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Scientists Say Organic Food May Not Be Healthier For You 497

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-they'll-make-you-feel-nice-and-smug dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "NPR reports that although organic fruits and vegetables, grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizer, comprise a $29 billion industry that is still growing, a new analysis of 200 peer-reviewed studies that examined differences between organic and conventional food finds scant evidence of health benefits from organic foods. 'When we began this project, we thought that there would likely be some findings that would support the superiority of organics over conventional food,' says Dr. Dena Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford's Center for Health Policy and co-author of the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. 'I think we were definitely surprised.' Some previous studies have looked at specific organic foods and found that they contain higher levels of important nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. For example, researchers found in one study that tomatoes raised in the organic plots contained significantly higher levels of certain antioxidant compounds. But this is one study of one vegetable in one field; when the Stanford researchers looked at their broad array of studies, which included lots of different crops in different situations, they found no such broad pattern. Here's the basic reason: When it comes to their nutritional quality, vegetables vary enormously, and that's true whether they are organic or conventional. One carrot in the grocery store, for instance, may have two or three times more beta carotene than its neighbor. But that's due to all kinds of things: differences in the genetic makeup of different varieties, the ripeness of the produce when it was picked, even the weather. Variables like ripeness have a greater influence on nutrient content, so a lush peach grown with the use of pesticides could easily contain more vitamins than an unripe organic one."
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Scientists Say Organic Food May Not Be Healthier For You

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  • by crow (16139) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:28AM (#41279089) Homepage Journal

    There's a big difference between healthy foods and nutritious foods. People don't buy organic for nutrition. That's what people buy vitamins for. People buy organic food for what it *doesn't* have, namely pesticides (and hormones for meat and dairy).

    This study looks like one that is clearly designed to support industrial farming by distracting consumers. "Hey, you were buying organics for reason A, but it makes no sense to buy organics for reason B, so you should stop."

  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

    by mellon (7048) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:36AM (#41279133) Homepage

    Because if they'd linked to the Stanford site, they would have had to admit that this isn't actually what the study says. Yes, vegetables grown similarly with or without pesticides have similar nutritional content. Hardly shocking. But also, vegetables grown without pesticides don't have pesticide residue!!! Which is why people buy organic food. If you're buying organic because you want more vitamins, sure, switch back to your pesticide-laden foods instead.

  • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:36AM (#41279141) Journal

    No. It's what's known as a "straw man".

    "See, I told you organic food wasn't always more nutritious!"

    1) Organic food has a bit of a wishy-washy definition;

    2) Where the definitions exist, they are re farming methods;

    3) Some people prefer to support those particular farming methods;

    4) And those methods often produce tastier food.

    The most "organic" thing you can do is not have children. Because we have reached the population point where it is very hard to use non-intensive farming methods.

  • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Robadob (1800074) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:47AM (#41279207)
    Blind taste tests have shown that the 'tastier' food thing is psychological.
  • by djmurdoch (306849) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:47AM (#41279211)

    If you go to the Annals of Internal Medicine web page, they advertise the paper with this headline: "Are Organic Foods Healthier? There is little evidence that organic food is more nutritious but it may have fewer pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

    This seems like a much fairer evaluation of the results than the NPR or Slashdot headline.

  • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:48AM (#41279217)

    Is anyone actually surprised by this?

    Probably; Those people who for some reason think that scientists are uninfluenced by money in research or belive that research is neutral. Most slashdotters will also be "unsurprised" for the wrong reasons. They haven't actually read up about this but want to act superior to everyone else. All those groups are wrong (especially the bit about being superior).

    This is the kind of totally stupid irrelevant research which becomes a "talking point". Without actually giving anything useful. "Organic food" is such a wide category ranging from people producing at home for themselves to massive agribiz producing in a way almost identical to the normal inorganic farmers. At the worst end of this they repeatedly crop the same area without replenishing the soil which means almost certainly worse soil nutriants than even a traditional "all chemicals" farmer who at least has a way of putting something, but not nearly everything, back to make up for what he takes out.

    However; there is one key benefit of organic farming; no matter what. The chemicals don't get dumped into the environment; pesticides; basically developed from chemical weapons at low concentration, don't get dumped and don't damage the environment around farms. That directly and indirectly improves health. The people living around the farms stay healthier. The people away from the farms where the pesticides have less reach get a less dispoiled environment which means one which is more likely to survive to keep their descendents alive. Unfortunately this effect won't be measurable directly according to who eats what. Antisocial people in good areas will be healthier. Good people in bad farming areas will be less healthy.

    If you want actual health with your food you will want to go and actually meet the people producing it. Check that they grow it till it's really ready to eat; check that you get it fresh; picked the previous day and not "looks like fresh" gas packed and 12 days decayed. Avoid like hell food from the supermarket in general and especially food from the middle of the supermarket (dried corn products etc..); if you have to shop there go for the edge (fresh unpacked). Make sure that you eat a variety of different things from different places. Make sure it's prepared in a traditional way and not according to some wierd health fad. Healthy is good; organic is good; they are just orthogonal.

  • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:53AM (#41279253)

    I don't eat organic food for some people's claim (which I didn't believe to begin with) that they are more nutritious. I eat them to avoid pesticides, growth hormones, animal antibiotics and other crap from bio-accumulating in my system.

    This study is a complete diversion and avoids dealing with the crux of the matter.

  • Re:Pesticides (Score:5, Informative)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:04AM (#41279301) Homepage

    Organic food has plenty [berkeley.edu] of [sciencedaily.com] pesticides [ufl.edu] too [colostate.edu]. Most of them are worse than the synthetic ones.

    Pesticide free...? Nature has its own pesticides. Many plants, especially fruit trees, produce their own pesticides when attacked by insects. These pesticides are *inside* the fruit and can be very toxic. You can prevent their formation (ie. make the fruit less toxic) by applying artificial pesticides when the insects appear.

