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The abstract of a new meta-study, Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review has two sentences in its conclusion. Guess which one is making the headlines?

The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
That's right, it's the first one. The Stanford press release quotes lead author Dena Bravata, MD, MS, as saying:
There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health.
The full study is hidden behind a pay wall, making it even less likely that people would read the whole thing before commenting on it. No doubt, this study will have many people, even parents, breathing a sigh of relief. Finally, justification to save a few cents by buying conventionally raised food so they can use the savings for... what? What is more important that feeding your family food that has about one-third less risk of having pesticides or fierce bacteria on it? Even if you think these risks are fine for your own family, wouldn't you be willing to  waste a little less food so you could afford the type that doesn't give farmers cancer and their children horrific birth defects?

The study's poor quality, obvious misrepresentations, and biased media presentation all points to an anti-organic agenda. And lo, when I started digging, I found connections to Cargill, Monsanto, McDonalds, and more. Don't let Big Ag and Big Food tell you that organic doesn't matter.

The meta-study says:

* There have been no long-term studies of health outcomes of populations consuming predominantly organic versus conventionally produced food controlling for socioeconomic factors
* Our results should be interpreted with caution
* Our comprehensive review ... found limited evidence for the superiority or organic foods

In fact, the peer-reviewed study is full of good news about the health and value of organic food, even while it admits repeatedly that more studies are needed. In other words, there's evidence for choosing organic food even if you only care about safety and nutrition, but the authors don't think it's overwhelming evidence.

So why did the Stanford press release and related interviews imply that only chumps buy organic? After all, as they repeated said, they didn't take any outside money.

But what about the inside money? The money used to fund the researchers and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford? A simple look at FSI's 2011 annual report shows that it is funded by Cargill and others who have a strong financial interest in Monsanto, McDonalds, Walmart, and other businesses that profit from industrial food practices. Bradford M. Freeman is a top one percenter in the Muckety 400, with strong connections to the Republican Party. How strong? He was George Bush's cat sitter!

Read more and vote in my Huffington Post blog post and slide show, which has an illustration of the relationships involved, supporting links, plus pictures of a gorgeous farm and a cute kid with an adorable puppy.

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Comment Preferences

  •  In the interveiw with one of the scientists conduc (0+ / 0-)

    ting the study I heard on ,  gulp, NPR, he said that because residues of pesticides etc were well below safe levels and because organics also many times showed small amounts of the same pesticides, there really was no health/safety concerns about those chemicals.

    I can certainly understand why the organic food industry would dislike this study, and I would love to see more studies, but I've never fully bought into the food police stuff. Organic potato chips are just as useless as, and about as organic as, regular. Oil, salt, potatoes.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 07:12:33 AM PDT

    •  I should add... I just got sent and am about to go (0+ / 0-)

      to walmart to buy ten canisters of salt. We are down to zero and my wife is pickling mustard greens and making those steamed rice with coconut milk inside banana leaves things today. Not sea salt, not organic, just salt, without iodine because that changes the taste for pickling.

      How big is your personal carbon footprint?

      by ban nock on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 07:17:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sounds delicious n/t (0+ / 0-)
      •  Well, it's not what you're buying, in this case. (0+ / 0-)

        It's who you're buying it from that should give you pause. Walmart? Really? You're going to help give the Waltons another few billion?

        As far as the organic food goes, one part of the study is spot-on and the other is very suspicious, given what the actual data they use has to say. The part about organics being nutritionally the same is of course correct and really should be common sense too, if people would think about it. Raising something organic doesn't change what it is, as you rightly point out. An organic potato is still going to have the same nutritional value as every other potato of that variety. Why anyone thought this was not so I can't imagine unless they thought organic farming was somehow able to work magic. The dismissal of contamination, though, was in contravention of their own data and is pretty obviously something they suppressed in order to keep their Big Ag funding.

        As for what you're buying itself, salt is salt unless it's still in a natural form that has impurities in it (like the "specialty" salts that were big a couple of years ago.) Most commercial salt is made in large-scale vacuum evaporators that produce pure sodium chloride. There's no point is "organic salt" since the very process means their identical and both have no impurities at all. So there you made the right choice.

        Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Sun Tzu The Art of War

        by Stwriley on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 10:31:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Disagree. Nobody knows what the safe levels of (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SCFrog, DamselleFly, ichibon, Russgirl, blue91

      pesticide residues are. Just because legal limits may have been set doesn't mean that those limits are definitive.

      One of the strongest scientific links between pesticide exposure and disease involves organophosphate pesticide exposure in children and the development of ADHD. See:

      Here is the conclusion from the abstract of the Stanford study:

      The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
      I have no disagreement with that statement as long as you understand "nutritious" to relate to the useful nutrients that food supplies.

