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Science

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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  • And? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bradmont (513167) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:24AM (#41279071)
    Is anyone actually surprised by this?
    • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:36AM (#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 @07:47AM (#41279207)
        Blind taste tests have shown that the 'tastier' food thing is psychological.
        • Possibly so, though it has been my experience that organic growers tend to choose cultivars for their flavor rather than other qualities, like resistance to pesticides, physical strength (13 mph tomatoes, etc), or ease of cultivating / harvesting with big machines.

          Another factor is that taste is purely subjective, and influenced by a constellation of other senses, past history, and future expectations. It is very likely that knowing that a piece of food was grown on an organic farm increases its tastiness

          • Re:And? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by smpoole7 (1467717) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:44AM (#41279899) Homepage

            > organic growers tend to choose cultivars ...

            Yep. Bingo. Another article -- I believe I saw it here, might have been elsewhere -- showed that you were just as likely to get food-borne illness from organic meats and eggs.

            I think there are certain cases, such as using growth hormones in meat, where the organic has an advantage. But yeah, look at tomatoes: nothing beats a big, juicy, ripe beefsteak grown in your own backyard, whether you fertilize it with chemicals or compost. The tomatoes at the grocery stores -- again, organic or otherwise -- are special cultivars that have been selected for ruggedness and shelf life. Nutritional content (and taste) is secondary to the vendor.

            (I grew up in farming country, folks, and trust me: a solid-red tomato should NOT be crunchy and green on the inside. If it is, it was gassed.)

            When it comes to poultry, again, whether organic or not, the issue is the "plumping" -- how much broth they inject into it, and what went into it. When you say, "I prefer Swift to Hormel turkeys," what you're actually saying is, "I like Swift's injected 'basting' solution better. I don't like the taste of chicken skin, and at present, I've stopped eating Tyson's chicken because they apparently grind up and use the skin in their "plumping" solution. (YMMV, of course.)

            I'm not at all surprised by this study, and I expect that others will bear this out as well.

        • Re:And? (Score:4, Informative)

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

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:07PM (#41280831)

          The NPR article and the study that it reports upon starts with the wrong premise. Taste is not the only consideration. Here are some other issues that should be considered when purchasing food:

          Localvore:

          -Was the food grown locally, benefitting local farmers, or does the apple sauce come from China, and blueberries from Chile?
          -Does the food grown distantly consume more fuel to bring it to market?
          -Do you mind eating frozen foods that are out of season locally?
          -Does supporting local farmers create a more vibrant local economy?

          Contamination:

          -Do environmental conditions and industrial food processing allow the food to be contaminated?
            http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FoodContaminantsAdulteration/Metals/ucm280223.htm

          Fertilizers:

          -Does your purchase support farming that pollutes rivers, creates brown tides in estuaries, and dead zones in the ocean?
          -Is the fertilizer derived from petroleum, and does that process cause pollution of it's own?
          -Is the fertilizer biologically contaminated? (For instance, E-coli)

          Pesticides:

          -Does the method of farming reduce beneficial insects, such as bees?
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colony_collapse_disorder
          -Are their traces of pesticides left in or on food items?
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daminozide

          Biodiversity:

          -Do you want to support a system of monoculture which eliminates varieties of plants and animals because they are not commercially profitable?
          -Does the increasing lack of diversity contribute to disease blights which wipe out crops such as potatos and bananas?
          -Does growing invasive species create a risk for local wildlife
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_carp

          Sustainability:

          -Is the farming method water neutral?
          -Does the farming method create dust bowls?
          -Can the farming method be sustained in the long term?
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Sisters_%28agriculture%29

          Processing:

          -Does industrial processing, mechanical separation, and handling contribute to contaminiation? (For example, salmonella)
          -Is the jar of peanut butter filled with corn syrup (non-seperating), more healthy to eat than the one that contains only peanuts (oli seperates)?
          -Does the processing of the food kill off beneficial bacteria flora?
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gut_flora

          GMO's:

          -Do the tomatos on the store shelf have fish genes spliced into their DNA?
          http://thegreendivas.com/2011/06/10/waiter-theres-a-fish-in-my-tomato-a-gmo-story/
          -Are foods that create their own pesticides safe to eat?
          -Have GMO plants and animals proven themselves to be historically safe, with minimal unforseen consequences?
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africanized_bee

          Political:

          Do you want to support ADM and Monsanto who manipulate the FDA and sue farmers who choose not to use their products?
          Do you want to support banana companies, and coffee companies that mistreat and neglect workers?
          Is it rational for countries such as Ethiopia to grow crops for corporations to export while starving local populations recieve international food aid?

