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Sep 3, 2012 09:50 PM

NYT: "Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce"

From the NYT article:


They [the Stanford scientists] 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.

The researchers also found no obvious health advantages to organic meats.

Conventional fruits and vegetables did have more pesticide residue, but the levels were almost always under the allowed safety limits, the scientists said. The Environmental Protection Agency sets the limits at levels that it says do not harm humans.


Read it all here:

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  1. The thing to me with this is, I rarely if ever hear of organic food being touted as nutritionally superior, and I never personally think of it that way. It's more about environmental impact and the part about less-poisoned is nice too. Maybe I'm not reading the right magazines.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ennuisans

      I'm with you...I'm not sure anybody still really believes in their heart of hearts that organic is nutritionally superior.

      We all have to figure the balance in our own minds...

      1. re: ennuisans

        Eaxctly--it's the strawman argument, and the article cherry picked what it wanted for its title. At the same time, the study did find the following, which are the reasons many people eat organics:

        "Conventional fruits and vegetables did have more pesticide residue"

        "Organic chicken and pork were less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

        "The study also found that organic milk contained more omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered beneficial for the heart."

        "The organic produce also contained more compounds known as phenols, believed to help prevent cancer, than conventional produce. "

        "Over all, the Stanford researchers concluded that 38 percent of conventional produce tested in the studies contained detectable residues, compared with 7 percent for the organic produce. (Even produce grown organically can be tainted by pesticides wafting over from a neighboring field or during processing and transport.) They also noted a couple of studies that showed that children who ate organic produce had fewer pesticide traces in their urine."

        Finally, the conclusion:

        "Dr. Bravata agreed that people bought organic food for a variety of reasons — concerns about the effects of pesticides on young children, the environmental impact of large-scale conventional farming and the potential public health threat if antibiotic-resistant bacterial genes jumped to human pathogens. “Those are perfectly valid,” she said."

      2. In other news, disposable plastic bags work just as well as my reusable bag. Yet I stubbornly continue to carry the reusable bag.

        People make choices based on factors other than utility, don't you think? And the article offers plenty of reasons why organic food might be preferable - more omega-3 in the milk, etc. Plus, there's this:

        "Organic chicken and pork were less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

        I see that as a health advantage, and not just for the person consuming the organic meat. I don't buy all that much organic, myself (I get most of my produce from the non-organic vendors at the green market), but there seem to be plenty of good reasons to do so for those who choose to.

        6 Replies
        1. re: small h

          "Organic milk" is not a uniform product and to make sweeping statements like 'more omega-3 in organic milk" overlooks the fact that it's based on either the feed used or something added to the end product. There's nothing inherent in "organic" milk that spontaneously creates high levels of omega-3.

          1. re: ferret

            Perhaps an enormous quantity of milk was evaluated, and organic milk was found, on balance, to be higher in omega-3. I really don't know, but the article mentions this, so I did, too.

            1. re: small h

              Again, it's feed-based so it may well be that some organic producers use feeds that are higher in omega-3 but it's not a function of "organic."

              1. re: ferret

                Be that as it may, if some organic producers use those feeds, and no non-organic producers use those feeds, then organic milk will be higher in omega-3. The cause is irrelevant; the result is the same.

                1. re: small h

                  Horizon brand organic milk has a specific category marked "Omega-3" on the shelf, so either they add the stuff afterwards or they segregate milk from cows eating specific feed, or ? In which case, a mention of Omega-3 in this piece might not even result from study results but from someone reading the words on a package.

                  1. re: ennuisans

                    The Horizon milk is DHA-fortified, added to the product after the fact, like Vitamin D.

        2. I heard a discussion about this article this morning on NPS's Morning Edition.

          My reasoning for buying organic is that it usually just tastes better. If I buy organic Granny Smith Apples and organic Bananas, they taste 10000x better than conventional. Conventional are bland tasting.

          Same with organic chicken. Until I made a pot of chicken soup with an organic chicken, I couldn't have told you the difference. The broth it makes is beautifully clean and clear and lean. The taste is also so much better.

          I am lucky that Wegmans prices their organic produce similar and sometimes even lower than conventional. Organic meat is another matter. But Wegmans carries their Food You Feel Good About Line which is organic without the certification, which makes it more cost friendly.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Manassas64

            Absolutely agree! Some organic things - chicken, carrots, cabbage - just taste SO much better to me. And I'd just as soon not eat a bunch of chemicals if I don't have to. But as a committed omnivore, I'm aware that many things I eat have been exposed to one kind of badness or another. Life is exciting and hazardous!

            1. re: elenacampana

              Yes, life IS exciting and hazardous! I like that. LOL

          2. The Stanford study – and especially the majority of the media coverage of it - suffers from a # of short-comings, not least that people are missing the point that the organic farming offers a host of environmental benefits and lowers the serious health risks otherwise experienced by millions of farmers and farm workers around the world, due to the high toxicity of the 5 BILLION pounds of pesticides that are applied annually to the world’s cropland.

            On Equal Exchange’s blog I’ve described some of these benefits, & provide further information resources:


            Additionally – yesterday Tom Philpott wrote a very good piece that helped illuminate some of the critical methodological shortcomings in the Stanford study, and how they seemed to have misrepresented (or poorly described) the actual findings. The gist is that even this study actually _confirms_ that eating organic is healthier in many important ways.

            See “5 Ways the Stanford Study Sells Organics Short”

            (& just for fun, here is a photo I took of a thriving, jungle-like organic coffee farm in southern Peru. Excellent bird habitat as well as a successful little farm.)

            1. When I was 29, I developed a rash over 50% of my body, and several dermatologists gave me advice and ointments that did no good at all. Finally, when I was 39 (yes, I had that rash for 10 years) I had acupuncture + Chinese medicine that cured most of it overnight. My husband said that if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes he wouldn't have believed it. My acupuncturist told me that she had cleansed me of toxins, and to eat only organic food to prevent another buildup of toxins, So organic it has been, and will continue to be, for our whole family!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Claudette

                I'd be careful reaching the conclusion that Chinese acupuncturists can clean toxins for anyone.

                Yes, it's proven/accepted that acupunture can be used as a form of anesthesia for certain types of surgeries (e.g. C-sections, well publicized). But the claim of cleansing is highly suspect. Furthermore, the ointments might contain powerful "western" anti-inflammatory components which work to reduce symptoms. Recently a person who smeared gel all over his body in an attempt to treat his stuburn generalized pruritic macular rash died in Taiwan (reported by World Journal earlier this year) and authoraties found that his Chinese "doctor" gave him fortified gel.

                Not trying to scare anybody. But I put my money on FDA-approved stuff. Only.