by Margie McCavitt
Family and friends asked me about a recent article by Stanford University where “researchers found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods”. The Stanford study reviewed previous research (meta-analysis) and analyzed the nutritional contents of organic and conventionally grown foods. Read the article at: med.stanford.edu/ism/2012/september/organic.html.
As with most early studies of a subject, there are other existing studies that seem to contradict the Stanford statement. An example of one such study can be found at: http://www.organicconsumers.org/Organic/healthier101101.cfm
As a consumer, I continually evaluate the benefits versus cost of products. In light of the Stanford study, I again reevaluated my purchases of organically produced foods, which may cost more than conventionally produced foods. What I found is that for me, the nutritional content of the food was just one of several reasons that I purchase organic foods. Other important reasons why I purchase organic products are:
1). Organic food is safer to eat. With organically grown produce, no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides are applied to meet the plant’s needs. The Stanford study did acknowledge organic foods expose us to fewer pesticides. Their study also states organically grown meat, dairy and eggs reduces our risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Additionally, there are no genetic engineered organisms used in foods grown organically (NOP, National Organic Program) .
2). Organic foods minimize the impact on soil, air, water, wildlife and humans. Growing food organically is a sustainable way to farm. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Adding natural amendments such as manure, compost and cover crops, and practicing crop rotation, builds soil health so it can grow healthy plants and resist pests. In contrast, conventional growers apply synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that deplete the soil’s health and have the potential to contaminate the soil, air, water, wildlife and people. Using insecticides not only kills pests, it kills beneficial insects as well. Herbicides kill weeds but also have the potential to kill native plants necessary for bees and beneficial insects to survive. Moreover, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides impact the health of farm workers who have the responsibility of applying chemicals as well as harvesting crops with toxic residues.
3). Growing organically reduces dependence on non-renewable resources. Organic farming is more labor intensive in comparison to conventional farming. It is a main reason organic products may cost more. Essentially, you are paying for a person(s) to sow the seed; maintain the health of each plant; and harvest the produce. For example, hand weeding requires hours of labor in comparison to operating machinery to perform the task. Lots of fossil fuel is consumed by commercial farms operating machinery to apply herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides.
4). Humane treatment of animals. Many people connect buying organically raised meat, poultry and eggs with more conscientious ranching practices. They care animals are being treated with more compassion. Generally speaking, free-range means a flock has continuous access to the outdoors. Cage-free indicates the flock was able to freely roam in a building. Grass-fed animals receive the majority of their nutrients from grass, enjoying the benefits of being outdoors. In contrast, many factory farmed animals are confined indoors or in feedlots; consequently they are treated with antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease which is prevalent from unnatural confinement. Read more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factory_farm
Hopefully, studies like Stanford’s will entice us to research the issue more and give thought to what is important. What matters most is making healthy choices and eating the freshest, locally grown products available. The freshest produce, picked at its peak of ripeness, just tastes better too! By the way, some produce available and in season are: heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes and onions. Fall crops like butternut and spaghetti squash, persimmons and pomegranates are appearing on the market as well.