Stanford study questions benefits of organic food

There has been widespread coverage of a new study by Stanford University scientists, which compared organic and conventional foods. The reporting on the study, which published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, has focused largely on how the findings cast doubt on the benefits of organic food.

For its part, the New York Times reports that the researchers “concluded that fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be far less expensive. Nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E. Coli.” Utlimately, “the researchers also found no obvious health advantages to organic meats,” the Times notes.

In a related story, the Washington Post “The Checkup” blog reports that “Crystal Smith-Spangler of Stanford University culled the scientific literature for research into the health benefits and risk of contamination among organic and conventional produce and meats.” The blog further details that “her review of 17 human studies and 223 evaluations of nutrient and contaminant levels in foods ranging from milk and grains to pork, beef and chicken detected mostly minor differences between organic and conventionally farmed versions.” It adds that “overall, her research…found little scientific evidence to support organic food’s superiority over conventionally farmed food.”

ABC World News broadcast, “the study found organics actually scored equally on vitamin and mineral content as conventional produce.” However, it also noted that “the study found organic produce is 30% less likely to have pesticide residue on it.”

For its part, the Los Angeles Times reports that “two studies found that children who ate conventional produce had higher levels of pesticide residues in their urine, and the levels fell when the children switched to organic foods. But, again, it’s not clear whether there would be clinical consequences, Smith-Spangler and coauthors wrote.” According to the report, “studies generally found that levels of contamination were within safe ranges and may not differ much between organic and conventionally grown food.”

Also covering the story, the AP notes that “organic foods account for 4.2 percent of retail food sales, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” Further, it observes that “consumers can pay a lot more for some organic products but demand is rising: Organic foods accounted for $31.4 billion sales last year, according to a recent Obama administration report.”

Bloomberg News reports on how the organic food industry is responding to the study. According to the article, “Laura Batcha, executive vice president of the industry trade group, said the benefits found by the study supports the value of organic food.” Batcha states, “This study confirms that choosing organic foods reduces consumers’ exposure to pesticide residues, and that the overuse of antibiotics in non-organic production leads to higher level of bacteria resistant to antibiotics in meat.” She adds, “Studies have increasingly shown the importance of minimizing young children’s exposure to even low levels of chemical pesticides.”

Meanwhile, USA Today reports that “the findings suggest that a key reason behind why many people buy organic products – a $28.6 billion market last year – may not be borne out by the science.” The article points out that “the data don’t fit well with consumers’ stated motivations for buying organic foods. A 2010 Nielsen study found that 76% bought them believing they are healthier, 53% because they allowed them to avoid pesticides and other toxins, 51% because they are more nutritious and 49% because organic farming is better for the environment.”

2 thoughts on “Stanford study questions benefits of organic food

  • Good question, Kay, and an important one to ask of any study. According to the published study, “Primary Funding Source: None.” Normally this means that the time and work were sponsored by the institutions at which the researchers are employed … in this case, Stanford.

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