• The Real Truth About Stanford University’s Study Claiming Organic Produce Isn’t Healthier

    A controversy has started due to a recent study published by Stanford University, which claimed ”Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods.” Coming from such a well-known and respected source, many of us are left wondering if organic food is just a scam to get us to spend more money. This article will break down the details of the study, so you can decide for yourself.

    The first thing that sticks out when you read through the study is that it seems to be quite biased and skims over any points that would suggest organic is healthy. It does point out some benefits of organic foods, but those benefits are toned down with the author’s use of language. Here are some examples of this:

    Organic study StanfordIt states that, “researchers found that organic produce had a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination than conventional fruits and vegetables,” but then it undercuts that finding by immediately stating that organic foods are not necessarily completely free from pesticides and that traces of pesticides found in both organic and conventional foods are at levels lower than the EPA regulations.

    The problem with these statements is that there is a huge debate as to whether the allowed amounts of pesticides in our fruits and vegetables are in fact as safe as they have been presented to us. The industry is finally being challenged and debates about pesticides are everywhere. Surely, this is a factor that shouldn’t be brushed over.

    In addition, while organic foods can be tainted with pesticides from a nearby conventional farming field, the levels of pesticides are considerably lower than those found in conventional foods, and evidence shows that the difference is closer to 80% that the 30% they calculated from their findings.

    The study points out that “organic chicken and pork appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” but then again undercuts that finding by saying the significance of that is unclear. Had they done their research, they would have found those findings to be quite clear as a study conducted by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health concludes.

    The article claimed that there were no consistent differences in the vitamin content of organic produce, but then it goes on to say that there was only one nutrient (phosphorus) that was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown products but that few people have phosphorus deficiencies, and therefore that finding has no significance.

    In addition to the overall tone of the article, it also seems to be quite incomplete in the research that was done. For example:

    • It focused mostly on nutrients and not on the overall health benefits of buying organic, but most people who purchase organic foods do so to avoid the pesticides and antibiotics added to the foods, not necessarily to gain more nutrients. The buzz surrounding organic food is almost always related to pesticides, so why would they brush over that point?
    • It was based on the review of studies that ranged from two days to two years in length. How can the long-term affects of consuming a “cocktail of pesticides” possibly be measured on data collected in that limited time range?
    • Some people argue that their numbers were inaccurate. Chuck Benbrook, a research professor from Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, states in his valuable critique of the study that the methods that were used to calculate the pesticide content in conventional produce was deceptive and incorrect. He says correct findings would show an 80% lower incidence of pesticides in organic produce compared to conventional produce, instead of the 30% calculated in the study.
    • In an article posted by Huffington Post, Walter Robb, CEO of Whole Foods points out that “the authors failed to include more research that found ‘the nutrient intensity of organic food was 20% to 50% greater’ than that of conventional foods,” and that “The Stanford team is a bunch of doctors and clinicians, and they took on a project completely outside their training and experience.”

    One good thing will hopefully come out of this study, and that is to regulate and monitor organic foods more closely. Much of our USDA approved produce (whether organic or not) can be considered questionable to a degree since it often comes from outside countries that have low regulations. This might be accounting for some of Stanford’s findings that organic is no different than conventional.

    Plus, a large percentage of our domestic produce comes from large farming conglomerates that use questionable methods like growing organic food next to conventional food and getting by with soil that is depleted of its nutrients (a fruit or vegetable is only as good as its soil).

    Hopefully Stanford’s study will inspire a change in our domestic farming regulations and our screening of imported produce to ensure it is of the highest quality. Until then, the best way to avoid this issue is to buy produce from local, independent organic farmers, who usually have much higher standards (or you could certainly grow your own).

    As a final point, do you remember back to the day when there were debates about whether cigarette smoking was bad for you or not? This is a different time; same story, and it all comes down to what people are willing to do for profits. It turns out that Dr. Ingram Olkin, one of the co-authors of the study, was a “key component in Big Tobacco’s use of anti-science to attack whistleblowers and attempt to claim cigarettes are perfectly safe,” as pointed out by an InfoWars article called, Busted: Co-Author of Flawed Stanford Organic Study Has Deep Ties to Big Tobacco’s Anti-Science Propaganda. The article goes on to explain that Dr. Olkin was “part of a massive deception campaign intended to smear any real information over the serious dangers of cigarette smoking using ‘black ops’ disinformation techniques.”

    In addition, the article explains that Stanford receives more secret donations than any other university in the United States, and that “there’s little doubt that many of these donations come from wealthy corporations who seek to influence Stanford’s research, bending the will of the science departments to come into alignment with corporate interests (GMOs, pesticides, etc).” Just as the cigarette industry didn’t want to lose profits by allowing people to know they were unsafe, the conventional produce industry doesn’t want to lose profits to organic farmers either.

    There will always be two sides of a story, but ultimately, when it comes to your health, the choice is yours. To interject my own opinion for a moment, it seems quite clear to me that if you are spraying chemicals on your food to kill insects and then you are consuming that food, you are damaging your health. In my eyes, it doesn’t take a bunch of studies or proof. I see the rise in illnesses, such as cancer, and I see the rise in chemical use across the country. How could they not be linked?

    Sources:

    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/08/going-organic-reduces-drug-resistance-on-poultry-farms-study-finds/#.UGXphRhAEcg

    http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2012/september/organic.html

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/19/organic-whole-foods-defense_n_1895551.html?view=print&comm_ref=false

    http://www.infowars.com/busted-co-author-of-flawed-stanford-organic-study-has-deep-ties-to-big-tobaccos-anti-science-propaganda/print/

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