  • hmm (Score:4, Informative)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:14AM (#41279355)
    Haven't dug through the details to figure out who's more believable, but here [motherjones.com] are some criticisms of the study.
  • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:23AM (#41279409) Homepage

    Google for "Organic vs Inorganic Taste Test" then select "videos"...eg this one [youtube.com]

  • by andydouble07 (2344014) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:23AM (#41279413)
    Organic food is not sprayed with synthetic pesticides. They may or may not have pesticide residues, and the synthetic stuff is generally safer.
  • by Joce640k (829181) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:33AM (#41279455) Homepage

    Yes. Organic food is not sprayed with pesticides. Hence, it contains no pesticide residue.

    Simply not true.

  • by trout007 (975317) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:37AM (#41279489)

    Of course organic food is sprayed with pesticides. I try grow my own food as organic as possible and use pesticides all the time. Do you think magic keeps the bugs off? I just put up a sign that says "Dear bugs I'm trying to grow organic food here, please leave"?

    No the difference is we use pesticides and fertilizers that are derived from natural sources. But some of the pesticides are still hazardous if used incorrectly. Many are toxic to fish and amphibians.

  • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

    by toQDuj (806112) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:50AM (#41279567) Homepage Journal

    Except, of course, that "organic" is not synonymous for "no pesticides". On the contrary, organic food has also been sprayed with pesticides, just different ones.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:51AM (#41279575) Homepage Journal

    Here's the thing, the horribly mis-named "organic" farming originally meant a whole lot more than this USDA Organic garbage. It referred to using a "natural" cycle of poop into soil into food into poop rather than the psuedolinear system of oil-fertilizer+pesticides-plant-poop-waste.

    When you use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides you destroy soil diversity and make it literally impossible for the soil to support a plant without synthetic fertilizers. You wind up growing hydroponically, in a dirt medium. You can no longer justifiably call it soil, because healthy soil contains living constituents and is primarily made up of organic matter.

    We need to stop throwing away shit. If you take a look at the gross mismanagement of pigshit in this country, you will be stunned in every possible way. But if you collect it in a tank (the fact that the pigs are being raised in such a way that it is actually economically feasible to collect their shit centrally is another part of the problem, but we'll take it as a continued given for the extent of this comment) you can "cook" it under its own power and get methane out, perhaps then converting it to electricity on-site. Some pig-raising operations are actually energy-positive under such a plan, selling power back to the grid as they produce more than enough for their own operations. What's left is a safe and effective natural fertilizer, and it cooks itself much more rapidly than it does when left in a holding pond that can break, seep, or overflow due to rain.

    There are plenty of opportunities to do damage to the soil with organic products, so it doesn't necessarily mean that organic products aren't selling out the future for profits today, but it is more likely. Right now it also means it doesn't include GMO ingredients, so in the absence of clear GMO labeling requirements it's the only way to know you're not buying them if you don't want to for one reason or another. Can we get some meaningful food product labeling, please? I want to know the country of origin and anything else important about every ingredient, what year is it anyway? It shouldn't be hard to track this. Provide exemptions for people doing business in their home town if you must, but they ought to have all the information they need if the providers of ingredients have the same responsibilities.

  • Re:Pesticide content (Score:4, Informative)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:56AM (#41279597) Homepage

    Organic foods is bullshit worthy of an episode of Penn and Teller.

    ...which they've actually done [youtube.com]

  • Re:And? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @10:14AM (#41279689) Journal

    If organic has any edge, it's not because it's organic. It's because it gets picked later. Most industrially-grown food is picked very early on when it's extremely unripe and hard as a rock, to minimize bruising during shipping.

    It's so unripe it's not fully developed and doesn't even ripen properly. This is also why things like hothouse tomatoes taste better.

    Science is working on this by using that trout gene, which makes the food stay firmer later into its ripening cycle, allowing it to be picked later and, in theory, thus allowing no bruising and more proper ripening.

    Science to the rescue, again, as usual, against memes.

  • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

    by myowntrueself (607117) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @10:15AM (#41279705)

    Blind taste tests have shown that the 'tastier' food thing is psychological.

    Citation needed.

    Theres a saying "The first bite is with the eye" meaning presentation of food is as important as the actual flavor.

    So blind taste tests are important to determine *actual* tastiness!

  • by sjbe (173966) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @10:31AM (#41279813)

    Organic milk definitely tastes different, and for some reason it lasts 3x longer than regular milk. I don't know if it's technically healthier or not, but it without a doubt tastes very different.

    That's because of how it is usually pasteurized. Look at most organic milk and you'll notice that it typically uses ultra high temperature [wikipedia.org] pasteurization. Products that undergo this process last much longer and it does affect taste. I've had non-organic milk that undergoes the same process and the end product tastes very similar.

  • Re:And? (Score:1, Informative)

    by fustakrakich (1673220) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @10:32AM (#41279825) Journal

    From a link:

    Two studies reported significantly lower urinary pesticide levels among children consuming organic versus conventional diets, but studies of biomarker and nutrient levels in serum, urine, breast milk, and semen in adults did not identify clinically meaningful differences. (emph mine)

    Pretty straight up, no?

  • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @10:41AM (#41279885) Journal

    So all this means nothing:

    Bacterial contamination of retail chicken and pork was common but unrelated to farming method. However, the risk for isolating bacteria resistant to 3 or more antibiotics was higher in conventional than in organic chicken and pork (risk difference, 33% [CI, 21% to 45%]).

    Just actors in 'fashionable' lab coats? Maybe the numbers are small, but they still spell out the benefits of good farming.

    I noticed a lot of comments completely blowing over what's right there in one of the links...

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