Organic better for you? Maybe not - The Packer

Organic better for you? Maybe not

09/04/2012 12:06:00 PM
Tom Karst

(UPDATED COVERAGE, Sept. 7) Triggering a spirited response from organic food supporters, Stanford University researchers say there is little scientific evidence that organic foods offer fewer health risks or are more nutritious than conventional food.

“There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health,” Dena Bravata, senior author of a paper study comparing the nutrition of organic and non-organic foods, said in a news release.

The report won’t likely change the dynamics of organic food demand, one retail analyst said.

“My assessment would be the sort of commitment that organic buyers have to their product is going to be more resilient than a single study and a single news article,” said Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Nielsen Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill.

While some consumers might be inclined to purchase less organic produce, he said most who buy organics seem pretty dedicated and are often motivated by more than pesticide residue concerns.

The news of the report was widely covered and Christine Bushway, executive director of the Brattleboro Vt.-based Organic Trade Association, said there were shifts in how the story was covered.

She said media coverage first focused on the equivalency of nutrition between organic and conventional food, which Bushway said has never been a prime motivation for organic consumers.

Bushway said she doesn’t feel the report’s conclusions  will dim demand for organic food.

“I had one editor of a print publication say to me that she felt that this would call attention to the pesticide issue, and the fact that organic food has fewer pesticides,” she said.

Bushway said the study’s conclusions about the safety of conventional and organic food were put in the context of government standards, which are not necessarily the sole factor for organic consumers.

“Our committed consumer is very aware of concerns about pesticides and aware of the President’s Cancer Panel which tells people to lower their risk of cancer by avoiding eating foods with pesticides,” she said.  

She said Stanford research confirmed that consumers can minimize exposure to pesticide residues in produce by choosing fruits and vegetables with the U.S. Department of Agriculture organic label.

Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming, said the report substantiated the message that both conventional and organic produce is safe.

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Nogales Az  |  September, 04, 2012 at 06:29 PM

This is analogous to wearing your underwear and not changing it for an entire week, you can probably wear it for a week without washing it, vs wearing a clean one every day. I am sure you will be fine, not washing it, but I guarantee you that you will feel cleaner if you use a a clean one every day. The organic market is not for everyone, it is only for those who want it. Just the thought that I am eating a food with less pesticides, or no pesticides at all, is enough for my ease of mind and joy of body to make me want to eat healthier. It all depends on how much you appreciate the inner world that thrives inside your body. This article talks about produce, I will talk a little about grass fed chickens and lot fed ones, this is an easy test. Make a soup with one of the a fore mentioned chickens one purchased at your favorite organic supplier the other at the regular retailer, after done, place both of the broths in the fridge. Wait until the next morning and see the difference in fat content. That is just what we can see, I don't even want to know what we can't see. Then try each chicken, grass fed organic chicken will beat in a blind test the regular lot fed one hands down. Then try the milk test, if you have small children as I do, offer them a glass with organic milk and a regular glass of milk, I never bothered to explain to my one, or two or three year old the difference, they chose for themselves pointing at each carton and always preferring the organic milk vs conventional. So how often do you like to change your underwear?

California  |  September, 04, 2012 at 06:55 PM

great response

September, 04, 2012 at 10:35 PM

pretty cool insight

Boston  |  September, 05, 2012 at 07:23 AM

Nice Harvestresponse !! Love your comment

Richard Leibowitz    
Soquel, California  |  September, 05, 2012 at 09:22 AM

At best what organic provides is at least as good as conventional. But what are the land advantages of organic over conventional and the effects on out planet? Proper soil management could almost eliminate greenhouse gasses. Is that of any value? Cleaner air, better water, less dramatic climate change. Advantages may not be physically evident but they certainly are environmentally. Let;s stop being so selfish and consider the long term.

james Pott    
Foxboro  |  September, 05, 2012 at 09:26 AM

It's the only reply to this kind of crappy unscientific 'research' posing as research. Note also that in the general media the results are completely misquoted. I do however admit that the name organic does not necessarily imply a higher nutrient value. It depends on how long a farm has been working on improving their soil. Three years is an absolute minimum to rebuild the soil and get rid of pesticide residue. If you are really serious about the quality of your food you should get yourself a $60 (or so) refracto meter and check for the Brix levels which will give a fair indication of the nutrient content of your food. You can find the tables on the internet. And of course it is beyond questioning that the effect of cumulative pesticide content is still a matter of great concern. Shame on The Packer to not give the whole story. It does not serve our industry well

Tod Parkinson    
Reedley, CA.  |  September, 05, 2012 at 09:27 AM

Great comment, I grow organic peach, nectarine and plums, I can believe that conventional and organic is almost equal in nutrient value. Over the years the FDA continues to take chemicals off the market after research shows evidence of health risks. I know that I spray nothing on my organic fruit that is going to hurt another human being, I don't know that a conventional grower can guarantee that every chemical available to him is safe for human consumption.

