Organic foods cost more than conventional ones, and they’re said to be no more nutritious. So why buy organic? The Annals of Internal Medicine published a study that turned out to be quite controversial. After reviewing 17 human studies and 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in unprocessed fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, eggs, chicken, pork, and meat, researchers at Stanford University concluded that published scientific literature “lacks broad evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.” The study findings set off a mini-media firestorm: headlines and sound bites proclaimed that organic food is no better for you than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables or conventionally-raised chicken, cattle and pigs.
But that’s not the point of eating organic.
The point is that conventionally grown produce is sprayed with pesticides (including fungicides, insecticides and herbicides) while only natural fertilizers are used to promote the growth of organic fruits and vegetables. Conventionally raised animals destined for your dinner table are fed antibiotics and growth hormones. Organically raised animals don’t get antibiotics or growth hormones. They eat organic feed and by law must have access to the outdoors.
We’re now beginning to see the impact of organic vs. conventionally produced food on human health. Read on:
- In a letter published in the Annals of Internal Medicine criticizing the Stanford study, Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., research professor and program leader for Measure to Manage (M2M): Farm and Food Diagnostics for Sustainability and Health at Washington State University, used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program, to calculate a 94% reduction in health risk as a result of eating organically grown forms of six pesticide-intensive fruits: strawberries, apples, grapes, blueberries, pears and peaches. In his letter Dr. Benbrook cited studies reporting “relatively consistent relationships” between levels of organophosphate (pesticides) metabolites in the blood and urine of women during pregnancy and in umbilical cord blood upon birth and the prevalence of birth defects and developmental problems that can lead to retarded motor function, intelligence and aberrant behavior” as their babies grow up.
- Another critic of the Stanford study, Brenda Eskenazi, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, said the researchers missed opportunities to examine the relationship of pesticides and health outcomes showing up in a growing number of studies. One of Dr. Eskenazi’s studies divided more than 300 kids into five groups depending on their prenatal levels of exposure to pesticides. She and her team found a difference of seven IQ points between 7-year-olds in the kids exposed to the lowest levels of pesticides compared to youngsters with the most exposure. Here, exposure was measured by pesticide metabolite levels in the urine of the children’s mothers during pregnancy.
- In a review published in Environmental Health Perspectives, David C. Bellinger, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, wrote that subtle impacts of organophosphate pesticides on children’s brain development can have “substantial population-wide impacts”. He wrote that other researchers had noted that “a modest downward shift in mean IQ scores” translates to a substantial increase in people with extremely low (IQ) scores.”
- In a study published in the journal Pediatrics Dr. Bellinger and his co-authors found a “strong correlation” between the level of pesticides detected in the urine of children and the presence Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. The higher the pesticide exposure, the more likely kids were to have ADHD.
- In a review of studies on environmental contaminants published in March of this year, Dr. Bellinger wrote that “evidence is persuasive that prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides at levels of exposure that are prevalent in the general population is detrimental to children’s neurodevelopment. Many details about the relationship remain to be clarified, but given the prevalence of prenatal exposures that have been linked to adverse outcomes, additional research on this topic is clearly warranted.”
That’s why I believe that whenever possible, it is best to buy organic.
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