It’s been a month since Stanford University published the findings of a study comparing conventional and organic foods. A lot of headlines I’ve read (especially Yahoo) wrote that organic food is not healthier for you, and this study proved it. My first thought was, “this just can’t be.”
Science Daily (how most media articles portrayed the study)
Little Evidence of Health Benefits from Organic Food, Study Finds
For their study, the researchers sifted through thousands of papers and identified 237 of the most relevant to analyze. Those included 17 studies (six of which were randomized clinical trials) of populations consuming organic and conventional diets, and 223 studies that compared either the nutrient levels or the bacterial, fungal or pesticide contamination of various products (fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, milk, poultry, and eggs) grown organically and conventionally. There were no long-term studies of health outcomes of people consuming organic versus conventionally produced food; the duration of the studies involving human subjects ranged from two days to two years.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods.
It’s interesting how the media can skew people’s perspectives. Most of the comments on various websites were “I knew it!” It’s a scam!” People tend to take media publications at face value; it’s important to remember to be critical of everything you read.
The Dean of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment broke down this situation and study incredibly well. Read the first news article, and then this one in the Huffington Post .
No Difference Between Organic and Conventional Foods?
The fact that the authors are telling media outlets that there “isn’t much difference” between these two types of food is a bit perplexing, because that’s simply not the conclusion of their paper. Here’s a direct quotation from their 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.”
So while the authors found no evidence of a nutritional benefit from organic foods (e.g., with respect to vitamin content), they did find a benefit related to food contamination — namely, lower exposure to pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in organic foods.