          The answers to these questions cause me to support local, organic, sustainable products wherever I find them.

      • 4) And those methods often produce tastier food.

        Debatable. While my own experience is hardly data, I've tried all sorts of organic and non-organic food and frankly I cannot tell the difference most of the time and I've never met anyone else who can either without seeing the label on the product. I defy anyone to take a blind taste test on eggs from your local mega-mart and tell me they can tell the difference between organic and non-organic. Same with produce or most other foods. It is true that with more careful farming techniques you can get better

        • by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:02AM (#41279295) Journal

          We grow lots of our own food. We do "blind taste tests" from time the time and it is fucking easy to work out which is the home-grown stuff. If you operate on a small enough scale to watch your plants individually grow, pick at the right time and select the best fruits for next year's seeds, you are going to get the best food. Could we still operate non-organically? Well, we could use pesticides, slug-killers, etc., but I absolutely do not want to discourage cooperative insects or kill garden wildlife/cats.

          So, supermarket organic stuff which is "organic" in the sense of merely sticking to some list of requirements (e.g. "no pesticide") may not be tastier. You are buying for the farming method.

          But "organic" in the practical sense - at least in the UK (supermarket veggies when I was in northern VA were, without exception, ghastly) - tends to mean more than simply following that list. If nothing else, the produce is picked at the right time and arrives at the supermarket quicker and fresher.

          • by sjbe (173966) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:19AM (#41279385)

            We grow lots of our own food. We do "blind taste tests" from time the time and it is fucking easy to work out which is the home-grown stuff.

            Home grown is not the same thing and not what is being discussed. I have a garden too and our tomatoes (organically grown for what it is worth) taste better than anything I can get from the grocery store if for no other reason than I can actually pick them when they are ripe. But that's a different issue. I'm merely talking about food in the grocery store with the label organic on it. Quite simply I've never seen any persuasive evidence that organic food from the grocery store is tastier or more nutritious than non-organic food and I've never met anyone who could tell the difference just by taste or appearance.

            So, supermarket organic stuff which is "organic" in the sense of merely sticking to some list of requirements (e.g. "no pesticide") may not be tastier. You are buying for the farming method.

            Sort of. Unfortunately seeing organic on a label doesn't mean nearly as much as people think it does. It's a pretty narrowly defined term with loopholes you can drive a tanker truck through.

            • I'm merely talking about food in the grocery store with the label organic on it.

              Where are you at? The well-known organic providers around here clearly select cultivars for taste and pick at the right time. IOW they, uh, *business-speak mode* leverage the organic brand with value-added tastiness.

              Sort of. Unfortunately seeing organic on a label doesn't mean nearly as much as people think it does. It's a pretty narrowly defined term with loopholes you can drive a tanker truck through.

              True enough. Like I said, I think it depends where you are: where I have stayed in the US, supermarket "organic" labels seems to mean fuck all but "costs slightly more".

          • by Joce640k (829181) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:30AM (#41279443) Homepage

            Yep. 99% of the flavor of a tomato is whether it was picked when it was red on the plant or picked when it was green then ripened in a truck on the way to the store.

            You can try it at home if you have plants. Pick a green one and ripen it on a window ledge. When it's nice and red pick a red one off the plant and compare the flavor. Remember, these are from the exact same plant...

            Taste has very little to do with organic vs. inorganic and an awful lot to do with how it spent its last few hours. Stuff which ripens fast then goes mushy (bananas, tomatoes, strawberries...) is very susceptible to this.

        • by Will.Woodhull (1038600) <wwoodhull@gmail.com> on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:34AM (#41279467) Homepage Journal

          You are measuring it wrong. So is the TFA and the damnfool study it is based on.

