Dear Organic, Now What?

Hello Reader,

Are you as confused as I am?  How do we navigate a world where there is a constant feed of new medical headlines or studies that conflict the last? Every time you blink, there is new evidence to suggest this or a new study revealing that. How do we make informed decisions that are destined to be overturned tomorrow? How do we stay informed, not confused?

As if we needed even more to scratch our heads about, last week, news and radio stations were abuzz with headlines:

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

“Organic, conventional foods similar in nutrition, safety, study finds”

“Study: Actually, organic food isn’t much healthier”

What does it all mean?

The study that each of these headlines is referring to, was from Stanford School of Medicine and their actual headline, from their own website, reads:
“Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, Stanford study finds”.

“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 Dena Bravata, MD, MS, the senior author of a paper comparing the nutrition of organic and non-organic foods, published in the Sept. 4 issue ofAnnals of Internal Medicine.  A team led by Bravata, 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, did the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods. They did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure.
The study was conducted based on a perception that organic foods are better for you than non-organic ones.  The doctor in charge of the study was confused about how to advise patient questions regarding organic being healthier (or not).  She began literary research on the subject and found very confusing and conflicting reports and there was little to no evidence that included both benefits and harms.  Join the club, right?  They decided to do a systematic review of the studies out there.  Their goal was to educate.

Remember, there has been zero new study conducted here, only review of what’s already published.

The duration of the studies they reviewed, ranged between 2-days and 2-years.  By no means, long-term.

What they found: there is not evidence of more nutrition in organic, vs. conventional.  And there is only 30% lower risk of pesticide contamination than conventional fruits and vegetables, meaning, organic foods are not necessarily 100% free of pesticides.  When they reviewed the data of two studies of children of both conventional and organic diets, they found there to be evidence of “lower levels of pesticide residues in the urine of children on organic diets, though the significance of these findings on child health is unclear.  Additionally, organic chicken and pork appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the clinical significance of this is also unclear.”

They also took the time to note the benefits beyond health effects, including, taste, environment and animal welfare.

I quote their reason:

“Our goal was to shed light on what the evidence is.  This is information that people can use to make their own decisions based on their level of concern about pesticides, their budget and other considerations.”

Now What?

My personal solution to all this conflicting evidence is to follow my gut, availability and budget restraints.  Some of us are not able to afford as much organic as we would like, or maybe it’s just not available at our grocer.  I personally, would like to be all organic, just in case, but it’s just not an option for me.  So, I buy organic when I can. Certain things, like milk, I buy strictly organic.  Other things come down to other factors.  I buy organic, free range eggs, only because they are more humane than traditional chicken environments.  I buy grass-fed beef because I’m scared to consume beef that’s eaten corn his entire life.  Since I rarely eat beef anyway, I can usually afford to make that decision when I do.

I also buy produce that’s in season.  I steer clear of genetically modified, if possible.  I try to buy local, when I can.

Honestly, I think the important point, is that we are all aware and conscious of what we are buying and trying to do what’s best, when we can, for both ourselves and our planet.  There’s really no way to shop absolutely clean and reduce all pesticide exposure to zero; it’s just not the world we live in, yet…  Hopefully we continue to make strides forward and studies, such as this one, do not make the organic movement lose steam.  I really hope we don’t lose sight of the real reason we should try to make organic choices: our planet.  Even 30% less pesticide is better than nothing.

I find the silver lining in the fact that we are talking about it at all.  We are not unconscious American consumers.  We are concerned.  And that, is encouraging for our future.

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3 thoughts on “Dear Organic, Now What?

  1. Could not agree more! In a way it was reassuring for those of us that cannot afford organic, everything. At least we are only ingesting 30% more pesticide, in some cases, and not 100% more. It makes me feel a little better about my conventional stuff. The dirty dozen is a good goal, but for things like grapes, they are so wildly expensive and reported to be the most prone to retaining the residues… It’s a toss up really. We can do our best and let that be enough!

  2. I found this study surprising as well. If I could afford to eat organic, I would solely because I THINK it is better for my body and the environment to not be consuming chemicals, but because it is so expensive I buy conventional produce because I believe that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits (organic or not) is better than a diet without any fresh produce.

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