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Stanford Study Flawed: Organic Produce May Be More Nutritious After All 305

assertation writes "A few weeks ago an article was posted to Slashdot referring to a Stanford Study stating that organic produce, contrary to popular belief is not more nutritious. According to Mark Bitman of The New York times the Stanford study was flawed. A spelling error skewed the results as well as the study ignoring several types of nutrients."
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Stanford Study Flawed: Organic Produce May Be More Nutritious After All

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  • by DrLang21 ( 900992 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @11:58PM (#41555515)
    I don't even really care about the pesticides. All I know is that when I cut open a conventional industrially grown greenhouse tomato and compare it to the tomatoes I get from the organic farm stand, the organic tomato is redder, smells better, and is a lot tastier. This is really all that matters to a foodie like me.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2012 @12:01AM (#41555527)
    You do realize that Nitrites and Nitrates are different things, right? In the cycle, first stage bacteria break down Ammonias (poisonous) to Nitrites (still poisonous) and second stage bacteria break down Nitrites into Nitrates (mostly harmless below 60-100ppm). It's up to your kidneys to flush what they can into your urine.
  • The MIssing Link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Crypto Gnome ( 651401 ) on Friday October 05, 2012 @01:15AM (#41555801) Homepage Journal

    Brandt wondered how the Stanford team, led by faculty from the School of Medicine and Center for Health Policy, could have found no difference in total flavanols between organic and conventional foods when her own results showed organics carried far more of the heart-healthy nutrient. Upon further inspection, she noticed that the team had actually calculated the difference in total flavonols, a different nutrient, and reported the result with the swap of an "o" for an "a".

    From an article ad The Huffington Post [huffingtonpost.com]

    Technically it's a spelling mistake which in practice meant the equivalent of searching for apples but counting the number of oranges instead, then writing up a paper on the astonishing lack of apples found.

  • Re:COME ON! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Friday October 05, 2012 @01:25AM (#41555829) Homepage

    From TFA:

    "Yet even within its narrow framework it appears the Stanford study was incorrect. Last year Kirsten Brandt, a researcher from Newcastle University, published a similar analysis of existing studies and wound up with the opposite result, concluding that organic foods are actually more nutritious. In combing through the Stanford study she’s not only noticed a critical error in properly identifying a class of nutrients, a spelling error indicative of biochemical incompetence (or at least an egregious oversight) that skewed one important result, but also that the researchers curiously excluded evaluating many nutrients that she found to be considerably higher in organic foods."

    So, no, he doesn't have the wrong definition of nutritious. You just read the first two paragraphs or so.

  • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Friday October 05, 2012 @02:10AM (#41555987)

    What really gets me is the false dichotomy between organic and conventional. It reminds me of how medical quacks try to differentiate between conventional and alternative (or naturopathic or whatever) medicine when the rational thing to do is to focus on what works, not what it is called. Some organic techniques are good. A lot of biological techniques like intercropping, crop rotation, focus on soil microbes, insect mating disruption, passive pest control methods like use of predator insects, increased use of biodiversity, ect. are positives. But that does not mean you should be dogmatic about it, which is exactly what organic is: naturalistic dogma. A natural pesticides is fine in organic production (and before anyone assumes organic uses no pesticides, look up the approved pesticide list), but not a synthetic one, simply on the basis of its origin? That is the classic appeal to nature fallacy. And while it is true that excessive fertilizer use has many negative consequences, why should responsible use of synthetic fertilizers be forbidden? Soil fertility management is damned complex, and it is presumptive to think only 'natural' methods are going to be of sustainable benefit. Genetically engineered crops are a great example of the naturalistic nature of the organic dogma. You can apply Bt to a crop, but if the crop does it itself, it is suddenly forbidden? Even something as simple as an apple modified to not brown can never be organic. Why? It is not natural (or rather, it is not natural and is popularized, unlike things like mutagenesis and chemically induced polyploidy).

    My point is that organic has some things going for it, but not because it has some special label like 'organic'. What it has going for it are the biological techniques it uses. Of course, these techniques are not exclusive to organic; if you think your average farmer does not pay attention to things that can make their operations better, you are mistaken and have probably never even set food on an actual farm before. Ultimately, the focus should be on the scientifically verified merit individual practices, not on some label that represents a collection of practices grouped together based on the appeal to nature fallacy with some after the fact justification. The dichotomy misses the point entirely (unless the goal is marketing of course, in which case oversimplifications work great, and absolutes tend to create more true believers than nuance). Even if organic did produce more nutritious food, that would still not support the superiority of organic so much as it would indicate that there is an attribute of some growing method causing the increased nutrition that should be determined, explained, and focused on.