      If you would like to see a more detailed analysis of which organic foods are best at avoiding pesticide exposure, this site seems useful:

      My personal decision as a parent is to keep my kids' pesticide exposure as low as reasonably achievable and that includes purchasing organic food.

  •  Here is a good article that refutes the (5+ / 0-)

    Stanford study:

    including good comments made by a former Executive Director, Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences

    the Stanford report's unorthodox measure "makes little practical or clinical sense," notes Charles Benbrook -- formerly Executive Director, Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences: What people "should be concerned about [is]... not just the number of [pesticide] residues they are exposed to" but the "health risk they face." Benbrook notes "a 94% reduction in health risk" from pesticides when eating organic foods.

    Assessing pesticide-driven health risks weighs the toxicity of the particular pesticide. For example the widely-used pesticide atrazine, banned in Europe, is known to be "a risk factor in endocrine disruption in wildlife and reproductive cancers in laboratory rodents and humans."

    "Very few studies" included by the Stanford researchers, notes Benbrook, "are designed or conducted in a way that could isolate the impact or contribution of a switch to organic food from the many other factors that influence a given individual's health." They "would be very expensive, and to date, none have been carried out in the U.S." [emphasis added].

    I fall down, I get up, I keep dancing.

    by DamselleFly on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 07:20:53 AM PDT

  •  Also...the study is a qualitative study (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AgavePup, SCFrog, Minnesota Deb, Russgirl

    that is...a study that compiles data from prior studies.

    It is not a study in itself.

    And apparently, they have left out some important studies, which presumably don't support the 'findings' of the Stanford 'Study'.

    I fall down, I get up, I keep dancing.

    by DamselleFly on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 07:22:45 AM PDT

    •  No, that's not what qualitative research is. (0+ / 0-)

      Qualitative research addresses purely subjective questions. Let's say you have designed a waiting-room brochure about HIV prevention. You conduct a focus group to get people's impressions. Would you look at this brochure if you just saw it at your doctor's office? Why (not)? What can we do to make it more appealing? This information is not reducible to numbers. So the study is qualitative rather than quantitative.

      The Stanford group conducted a meta-analysis. Meta-analysis is a statistical method to compare, contrast, and ultimately combine numerical data obtained from previous  projects. Small samples have limited power. But if the sample characteristics and methods are similar enough, the samples can be combined to calculate a more accurate estimate of effect size (for example, how well a medication really works). The data included in a meta-analysis must be quantitative.

      Just because you're not a drummer doesn't mean that you don't have to keep time. -- T. Monk

      by susanala on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 10:33:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Eating like our ancestors is now "elitist!" As the (5+ / 0-)

    saying goes "Try organic food. Or as our ancestors called it: Food!"  

    Some of the first exposure to high amounts of pesticides goes to the farmworkers, often undocumented and uninsured. When they get sick and go to the hospital, we get the privileged whiners complaining about 'illegals' using 'our' services, but they do insist on their cheap produce!

    Second, the evidence of the negative health effects of exposure to pesticides is abundant.  

    I cover the cost of buying more organic by buying one less bag of chips, eating out less, and knowing how to cook. I also buy less gas by driving less and buying less stuff I don't really need.    I prioritize my health, especially given I'm a cancer survivor and environmental toxins is one of the suspected culprits in lymphoma.  

    As an example, I regularly make homemade organic pizza for under $2; substantially costs less and is less toxic than any frozen science experiment from the supermarket.  

  •  My inlaws owned a farm in Canada (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ichibon, Russgirl, blue91

    My MIL was one of 14 kids.  Every one of them died of cancer, most of them died in their 40's and 50's.

    They used to crop dust their fields with DDT.  The sacks of DDT were stored in the barn where my husband played when he was a kid.

    He died of cancer in his 40's too.

    There was a time when DDT was thought to be safe.  

    Sometimes it takes years or even decades for these problems to manifest.

    I fall down, I get up, I keep dancing.

    by DamselleFly on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 08:30:47 AM PDT

    •  Farmers today grow separate organic food for them. (0+ / 0-)

      While selling pesticide laden CRAP to us...for profit.

    •  Laura Bush insists George W. eats organic (0+ / 0-)

      DamselleFly, so so sorry about your family. It's tragic when we don't know what we're doing and downright unethical when we do know.

      That's why reports like this make me see red:

      Quoting former executive chef Walter Scheib, Marek notes that First Lady Laura Bush has been “adamant” about eating organic food:


      Both Clinton and Laura Bush were focused on the nutritional value of food, with Bush adamant about using organic products, Scheib says.
      In a blog posting, Scheib wrote that Bush was “adamant that in ALL CASES if an organic product was available it was to be used in place of a non-organic product.”

      Get a free recipe and food news every week in my Cook for Good newsletter. Vote with your fork!

      by Cook for Good on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 10:50:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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