that study.

Nice to know that science can win out when scientists look at the data generated from other scientists. That's the truth about science that a lot of people like to walk past. Organic is not a safety choice, or a nutritional choice, it's a personal and emotional choice. And if that's a choice you want to make, that's cool. We have a lot of farmer-readers who do very well, thank you, with an organic strategy. If that makes the consumer feel better that's fine.

It's when people point blank act as if you're being healthier by being organic, when in fact we know that there are practices in organic agriculture - from poorly composted manure use to heavy metals for fungus control - that are problematic too. I'm not indicting any industry - both have a place. At least now, conventional agriculture has support.

Interestingly, the Stanford researchers thought they would find a difference when they did their study. They were surprised that they found little, if any, difference. While they admit that buyers of organic produce can reduce their exposure to pesticides, they add right away that the studies reviewed found no detections of pesticides above established limits.

Safety is paramount in our industry and farmers work hard to bring good, safe food to the table. And they do it economically. The debate over organic versus conventional is far from over.

Recently, Mario Batali, the famous chef and one of the hosts of The Chew, took on the challenge of feeding his family of four on the equivalent budget that a family of four would get in food stamps (or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. First thing he dropped was organic food, but he noted that his focus was on nutritious foods for his family. Nice to know people may be paying attention.

Oh, and here's a Stanford blogger's take on the study. Note the comments at the end…this debate is far from over.

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