          Organic farming is not about tastiness. It is about using farming methods that enhance the local ecosystem rather than relying on fertilizers and pesticides that cripple big parts of the ecosystem, both at the farm and downstream from its fields. The opposite of organic farming is Monsanto, Round-Up, and burning 7 Calories of diesel fuel to get 1 Calorie of lettuce to market.

          That many who buy organic food find it tastier has to do with same factors that make a Thanksgiving Day turkey taste better than a turkey served up on a sweltering July day. Taste is an experience with a rich psychological component involving memories and future expectations. It is not simply a matter of signals from neurons on the tongue.

          • by presidenteloco (659168) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @11:56AM (#41280761)

            Absolutely:

            Organic agriculture is (as originally intended anyway) about things like:

            Not using practices or chemicals that are destructive to the local or downstream ecosystems.
                  - Pesticides - kill birds, cause cancer,
                  - massive doses of nitrogen fertilizers - require a massive energy-intensive petrochemical industry, destroy downstream ocean life.
                  - Monocultures - destructive of genetic diversity, more susceptible to massive crop failure if you don't addict yourself to high chemical dosing.
                  - GMOs - imply monoculture - create specialized and thus adaptively fragile crops which are dependent on industrial-scale inputs, and which threaten natural bio-diversity and in general threaten the operation of the natural selection process of eco-system self-maintenance.

            Using practices that maintain (sustain) the ability of the local ecosystem to support the agricultural yield by itself for an extended period of time:
                - leave the land in as good productivity as you found it, without massive inputs.
                  - techniques like rotation, co-planting, use of compost to build soil,etc.

            Using practices (fair-trade) that are fair to agricultural workers and small-scale land-holders, that continue to employ them, that give them a stake in their output and in maintaining their land and community, and that don't damage their health through exposure to pesticides etc.

        • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:51AM (#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.

          • by myowntrueself (607117) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:21AM (#41279743)

            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.

            So... organic farming isn't about not making food from metal, stone or other INORGANIC substances such as silica gel????

        • by myowntrueself (607117) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:18AM (#41279715)

          4) And those methods often produce tastier food.

          Debatable. While my own experience is hardly data, I've tried all sorts of organic and non-organic food and frankly I cannot tell the difference most of the time and I've never met anyone else who can either without seeing the label on the product. I defy anyone to take a blind taste test on eggs from your local mega-mart and tell me they can tell the difference between organic and non-organic

          I can always tell the difference between organic and inorganic food. The inorganic food is always either gritty or metallic.

      • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:53AM (#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:And? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Rei (128717) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:57AM (#41279271) Homepage

          Which, in my experience, is why most people eat organic foods. Why are there so many studies on nutritional content when that's not why most people eat organic?

          I don't target organics in my diet personally, but I know a straw man when I see one.

          • If I had my cynical hat on, I'd say that it's hard to discourage people from eating organic "because it's better for you" or "because it's better for the environment".

            So instead you think up random ways that it's not better for you. For example, contrary to popular opinion, eating organic bananas does not make your wang grow larger.

          • Health and fashion (Score:5, Insightful)

            by sjbe (173966) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:36AM (#41279479)

            Why are there so many studies on nutritional content when that's not why most people eat organic?

            People eat organic because they perceive it is healthier or more nutritious or tastier (or all of the above) or because it is fashionable to do so. The problem is that there is limited evidence that it actually has the benefits that are typically claimed. The theory of organic farming seems to make sense - keeping the nasty industrial chemicals and pesticides out seems like it should result in a healthier product. I'll freely admit that, in theory, organic farming seems to make sense. Problem is that just because this seems to make sense doesn't mean it actually results in a product with the benefits claimed. The jury is still out but so far the evidence is very poor that organic food is measurably superior in ways that affect health or taste for most people. There's nothing wrong with eating organic food but by doing so one is accepting a theory that so far is unproven by science. A leap of faith if you will.

