Organic Food: Good for the Body and Planet or a Waste of Money?

A new "meta-analysis" by Stanford University finds few differences between conventional and organic produce and meat, with exception of lower pesticide residue levels.

Organic fruit and vegetables have no clear health advantages over regular produce and are no more nutritious despite often costing twice as much, a new Stanford University study has found.

The study, released Tuesday in an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, used data from more than 200 earlier studies conducted over the past 40 years. Researchers, who did not use any outside funding in order to not be perceived as having bias, looked at for evidence that organic fruit, vegetables and meats had more nutritional benefits and less dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli.

But the only advantages to organic products researchers found was that these tended to have less pesticide residue, although the levels were almost always under the allowed safety limits. According to their analysis, 38 percent of non-organic produce contained pesticide residue compared to only 7 percent in organic produce.

No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce.

There was also no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though evidence from a limited number of studies suggested that organic milk may contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

The U.S. sales of organic produce increased from $3.6 billion to $24.4 billion over the past 15 years, according to researchers, affiliated with Stanford’s School of Medicine.

Mark Kastel, a senior farm policy analyst with Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin organization that promotes organic food as a way to support family farms, released a statement Tuesday, saying Stanford researchers "failed to look outside the box" discounting many studies that have shown decreased nutritional content in the conventional food as a result of poor soil. 

He also said that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have become ubiquitous in processed food, contaminated with patented genes by Monsanto and other biotechnology corporations. 

“Consumers should not lose sight of the important impacts of organic agriculture, which produces foods without the use of toxic pesticides that have been linked to an array of health problems, including cancer and ADHD in children," Kastel said. "This study confirmed once again that organic foods contain significantly lower levels of pesticide residues, and that alone should be enough reason for every family to consider exclusively purchasing organic foods."

Do you buy organic? Will these findings impact your shopping habits? Tell us in the Comments below.

Uncle Fishbits September 11, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Ricardo... pardon that. You are 100% correct, and I didn't make myself clear.... I wasn't saying they don't do organic. I just poorly explained that, all things being equal, I rather have a conventionally produced carrot locally made, than organic carrot shipped up from south america. I think local should always trump the arbitrary and loose canon of what it means to be organic, especially with almost no oversight in foreign countries. It just so happens we live in the most ideal of circumstances, hence the breadbasket and cornucopia comment. =) We are beyond lucky, and it's likely most people don't really realize how lucky we all are. Yay! But you are spot on. Thanks for clearing that up. Cheers!
Rebecca Chapman September 11, 2012 at 11:36 PM
thank you, ricardo. as contrived as it sounds, one of the main lessons i've learned over all these crazy years in mill valley is: 'don't make something what it ain't', as in, don't think of a dismal cashiering job as some sort of networking opportunity, don't think of an illegal cottage with a miserable, alcoholic landlady as a peaceful sanctuary, etc., etc. i've made such foolish decisions over the years, and am definitely paying an extra steep price this time. so, yes, hopefully these painful lessons will stick better this time!
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Bob Silvestri September 18, 2012 at 01:55 AM
An investigation into why the results of the recent Stanford University study comparing the nutritional value of organic and conventionally grown food are irrelevant. Why The Stanford Organic Food Meta-Analysis is “Scientific” Nonsense http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-stanford-organic-food-meta-study-is-scientific-nonsense
Bob Silvestri September 18, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Chuck Benbrook of the Organic Center published a response to the Stanford study: http://www.organicconsumers.org/benbrook_annals_response2012.pdf, and Common Dreams reported today on Cornucopia Institute research on the funders of the Stanford study, which include Monsanto and the industrial agriculture conglomerate Cargill. http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2012/09/12-8


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