Organic Food and Health
The latest story zipping around the Internet claims that organic food isn’t any more nutritious than regular food. This report, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, has been picked up by all the major news services as well as by publications like the New York Times.
Reading the popularizations, one would be likely to conclude that there’s no reason to spend extra money on organic food, that, as suggested by some people, organic food is just a marketing ploy to allow the growers to charge more for their food.
But most people don’t eat organic foods because they think they have more vitamins and minerals. Most people eat organic foods to reduce their exposure -- and, more important, their children’s exposure -- to toxic pesticides that could affect health in coming years. And the study did show that children eating organic food had lower levels of pesticides in their urine.
And the abstract in the Annals of Internal Medicine does conclude, after saying the organic stuff wasn’t more nutritious, “Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
But the popular accounts mention this only as an aside or minimize its impact. The headlines say things like “Little Evidence of Health Benefits from Organic Foods, Study Finds” (Science Daily) (I’d consider reduced exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria a health benefit) or “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce” (New York Times) or similar headlines, all mentioning the lack of increased nutrition, not the increased pesticide levels in the regular food.
And many people never read stories like that. They just look at the headlines and then move on to something they’re more interested in, like the love life of some celebrity.
The Times story said, “Conventional fruits and vegetables did have more pesticide residue, but the levels were almost always under the allowed safety limits, the scientists said. The Environmental Protection Agency sets the limits at levels that it says do not harm humans.”
Right. And we should believe them? Federal and other “experts” also told people with diabetes to eat lots of starch. Pesticides build up in the body, and when you start your baby on pesticide-filled food, when that child reaches the age of 60, he or she will probably be storing a lot of toxins in the fat, especially as our world becomes more and more polluted. One reporter had himself tested for pesticides, and they found 185 of the 320 they tested for in his blood.
So if the only reason you buy organic food is because you think it has more vitamins and minerals, you should save your money. But if you want to minimize your exposure to toxic pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and you can afford it, then go ahead and buy organic. It won’t be totally pesticide free. Our world is too contaminated for that; pesticides may already be in the soil, or they may blow over from someone else’s nonorganic farm. But the levels will be lower.
I once tested the keeping qualities of apples from different apple trees on my farm by putting them in the cellar in labeled bags. I also put a commercial apple down there. The mice helped themselves to the apples from my trees. They didn’t touch the commercial apple. Hmm.
When money is tight, the problem is more complex. If you spend a lot more for organic food -- and it does usually cost more, sometimes a lot more -- you might have less to spend on other healthful behaviors. It’s a judgment call you’ll have to make.
But these stories illustrate an important point. When you read a popular article on health, first, read the whole thing, not just the headline, and second, try to check the facts by going to the original journal article. Sometimes all you can see without paying a huge fee is the abstract, but even that will give you more information than some inflammatory news story or evening news sound bite. It’s worth a little extra time.