            I think the fashion aspect of organic food is actually the strongest reason a lot of people eat organic or specialty foods. While not exactly the same thing, go into a Whole Foods store and look a the amount of gluten free foods. Genuine gluten allergies are quite rare but people claiming to have a problem with gluten is quite fashionable lately for reasons that I don't really understand. There is far more gluten free food than would be justified by the actual number of people who have diagnosable health problems with gluten. It's a placebo effect to be sure. I think organic food is similarly fashionable. People perceive a benefit (real or not) based on what others are saying/doing and so they think it might be worth doing too. Remember that the strongest marketing message ever is "everyone else is doing it".

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by fustakrakich (1673220)

              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..

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by gchiker (1295124)

              Yes, there are different aspects to the subject of organic food. One would be nutritional value, and another would be avoidance of toxins, like pesticides.
              I recall one article I read that headlined something like "Organic food no more nutritious". Then I read further on how the study was done, and was really surprised.
              Tomatoes were grown in two groups, one using pesticides, the other group without pesticides. Then the tomatoes were tested for a few nutrients.
              Sort of like painting your car a different color

            • by Alef (605149) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @10:51AM (#41280295)

              People eat organic because they perceive it is healthier or more nutritious or tastier (or all of the above) or because it is fashionable to do so.

              Where do people do this? Maybe there are cultural differences at play, but where I live, those are rarely the reasons people eat organic food. I have never understood why some people (Americans?) keep bringing up health with regard to organic food.

              When I buy organic food, it has got nothing to do with me or my health. I, and more or less everyone else I know, do it because it usually means the food is produced in such a way as to reduce the strain on the surrounding environments, for instance using less pesticides, and when animals are involved there are stricter requirements on how they are treated (size of pens etc.). In fact, in Swedish it isn't even called "organic" (whatever that is supposed to mean), but "ecological food", for this very reason.

              Everything doesn't have to be about what gives you the most, or costs you the least amount of money.

              (And before anyone starts accusing me of trying to be fashionable now, let me just say that then you really don't know me. Besides, organic food stopped being fashionable in the 90:s around here.)

            • by gr8_phk (621180)

              The problem is that there is limited evidence that it actually has the benefits that are typically claimed.

              If you think pesticides have NO net effect on people, then you'd be correct. Showing food with vs without pesticides have the same nutritional content while ignoring the pesticide content, and then saying there is no benefit is rather dishonest.

          • Re:And? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by gutnor (872759) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:54AM (#41279587)

            One of the problem is that organic food tends to be more expensive, so they made up the argument that the price difference was compensated by nutritional difference.

            I don't know personally whose people that argument was supposed to convince. In my experience, either you shop for the cheap food or you shop for good food. Organic or not, price between good food and the cheapest one is massive, especially if you live in a big city with no direct access to local producers.

        • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

          by toQDuj (806112) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:50AM (#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 Joce640k (829181)

      Nope.

      PS: The flavor of a tomato depends 99% on when it was picked, nothing more.

      (Yes, we did the tomato-taste experiment at home...)

    • Re:And? (Score:5, Informative)

      by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:48AM (#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.

    • by mellon (7048)

      You know, I've been buying organic food for over thirty years now, and I can't think of a single time when I've picked an organic tomato over a conventional tomato because the organic one looked nicer. It's always been because I don't want to die early because I've been consuming endocrine disruptors and other scary chemicals my whole life.

      Interestingly, this study actually mentions that organic produce contains less pesticide residue (surprise!). But the /. article doesn't mention that—it just ac

      • by Entropius (188861)

        If "less" refers to quantities which are in any case measured in parts per trillion, do we care?

        If various fungal byproducts will hurt me in large concentrations, and fungicide will hurt me in large concentrations, is it a good thing or a bad thing to use a fungicide which leaves a residue of one part per trillion in order to reduce the fungal byproduct concentration by a factor of ten?

