Uproar over organic

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By Consumers Union on Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

A new study released this week has caused a panic over organic, with news coverage blaring headlines calling into question the health benefits of organically produced foods.

The report, produced by Stanford University researchers, looked at data from 240 studies comparing organic and conventional samples of produce and meat, and concluded that there is a “lack of evidence” that organic food is more nutritious.  However, their analysis also determined that the “consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

In fact, the research found that 38% of conventional produce contained pesticide residues, while only 7% of organic did.   Furthermore, conventionally raised chicken and pork had a 33% higher risk for carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria than organic meat (which prohibits the use of antibiotics in animals).

But given the (often) higher price tag, should we give up on organic?  Not so fast says Consumer Reports, which reviewed the study and found the media coverage often misleading or oversimplified, and also pointed out several limitations of the study.  One key point?  People don’t necessarily choose organic products because of the belief that they are  inherently more nutritious than their conventional counterparts.   Many opt for organic because of lower exposure to pesticides and antibiotics, and because organic farming practices are more environmentally sound.

The Consumer Reports bottom line?  “It’s worth it to buy organic versions of the foods that are likely to have the highest levels of pesticides when grown conventionally, as well as organic poultry and milk, to reduce exposure to antibiotics. Those choices are especially important for pregnant women and children.”

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