  • by Americano ( 920576 ) on Friday October 05, 2012 @02:49AM (#41556107)

    Uh... do YOU know what "organic" is "supposed to mean"? (Hint: It doesn't mean 'grown without any pesticides whatsoever.')

    Organic farmers routinely use "organic" pesticides on their organic crops.

    Read more: http://web.pppmb.cals.cornell.edu/resourceguide/index.php [cornell.edu]

  • by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Friday October 05, 2012 @02:58AM (#41556141) Homepage

    That this is a reporter commenting on the grammar and writing style of a scientific study ?

    So yes, organic food is NOT more nutricious, that part is true.

    This does not mean
    1) anything about pesticides
    2) scary bacteria
    3) that the sky will turn green tomorrow

    And the journalist claims that not explicitly mentioning this is causing mass confusion. Okay. However the writing style of the article kind of indicates that the journalist really really really wants the opposite to be true.

    But I would argue that the journalist is being very disingenious himself since it's also proven that
    1) the current pesticides mainly work against the nervous system of insects. We have a totally different neural architecture (all animals do) and can take huge doses of pesticides without any effect (which is of course the whole point of them). I hear the taste is horrible but you won't die from drinking a bottle of roundup.
    2) organic foods are much more dangerous to your health when it comes to bacterial or fungal contamination. Yes, organic foods are "usually" more healthy, but one infection with e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claviceps_purpurea [wikipedia.org] will kill you. Despite the fact that it is not technically antibiotics resistant, how that helps you when you're very unlikely to make it to the hospital alive is a bit of an open question. Organic foods are much more likely to be contaminated, and frankly if you have to ask why, I have to question your intelligence.
    3) organic foods are not just more expensive, they're more expensive to make. They're more energy intensive (so they're bad for climate change), they're more land-intensive (meaning kids in africa starve because of them), they're more labour intensive (actually this is probably good given the economic climate), and they require more large farm animals (which are very very bad for the climate)

    Besides it doesn't matter. Economics (and anti-climate laws) are forcing agriculture to use massively less energy. Unless exceptions are made for "organic" agriculture it will be gone in a matter of years. It will mean less people starve, of course.

  • by Americano ( 920576 ) on Friday October 05, 2012 @03:13AM (#41556193)

    Actually, I read the article, and I don't understand why the study is flawed. The author of the linked editorial says, "they said the nutritive content of the foods were not substantially different." And then he proceeds to say, "but organic foods also may have less pesticide and other chemical residue, and that's why people eat them!"

    Which is fine - perhaps they do, and perhaps that's a great reason to choose organic. But the study wasn't attempting to answer the question "what possible reasons would people use to buy organic?" The study attempted to answer the question, "is there, in terms of nutrition - i.e., the chemical composition of the food - a significant difference between organic and non-organic food?" And the answer there, no matter how you spin and dance around the point, is "no, there is no significant nutritional difference."

    The study was not flawed; the editorial is simply complaining that "they didn't study what I think they should have, and made a scientific conclusion that was narrow and precisely worded, when "organic is the best, always!" would have been a much better conclusion for the furtherance of my own personal agenda and preferences." The study was not 'flawed.' At WORST, the study was 'narrower in focus than the author wished it would have been.'

  • Re:Of course! (Score:5, Informative)

    by StoneyMahoney ( 1488261 ) on Friday October 05, 2012 @04:29AM (#41556453)

    My Dad, a member of the London Royal Society of Chemistry, noticed this about 10 years ago. Being a very scientific family*, it caused lots of double-takes and polite WTFs around the dinner table. After a little research on the subject, turned out it's the harvesting process that's organic:

    "Organic salt cannot be 'organically grown' because it is a mineral not a plant. When salt is certified organic the certification refers to the process of collection of sea salt. The saltworks must be located in a nature reserve, without risk of pollution to the water, the salt must be produced by hand, without purifying the salt or including any additives, and it must fulfil the high standards in chemical analysis." (Quoted: http://www.organicfooddirectory.com.au/organic-food/herbs-zzt-spices/organic-salt.html [organicfoo...ory.com.au])