    • by cvtan (752695)
      No surprise to me. This is expected when you have scientific investigation of religious beliefs.
    • Re:And? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by frisket (149522) <peter AT silmaril DOT ie> on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:37AM (#41279491) Homepage
      No. The difference is not (and was never expected to be) that organic food contains more or better nutrients. The difference is that organic food does NOT contain the stuff that's bad for you (pesticides, growth hormones, toxic compounds, heavy metals, etc). Scanning previous studies, peer-reviewed or not, is interesting, but is in no way a substitute for new research. This kind of report just gives science a bad name.
    • by Hadlock (143607)

      I always looked at it as a more sustainable, less toxic way of growing food. Any nutrition improvements would be a bonus, but I don't know of any literature that said definitively that organic was somehow healthier for your digestive tract.

  • There's been no biochemical model that I know of that supported the organic is better assertion. Anyone know of one?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mellon (7048)

      Yes. Organic food is not sprayed with pesticides. Hence, it contains no pesticide residue. That is why people buy organic food. That is the biochemical model. As to the nutritional content of organic food, that ought to depend on the vegetables being grown and the soil in which they are grown; the only reason a pesticide would change that would be if it were actually metabolized by the plant, which would be a really impressively bad thing. Although I guess weed killers actually are metabolized b

      • by andydouble07 (2344014) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:23AM (#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 @08:33AM (#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 @08:37AM (#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.

        • There's a difference between the original motivations of organic food production
          and the USDA definition of 'organic' . The USDA is driven by market and industry
          lobbies.

          The problem is use of the term 'Organic' which has been easily co-opted by
          the agrobusiness industry.

          A better name for the original expectations of organic patrons would probably be
          'Agro-Chemical-Free-Certified'. But now we also have GMO to contend with
          which can build the pesticide into the genes of the plant.
          ie: Texas cattle killed by dry GM

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Joce640k (829181)

      Don't hold your breath.

      Most health nuts don't read studies, they rely on their gut feelings plus whatever they hear that reinforces their beliefs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:26AM (#41279081)

    with which my ancestors did not co-evolve, not because I think they're more nutritious. Who said they were more nutritious anyway? Did I miss another memo?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by simplexion (1142447)
      Do you know how much dihydrogen monoxide is in organic foods? I've heard that shit is potentially deadly.
      • by broggyr (924379)
        It's lethal if inhaled or ingested in large quantities.
      • Do you know how much dihydrogen monoxide is in organic foods? I've heard that shit is potentially deadly.

        Potentially? Nobody has survived ingestion of that substance, in the long run - it is indeed 100% fatal!

      • We assume that di-hydrogen monoxide is not a chemical the AC and his/her ancestors either did not grow up or did not evolve with. So you are changing the subject.

        We are also pretty sure that non-dangerous levels of H2O are used in the production of organic foods, and non-dangerous levels are contained in them, as well.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      Thing is:

      a) Everything is made of "chemicals"

      b) Some of the traditional "organic" chemicals are really really bad, much worse than the modern ones. eg. copper salts as pesticides - quite common among organic farmers.

      c) There's no certification or control of what is/isn't organic. Mostly it's just colored stickers on things to increase their retail price. If you dig deeper the stickers mean nothing. It's just people meeting a demand for hipster food with high smugness pricing&labeling.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:26AM (#41279085)

    I'm curious to know who funded this study? My guess is on the non-organic industry did.. Academic research is four times more likely to be favorable to who paid for for the study.

  • by crow (16139) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:28AM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Gordonjcp (186804)

      You know, it's only in the US that animals are routinely pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. In the rest of the world it's discouraged if not actually illegal.

      If I lived in the US I'd be vegan. Oh, wait, the vegetables are full of chemical crap too. Well, it's a good job I'm not in the US, then.

    • by mellon (7048) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:41AM (#41279167) Homepage

      Actually, the study looks at both issues, and says that in fact organics do contain less pesticide residue. However, for some reason what's actually said in newspaper reports that link to the study is that "organics are no different." So don't blame Stanford for this—blame the reporters. If you ever thought the news was unbiased, this ought to give you some food for thought...

      • by whitesea (1811570)

        Actually, the study looks at both issues, and says that in fact organics do contain less pesticide residue. However, for some reason what's actually said in newspaper reports that link to the study is that "organics are no different." So don't blame Stanford for this—blame the reporters. If you ever thought the news was unbiased, this ought to give you some food for thought...

        Yes, but would this food for thought be organic, pesticide-covered or genetically engineered?