Pennsylvania  |  September, 05, 2012 at 09:36 AM

No one ever said that there are more nutrients. Here's the skinny, NO CHEMICAL PESTICIDES! Go to an Organic Farm and then a Conventional one...see the difference and taste the difference. Organic produce: No Pesticides Grown with natural fertilizers (manure, compost). Weeds are controlled naturally (crop rotation, hand weeding, mulching, and tilling). Insects are controlled using natural methods (birds, good insects, traps). Conventionally grown produce: Pesticides used Grown with synthetic or chemical fertilizers. Weeds are controlled with chemical herbicides. Insecticides are used to manage pests and disease. Fruits and vegetables where the organic label matters the most According to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that analyzes the results of government pesticide testing in the U.S., the following 12 fruits and vegetables have the highest pesticide levels on average. Because of their high pesticide levels when conventionally grown, it is best to buy these organic: Apples Bell Peppers Carrots Celery Cherries Grapes (imported) Kale Lettuce Nectarines Peaches Pears Strawberries Non-organic fruits and vegetables with low pesticide levels These conventionally grown fruits and vegetables were found to have the lowest levels of pesticides. Most of these have thicker skin or peel, which naturally protects them better from pests, and which also means their production does not require the use of as many pesticides. Asparagus Avocado Broccoli Cabbage Corn (sweet) Eggplant Kiwi Mango Onion Papaya Pineapple Peas (sweet) Sweet Potatoes Tomatoes Watermelon

September, 05, 2012 at 09:38 AM

I don't wear underwear

Denver  |  September, 05, 2012 at 09:43 AM

The article reports little significant difference in health benefits of organic over conventional, so to chose to eat healthier does not mean chosing organic. Unless, as harvestresponse states, chosing organic eases the mind. Since we know that stress is unhealthy, it follows that organic is a healthier choice after all. The studies do not address this difference. Perhaps they should.

California  |  September, 05, 2012 at 09:56 AM

Funny this article is hitting the media outlets during the California Prop 37 "Just label it" campaign...

Juan Rocha    
San Diego  |  September, 05, 2012 at 09:58 AM

often organic produce is only a label or a sticker in the box, supply goes up and down and people still want their organic produce.... they will make it organic just with the label, huge problem. as same as you give details on chicken and milk, do you know what goes into organic produce??? go to the fields and check them out

California  |  September, 05, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Just wondering how your article will read in the Organic Insider...

Troy, Oregon  |  September, 05, 2012 at 10:27 AM

The Stanford study uses an unusual and inappropriate metric to quantify differences between organic and conventional food. It substantially understates the magnitude of the differences. Plus, their literature search strategy ignored hundreds of studies linking pesticide exposure to adverse health incomes, because pesticide-health studies usually do not mention organic food in the published papers. The conclusions reached by the Stanford team, and the simplification and amplification of the message in the media, are not supported by the data. For more on the technical problems with the study, see the critique and response accessible via a blog posting at

Farmer Joe    
Virginia  |  September, 05, 2012 at 11:15 AM

Tod, how can you claim what you spray "isn't going to hurt anyone" when you also state that "..FDA [actually it's EPA] continues to take chemicals off the market after research shows evidence of health risks." Perhaps EPA just hasn't gotten around to re-evaluating your pesticides of choice for any new health risks. BTW, many pesticide registrants "voluntary" remove minor-use pesticides in order to maintain labeled uses in other crops with the same chemistry. And unless a grower sprays absolutely nothing, there is no way he/she can guarantee the safety of their spray (That goes for both organic and chemical products).

Sacramento, CA  |  September, 05, 2012 at 12:07 PM

I really wish folks would do their homework before posting such ignorant responses to this article. In response to the above post I just want to make clear that Brix levels are measured to show the maturity of a fruit/vegetable, basically to measure the sugar/carbohydrate leves. This has nothing to do with the nutrient base of the food. Also as far as the soil and the enviroment is concerned organic does not superscede conventional farming. We all fool ourselves into believing that organic farms don't use pesticides and are so great for the environment however fungicides and pesticides are highly utilized in organic methods. In fact they use higher volumes of pesticides and fungicided due to the fact that the forms they are using are less effecitve and are just as bad for human consumption and the environment. Just because something is organic doesn't mean that it is good for you to consume. There are many toxic and harmful "natural/organic" substances on this planet. And one of real reasons organic farming is not better for our environment is that organic farms produce around 80% of what the same size conventional farm can produce. (Some studies even show organic yields below 50% of conventional farms). This means more land and water use which equals a larger carbon output. Please tell me how that is a better option for our planet? I commend everyone out there who is taking their food sources into consideration and wanting to do the best for yourself, your children, and your earth but please please do your research and find out the truth before you spread anymore rumors.

Carolyn O'Donnell    
Watsonville  |  September, 05, 2012 at 12:46 PM

We have decades of research demonstrating the health benefits of increasing consumption of fruits and veggies - all done with conventionally grown produce.

Clint Albano    
Muscat, Oman  |  September, 05, 2012 at 01:07 PM

The claim that "organically" grown produce is more nutrititious is old nonsense and has been known as nonsense to even journalists for a long time. How many capable food science researchers are going to waste their time again and again beating this dead horse? The second bit of pablum in this not-a-bombshell-revelation is the assertion that if one eats "organic" produce one is healthier because of less exposure to pesticide residues. After my 23 years of shipping thousands of tons of green beans to Japan and looking at the residue reports, taken on every second shipment fresh beans, sprayed, during the crop cycle, with about 7-8 different pesticides, the results were consistently this: my Japanese customers were exposed to 1-2 parts per BILLION of Azoxystrobin and once in a while to 1 or 2 more parts per BILLION of Iprodione. Since one part per billion is the equivalent of about 18" from here to the moon, the question is how much less danger is that? Anything to even notice? Japanese quarantine didn't think so. And if levels of any compound at that miniscule level DO matter, then what about the exposure to the organically acceptable pesticides on "organic" fruits and veggies - the "natural" ones? Are they safer because they are natural? Did this Stanford study say anything about the danger of exposure to non pesticide residues of 1000's of different compounds, both natural and not, that are detectable in all produce if you test for them? And don't forget. Our ancesters of even only 100 years ago were burying more of their children, fed on that "organic" and therefore SAFE meat and produce of that era, than we even give birth to. Am pleasantly surprised, Tom, that you published this.

Fresno  |  September, 05, 2012 at 01:15 PM

I do not believe that eating organic is any healthier than conventional. The problem is that environmentalist have tried to scare people into eating only organic. The result is some people will not eat as much fruit becuse of the cost. I realize that conventional fertilizers can cause some problems in the soil. But manure can increase the chances of e-coli contamination. Even though organic makes up a small amount of ag production it is a significant amount of food posionings.

california  |  September, 05, 2012 at 01:18 PM

About organic milk, I think it's what the kids are used to. I tried to have my children drink organic milk after only drinking regular milk all their lives and they didn't like the organic and asked me not to buy it.

September, 05, 2012 at 03:32 PM

Completely missed the point !! Organics is more abt safe environment and the impact of the use of pesticides on the environment than nutritional benefits for consumers.

Chris Koger    
Lenexa, Kan.  |  September, 06, 2012 at 07:45 AM

Matt, The study (and this story) was about the often-made claims that organic produce is healthier than conventionally grown produce. It was not about effects on the environment. No doubt there are other studies about the environmental aspect but saying the study missed the point is is like buying a candy bar when you wanted gum. Chris Koger News Editor

ohio  |  September, 06, 2012 at 03:04 PM

Can't we just admit that organics is about reduced yield, less residues, higher prices for the consumer, and lower production efficiencies...and...conventional is about greater yield, miniscule but measurable residues, lower prices for the consumer, and greater production efficiencies. Taste and flavor are completely subjective. Not sure how we could ever "feed the world" organically. When the industry market gets so competitive, truth is the first thing to go.

james Pott    
Foxboro  |  September, 07, 2012 at 04:08 AM

"i wish folks would do their homework..." Please spare us the rhetoric. A strawberry is ripe when it is red. That same strawberry may have a Brix level anywhere from 6 all the way up to 12. It all depends on the soil quality. If the soil doesn't have it the plant cannot get it. Even though you measure the sugar level, the rest comes with it. As far as the rest of your story goes : Peter M. Rosset, Ph.D. is executive director of the Oakland, California-based Institute for Food and Development Policy , according to him conventional farms, especially the big ones are one of the problems behind today's food shortages. This is only going to get worse. The monster mono cropping is destroying the planet while farming very inefficiently.

james Pott    
Foxboro  |  September, 07, 2012 at 04:12 AM

And we're getting sicker and sicker. Why do you think the Russians have banned all GMO foods?

Belleville  |  September, 07, 2012 at 04:17 AM

Food was the cause of high child mortality?? This is a new one. Maybe high mortality among the women giving birth was also because they ate the wrong stuff?

Beverly Hills  |  September, 10, 2012 at 03:32 PM

Isn't all produce organic? I'd hate to think I may have been eating inorganic rapini.

Mays Landing NJ  |  September, 10, 2012 at 06:18 PM

'Deja vu all over again!' as Yogi Bera put it. The most telling point that everyone always misses in this debate, but the industry claims everyone needs to pay attention to because of its fantastic growth. Yes, despite the tremendous rise in the value of organic produce sales in this country ("from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $24.4 billion in 2011"), the total volume sold has remained virtually unchanged since the early 1980s. Dare I dig out those stats again which confirm it has stayed right where it has always been as a tiny niche market -- "First-quarter 2011 data from the United Fresh Produce Association’s FreshFacts report show organic vegetables accounted for 3.3% and organic fruits tallied 1.5% of total produce sales.

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