I always struggle with whether it’s worth it to buy organic foods when I go to the supermarket. Is an organic apple really all that much better for me than a conventionally grown one? A new study conducted by researchers from Stanford University and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System helps answer that question.
The researchers did a meta-analysis of 200 studies. These studies either analyzed the nutrient and contaminant levels in both organic and convention foods or looked at the health of people who ate these types of foods. The studies included organic and non-organic produce, grains, meat, poultry, eggs and milk, although the researchers noted that many of the studies didn’t specific the exact standards that were being used in classifying foods as “organic.”
The researchers found that organic produce and animal products didn’t differ from their conventionally produced counterparts in the amount of vitamins and nutrients, with the exception of a slight increase in phosphorus in organic products. A few studies did find that organic milk and chicken may contain more omega-3 fatty acids.
However, the researchers did find significant differences in the amount of pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria between the two types of production methods. Their analysis found that more than 33 percent of conventional produce had pesticide residue as compared to only seven percent of organic produce. However, the levels were usually under the allowed safety limits. In addition, organic chicken and pork was a third less likely than conventionally produced meats to have bacteria that was resistant three or more antibiotics.
So what is organic? “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture website states. “These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”
The Mayo Clinic offers a good comparison between conventional farming and organic farming. Conventional farming involves the use of chemical fertilizers, spray insecticides and herbicides. In addition, animals may be given antibiotics, growth hormones and medications that prevent disease as well as cause growth. In comparison, organic farming uses natural fertilizers (think manure or compost). Beneficial insects and birds as well as traps and mating disruption are methods used to control pests. Weeds are managed through crop rotating, tilling, hand weeding and mulching. Animals that are raised in an organic setting have organic feed and access to the outdoors. In addition, the rancher or farmer may utilize preventive methods such as clean housing and rotational grazing to keep the animal free from disease.
Organic foods display a USDA organic seal. The seal means that the product is certified as organic and is made of 95 percent or more organic product. For foods such as bread or soup, the label means that the food has been made with organic ingredients. Additionally, processed products that have at least 70 percent organic ingredients can claim to be “made with organic ingredients,” although they won’t have a USDA organic seal. Processed foods that do not reach the 70-percent threshold cannot use the term organic except to identify specific organic ingredients in the ingredients section of the label.
Interestingly, some foods are not included by the U.S. Department of Agriculture standards. Seafood, for one, isn’t on the list, according to the George Mateljan Foundation. In addition, honey is not directly regulated by the USDA. “Certified organic honey has been a confusing issue for consumers, since the USDA allows its official organic logo to be placed on honey that has been certified as organic by other agencies,” the foundation’s website noted.
So the choice still remains – organic vs. conventionally raised foods. It’s your choice.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Mayo Clinic. (2011). Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious?
Pittman, G. (2012). Organic food no healthier than non-organic: study. Medline Plus.
The George Mateljan Foundation. (N.D.). Everything you need to know about organic food.
Published On: September 05, 2012