    • You make the same distinction I do - Nutrition is a part of how 'Healthy' a food is, but not all of it.

      Still, there's problems organic foods, in that farmers are still free to use fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. They just have to be 'organic'* ones, and some of those are nastier than the artificial chemical ones. Also, there's the question of food [nytimes.com] safety [organicconsumers.org], as organic certification is separate from safety certification. Fecal matter, E-Coli, Salmonella, etc are all natural and organic, after all.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      There is a very good reason to buy organic food : sustainability. It causes less pollution and uses less synthetic additives (which are often derived from fossil resources).

      The "good for your health" is more of a marketing tool for people too concerned about themselves than about the planet. It has always disturbed me that people call organic food healthier : in the past decades, food quality has gone up. Intoxications are rare, parasites are fought, rotten food is less hidden in processed food. Organic f
      • by sjbe (173966) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @09:04AM (#41279647)

        There is a very good reason to buy organic food : sustainability. It causes less pollution and uses less synthetic additives (which are often derived from fossil resources).

        And your evidence for this is what? Nice theory but you seem to have so far merely asserted that your claim is true. Organic food actually requires more work to farm per unit of food. Even proponents will not dispute that crop yields are significantly lower. Just because you use less fertilizer or pesticides does not automatically mean that less resources or pollution were generated during its production. It still has to be planted, irrigated, harvested, transported and tended - all of which use vast amounts of energy and cause pollution. With non-organic methods you can produce more food using less space and with less of certain resources so at some level there appears to be a trade off. You might be actually right but it's not merely a simple or obvious assertion that organic is somehow more sustainable than non-organic. You need actual evidence to determine that.

    • It seems to me that the there's a potential problem with these kinds of studies, which makes me want to ask what are they really proving vs. what conclusions are people drawing from it. People seem to want to look at a study like this and say, "See! There's no point in all this 'organic' nonsense. We should just use every pesticide and hormone and GMO technique we can without worrying!" And that seems like it's probably a few steps too far.

      "Organic" is just a technical classification. You can have two

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've always thought that people who eat organic food for health reasons do so to avoid ingesting pesticide residue, not because they think organic food is more nutritious. Yet every study of this type seems to look at micronutrient content and ignore the health effects of consuming pesticides in food.

    Is there a health benefit to eating produce that doesn't contain pesticide residues? (Or at least, contains vastly smaller residues?)

  • There's this problem of comparing unripe apples and ripe oranges. What the fuck, dudes?
    First of, there's this stupid comparison of ripe X versus unripe Y. Then, I'd take a less nutritive organic peach over a pesticide-filled ripe peach any day. Sure, might take me two over one in terms of nutrition, but at least those two are not sprinkled with shit.

    • by whitesea (1811570)
      If they are organic, then this is probably precisely what they are sprinkled with. After all it's an organic fertilizer :-).
  • by harvey the nerd (582806) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:35AM (#41279127)
    "Scientists" may be using poor analysis methods; journal may suffer various biases including membership and advertising income sources. The paper sounds more like oranges, apples and orangutans were compared for a new agenda driven Rorschach test.
  • Do Not Forget (Score:5, Insightful)

    by assertation (1255714) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:37AM (#41279145)

    Don't forget that organic food isn't just about increased nutritional content( and that is assuming this study is telling the truth, for example, Stanford has ties to Monsanto).

    Organic farming is also about food security. Having food at all. Conventional farming uses fertilizer made from oil. A finite resource that is running out. Making artificial fertilizer has been polluting and destroying our environment........including farm land and drinkable water.

    Organic food is also about human health in terms of pesticide use. When you buy organic food you aren't consuming the pesticide that is used on other crops. You are also aren't contributing to the manufacture and disposal of pesticides which is getting into your soil, your water and effecting your health indirectly.

    • by lbbros (900904)

      and that is assuming this study is telling the truth, for example, Stanford has ties to Monsanto

      If that's the case, debunk the science of the article, and not question the results merely basing on "ties": if it were published due to a "push" it would have flaws, wouldn't it?.

      Surely peer review has faults, but do you think this paper didn't go through it?

  • I haven't tried eating inorganic food - whats it taste like without proteins, sugars and other carbon chain based compounds..

  • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby&comcast,net> on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:47AM (#41279209)

    It's also worse for the environment because it takes a /lot/ more land for the same yield [slate.com].

    Organic yields are substantially lower than conventional yields and the only way to obtain additional farmland it to take wildlands. According to Dr. Steve Savage who did the first comprehensive study of organic farming for the USDA in 2008 simply converting the United States alone to organic standards would require substantial [usda.gov] additional cropland.

            a switch to organic agriculture would require a 43 percent increase over current U.S. cropland, according to Savage. As he puts it, "On a land-area basis, this additional area would be 97% the physical size of Spain or 71% the size of Texas

    Taking additional farmland (not necessarily explicitly for organic but the principal applies) is the leading cause of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. I don't think I need to cite the significant loss in biodiversity and carbon offsets from the loss of wildlands for conversion to croplands. The trade off in pesticide use is more than offset by other ecological costs.

    The first comprehensive studies of organic farming came back saying that the health benefits are anecdotal and the loss of yield substantial. I'm inclined to say organic farming should be help in contempt and exposed as simple green washing. I think in years to come it will be looked at no differently than ethanol from corn.

    • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @10:13AM (#41280057)

      Actually, a potentially better solution is to grow food in multistory greenhouses located in urban areas.

      Since you can precisely control the growing environment in a greenhouse, that makes it possible to grow a huge variety of food year-round, and being located in an urban area, it also means way lower transportation costs since there is less need to ship in food hundreds to thousands of kilometers/miles away. Don't be surprised that within 50 years, much of our vegetable supply will be grown this way.

    • by fuliginous (1059354) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:02PM (#41280795)

      That's crap.

      In the long run intensive farming destroys the productivity of the soil and the side affects of the run off fertilisers severely harm other neighbouring eco-systems like waterways. So in the short term yes "modern" intensive farming boosts production but long term the balanced more "natural" organic approach is sustainable because it nurtures a healthy biodiversity. Go and read the UN millennium report on biodiversity and human health, perhaps the biggest pulling together of science on the affect of man and farming practises.

  • by djmurdoch (306849) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:47AM (#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.

  • What about? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wbr1 (2538558) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:51AM (#41279245)
    The other facets of organic vs. non organic?
    Non-organic farming relies on fossil-fuel based fertilizers and pesticides in humongous quantities.
    Why, to support soil depleting and disease susceptible monocultures. Without proper rotation of crops, this leaves the soil barren of nutrients unless you pump fertilizers into it, and when farming is done, contributes to soil erosion.
    With a monoculture, one fungus or insect can destroy an entire crop, necessitating the use of pesticides and other harsh chemicals.
    Even of organic does not offer much greater health benefits, it robs Monsanto, Cargill, Dow, and Chevron of a constant revenue stream.
    It also reduced reliance on fossil fuels, reduces carbon emissions (both from the production and use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides), creates (at least anecdotally) safer food, and makes for a cleaner environment.
    What is NOT desirable about that? Oh, profit for the megacorps, I forgot.
    • Non-organic farming relies on fossil-fuel based fertilizers and pesticides in humongous quantities.

      Granted. The upside is that they get higher crop yields for the same expenditure of gasoline and labor. It's a tradeoff. Hard to say right now which is the better outcome. Hopefully we'll get some good science done that will better establish the nature of the tradeoff we are making.

      It also reduced reliance on fossil fuels, reduces carbon emissions (both from the production and use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides), creates (at least anecdotally) safer food, and makes for a cleaner environment.

      You use less fossil fuels for the fertilizers and pesticides but you'll use more in the planting, irrigation, harvesting, labor and processing per unit of food produced because of lower crop yields which require more land to

  • but it also has lots of pesticides in it.

  • by fygment (444210) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @07:57AM (#41279273)

    Who ever said 'organic' had more or less nutrients. It's always been about the growth environment ie. lack of pesticides, artificial growth supplements, etc. What's more frightening is that these were scientists. The comment about the variability of nutrients between plants is common knowledge which, you would think, would have rendered the need for the study kind of doubtful.

