A new study says that organic fruits and vegetables might not actually be better for you. What can consumers take from Stanford University’s School of Medicine? And what should growers and producers of organic food be doing to make their case?
Stanford University School of Medicine recently released a study that organic food does not necessarily mean “healthier”.
The study, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, says that organic fruits and vegetables might not actually be better for you. Stanford University’s School of Medicine looked at 200 peer-reviewed studies that analyzed difference in health benefits between organic and regular food and found that neither seemed to have the advantage when it came to vitamins and minerals. Specific studies looked at how pregnant women eating organic might lead to certain health conditions in children, organic meat’s effectiveness in protecting people from bacterial food-borne illness, and a tomatoes grown conventionally versus those grown organically. The conclusion: that organic fruits or vegetables do not necessarily have more vitamins or minerals than their non-organic counterparts.
What does this mean for the global organic food market, formerly forecast to have a value of $96.5 billion in 2014, an increase of nearly 61% since 2009, as projected by Datamonitor? Will the term “organic” lose favor with consumers? Will they stop paying extra for organic? Will market share decline?
A recent follow-on article in Prevention, and blog post in 100DaysofRealFood, makes a good point that the Stanford study misses overall. Not only are vitamins and minerals an issue when it comes to eating healthy, it’s also other additives and growing conditions that make a difference. The article reminds that organic foods are supposed to be made without the following, naturally making them healthier. Producers of organic foods are not allowed to include: antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, high fructose corn syrup, artificial dyes (made from coal tar and petrochemicals), artificial sweeteners, synthetically created chemical pesticide and fertilizers, genetically engineered proteins and ingredients, sewage sludge, irradiation. Growers and manufacturers of organic foods can be heavily fined for including one or more of the above. Some foods are more likely than others to have pesticide residues in them, as can be seen in this list from the Environmental Working Group making organic versions of these fruits and vegetables more important.
The Stanford study did make note of pesticides in non-organic foods. However it indicated that pesticide use was negligible in non-organic products and too small to have a long-term impact on consumers. But as the Prevention article from Robyn O’Brien indicates: do we really know the real, long-term impact of having trace amounts of chemicals in our food supply?
According to the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA), producing U.S. foods organically also creates thousands more jobs than if the food were grown using traditional methods—another good reason for U.S. consumers to support the trend. The report, “2010 Impacts of the U.S. Organic Foods Industry on the U.S. Economy,” shows the organic food industry generated more than five hundred thousand jobs in 2010 in the U.S. In growing organic foods, farmers can offer a high premium product for a low capital investment, using traditional knowledge, according to the Office of Evaluation and Studies (OE). The process of growing organic foods can also be good for American farmers and jobs overall.
The reasons to buy organic are many. And the producers of organic food and organizations representing these products should continue to educate consumers about the benefits. While some consumers may decide to forgo paying extra for organic produce, given recent findings, others will continue to look to organic foods because they believe in the principles and in both what is, and what is not, included in them.