Study says organic food not healthier than conventional

A recent Stanford University study has created a stir in the food world by reporting that there is little evidence to support claims regarding the benefits of eating organic foods.

The study, published in the Sept. 4 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, said adults will find no health benefit from eating only organic foods.

The researchers sifted through thousands of papers and identified 237 of the most relevant to study, including 17 studies on populations consuming a mix of organic and conventional diets. Two hundred twenty three of the studies also compared the nutritional value or level of bacterial, fungal or pesticide contamination of various products grown both conventionally and organically.

The researchers, led by Dena M. Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy, then concluded that there was very little benefit to eating organic foods.

There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health,” Bravata said in an email.

Since its release, the study has come under major scrutiny from numerous organizations over the depth of its research.

The Organic Consumers Association, a non-profit organization campaigning for “health, justice and sustainability” in organic foods, has approached the study with hesitation.

Although the association hasn’t drafted its own official response to the study, Melinda Suelflow, a campaign assistant for the organization, pointed to the research of Charles Benbrook from the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University to support the group’s continued support for organic foods.

“We don’t believe that organic foods are the same as conventional (foods),” Suelflow said. “Organic food is safer and it’s healthier. Everyone talks about your risks of pesticide residues on your food. … Hands down, organics are better for you.”

In response to the study, Benbrook said Bravata’s conclusions about organic foods were based solely on previously published research.

Benbrook said very few studies are designed or conducted in a way that could show the impact of a switch to organic food from the many other factors that affect an individual’s health, adding that studies that attempt to prove so would be very expensive, with none having been carried out in the U.S so far.

Mark Kastel, a senior farm policy analyst and co-founder for the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based policy group representing organic farmers, has also been reluctant to accept the study.

Their study failed to look at the cumulative effects of contamination in many different food items in one’s diet,” Kastel said in an email. “They discounted many of the studies, including (those) by the USDA, that show our conventional food supply’s nutritional content has dropped precipitously over the last 50 years.  This has been attributed to the declining health of our farms’ soil, and healthy soil leads to healthy food.  Organic farming’s core value is building soil fertility.”

Mara Thompson, a junior in the College of Engineering, looked at the study and the hype surrounding it and still believes organic food has more benefits than its conventional counterpart. 

“I like organic food.” Thompson said. “It may be more expensive than nonorganic food, but to pay a little extra for the additional peace of mind, that’s all I can ask for.”