    More useful would have been a study on:

    a) the non-nutrient compound differences ie. besides nutrients, what compounds are present and how do they differ between organic and non-organic?
    b) what of the non-nutrient compounds are good/bad for consumers and to what degree?
    c) how have the levels of non-nutrient compounds changed over the years ie. have non-organic foods seen a rise or decrease in non-nutrient compounds and how does that affect consumers?

  • If you don't use chemical pesticide, you have to do something else to prevent the pest eating up/ruining all your crop. What do they use and how does it compare to "chemical" (seriously, what isn't "chemical"?) pesticide?
  • hmm (Score:4, Informative)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @08:14AM (#41279355)
    Haven't dug through the details to figure out who's more believable, but here [motherjones.com] are some criticisms of the study.
  • They are effectively comparing one source of factory food against another source. The real issue is soil management, pesticides are only part of the problem. If the soil is depleted of copper, iodine and zinc no amount of nitrogen fertilizer will add those back, they are elements! Often they don't even suppliment iron and it's basic to plant health let alone human health. I guarantee 90% of all supermarket food is factory food whether it's organic or not and with most chains it's a 100%. Unless you actively
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @03:03PM (#41282355)

    When I saw this article the first thing I thought is that people who eat organic food are often doing it in order to avoid pesticides.

    About 25 years ago I actually had responsibility for running a farm that was being used for experimental studies in various applications of biotechnology, some of which involved what would today be called GMOs.

    None of the products ever reached market as the company I worked for eventually to stop working in this area.

    One area of study was into the area of natural pesticides. The idea is simply that plants under stress produce natural pesticides to discourage insect attack. The idea was to exploit and enhance these mechanisms in GMOs.

    One of the things that I've always thought likely is that without artificial pesticides, these natural pesticides were likely to be present in higher quantities. It is also quite clear that synthetic pesticides are carefully tested and regulated, but natural ones are not.

    So it's not clear to me at all that food grown today in organic farms is any less toxic that that grown by conventional methods.

    I'd be interested in any real science based opinions on this idea (no it's chemical therefore it's poison nonsense please).

  • by TwineLogic (1679802) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @11:59PM (#41285157)
    Slashdot is run by dummies and corporate shills. There is no other explanation for finding this article posted today, including only the most stale information, and somehow overlooking the revelations which have come to light in the last week.

    People, like me, who buy organic foods are not under any misimpression that organic foods contain more vitamins. That is stupid. We are trying to avoid the pesticides and insecticides, which are not safe in any quantity.

    That said, why is Slashdot running this article? It came out over a week ago. Since then, we have learned that Monsanto and Cargill funded the research group at Stanford. That is why the study's conclusion is disingenuous and makes no sense. The study discredits an idea that people never should have held -- that organic foods contain more vitamins by weight. This is the first volley in an attempt to attack the USDA labelling regulations around the word "organic."

    Think about this for a minute: Which would you expect to have more vitamins? An organic strawberry fertilized with cow manure, or an inorganic strawberry fertilized with chemicals optimized for that purpose. Obviously, the inorganic strawberry. Anybody can figure this out. That's why the study has nothing to do with the actual reasons people choose organic.

    Anybody who follows reddit already knows this study is a corporate shill. The "news standards" at slashdot are ridiculous. The right-wing bent of the editors is glaring. Soulskill, in particular, you are a dork.

    Lately I have seen a huge number of articles showing up on slashdot days after they made the headlines on reddit. Slashdot is no longer a source of information. Reddit has replaced slashdot.
  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Monday September 10, 2012 @09:27AM (#41287387)

    The global honeybee population demise is linked to a single pesticide [scientificamerican.com] not to mention the links to human disease [nih.gov]

    What's more, when you buy Organic, you are (in most cases) supporting a local farmer in your area rather than Del Monte or Dole or some other mega-corp grower. Indirectly, buying Organic means you are also not supporting the pesticide companies such as Monsanto [organicconsumers.org] who are out to destroy family farming [ourgreenfarms.com].

    Buy organic. TFA is a shill.

That does not compute.

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