    *Dad: Industrial Chemist. Mum: Chemist/Biologist/Lab Tech. Sister: Chemist/Physicist/Physiotherapist. Brother: Chemist/Computer Scientist. Me: Physicist/Computer Scientist. Cat: Psychologist/NLP Practitioner

  • Re:The MIssing Link (Score:2, Informative)

    by brillow ( 917507 ) on Friday October 05, 2012 @04:49AM (#41556529)

    But that HuffPo piece doesn't link to a primary source outlining the specifics of the critique. Both flavonols and flavanols are actual plant chemicals, what the evidence its a mistake? How many times was it made? I've looked and looked and can't find any direct info from Brandt (the scientist who found this) on this. I could be missing it, but given that this story is all over the place now and I can't find an original blog post or something with 15 mins of Googling is disturbing.

    It's basically a single HuffPo piece with no reference which has been re-spammed all over the internet.

  • by 3.5 stripes ( 578410 ) on Friday October 05, 2012 @04:50AM (#41556535)

    1. Roundup kills plants, and is full of phosphates. Your kidneys would be in a very very bad state.
    2. Natural fungicides are available, and most grain is tested for this sort of thing. Nobody uses antibiotics on plants crops, and the only regular bacterial infections from "organic" food come from e.coli infections due to the use of uncomposted manures, any responsible farmer uses dried and if possible composted manure.
    3. They're only more energy intensive if you ignore the energy expended in the creation of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, it is a bit more land intensive, but seeing as a good part of US arable land is unused (farmers paid not to grow corn for example) it's not a huge issue, labor yes... large animals are not required, you can grow organically without the use of any manures, or manure from smaller animals like goats, rabbits, ducks, or chickens.

  • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Friday October 05, 2012 @07:42AM (#41557173)

    They both grow in dirt (organic and conventional), they are the same plant, they don't, on balance, have more or less of anything than the rest of the fruits and vegetables

    Aside from the fact that your claim is completely, utter and demonstrably false, it neglects to take into consideration that most of the soil on commercial farms in the U.S. has not only been depleted of essential trace elements but has also been so thoroughly abused and mismanaged over the years that even the basics need to be supplemented by appliying synthetic fertilizers.

    Bottom line if you want to pay 3X as much for your food buy organic.

    Yes, sometimes there's a 200% (or greater) premium for organic produce but in many cases, it's more like 25 to 50%. A more useful metric would be determine the value that buying organic adds, and that depends on the item. For example, the growing methods for conventional and organic tropical fruit (pineapples, mangos, bananas and avacados come to mind) likely don't differ much if at all; it's about the auditing, certifying/verification. etc. In other cases, (peaches, strawberries, leafy greens), it's common-knowledge that the quantities of pesticide resides in convenionally-grown varieties are through the roof (no doubt a non-issue for a shill such as yourself but for those of us watching our health or that of our children, it's something we might want to take into consideration). Of course, these are the very same items that often require exhorbitant premiums like you stated - but you get what you pay for (where have we heard that before?).

    And don't forget, we can't feed the world's population organically. Can't be done!

    This is a partial truth which ignores the bigger picture (which, of course, at the end of the day, means it's still a lie): doing things the way "Big Ag" currently does them, yes, you're right: organic farming simply can't be scaled up and achieved using the wasteful, petroleum-dependent methods and practices that are currently employed (as I said above, the dirt just won't allow it). Nope; you'd have to change how you go about it (imagine that).

    For those who aren't paid shills and have a genuine interest in the subject, I suggest looking through some of the following:

    http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/latest/organic-foods-benefits-460110-5 [thedailygreen.com]

    http://eartheasy.com/blog/2011/10/7-ways-organic-farms-outperform-conventional-farms/ [eartheasy.com]

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/07/10/us-farming-organic-idUSN1036065820070710 [reuters.com]

    http://environment.about.com/od/healthenvironment/a/organicfarming.htm [about.com]

    http://www.worldwatch.org/node/4060 [worldwatch.org]

    http://youngagropreneur.wordpress.com/ [wordpress.com]

    http://theurbanfarmingguys.com/our-story [theurbanfarmingguys.com]

    http://seedstock.com/2012/02/01/wisconsins-future-farm-sustainable-cow-powered-aquaponics/ [seedstock.com]

    http://bioponica.org/ [bioponica.org]

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson