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Organic Food: Good for the Body and Planet or a Waste of Money?

A new "meta-analysis" by Stanford University finds few differences between conventional and organic produce and meat, with exception of lower pesticide residue levels.

Organic fruit and vegetables have no clear health advantages over regular produce and are no more nutritious despite often costing twice as much, a new Stanford University study has found.

The study, released Tuesday in an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, used data from more than 200 earlier studies conducted over the past 40 years. Researchers, who did not use any outside funding in order to not be perceived as having bias, looked at for evidence that organic fruit, vegetables and meats had more nutritional benefits and less dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli.

But the only advantages to organic products researchers found was that these tended to have less pesticide residue, although the levels were almost always under the allowed safety limits. According to their analysis, 38 percent of non-organic produce contained pesticide residue compared to only 7 percent in organic produce.

No consistent differences were seen in the vitamin content of organic products, and only one nutrient — phosphorus — was significantly higher in organic versus conventionally grown produce.

There was also no difference in protein or fat content between organic and conventional milk, though evidence from a limited number of studies suggested that organic milk may contain significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

The U.S. sales of organic produce increased from $3.6 billion to $24.4 billion over the past 15 years, according to researchers, affiliated with Stanford’s School of Medicine.

Mark Kastel, a senior farm policy analyst with Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin organization that promotes organic food as a way to support family farms, released a statement Tuesday, saying Stanford researchers "failed to look outside the box" discounting many studies that have shown decreased nutritional content in the conventional food as a result of poor soil. 

He also said that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have become ubiquitous in processed food, contaminated with patented genes by Monsanto and other biotechnology corporations. 

“Consumers should not lose sight of the important impacts of organic agriculture, which produces foods without the use of toxic pesticides that have been linked to an array of health problems, including cancer and ADHD in children," Kastel said. "This study confirmed once again that organic foods contain significantly lower levels of pesticide residues, and that alone should be enough reason for every family to consider exclusively purchasing organic foods."

Do you buy organic? Will these findings impact your shopping habits? Tell us in the Comments below.

Uncle Fishbits September 06, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Oops... Economist article: http://www.economist.com/node/8380592 That should blow your mind provided you are the open minded liberal you say you are. The problem here in Marin, everyone says they are so open-minded, as a defense against just how shackled and fettered we really are. Saying you are open-minded doesn't make it so. Sometimes, to help save the world, you have to face and comprehend difficult, complex truths that take more time than adopting the quick and simple solution. We still have a long way to go in our broken food production systems.
Lizzardking's Rise September 07, 2012 at 12:04 AM
"fish heads, fish heads, tiny little fish heads, fish heads, fish heads, eat them up--YUM." I loved that song, man. Bet you didn't know Billy Mummy, from Lost in Space wrote it.
Rico September 07, 2012 at 01:26 AM
Personally, when buying food commodities the most important thing is that it is locally produced (if possible), organic (most of the time), and tastes good. I don't really care about fair trade or free trade global politics. What I have been taught for the last 40 years is that us as human beings will be damaged by synthetic colorants, artificial flavors, preservatives, genetically modified organisms, petroleum based synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other artificial radiation processes. This global economy has many problems, and we here in the U.S. have it much better than some other parts of the world. Part of the problem is the globalization of food production. More than 60 percent of the fuel used in this country is for transporting and refrigerating food produced in some far away place. This is called commerce, and considered good for our economic health, but not necessarily our physical health. The local movement is strong here, especially in Marin. We have organic meat growers like the Niman turkey ranch in Bolinas, many local organic dairies and cheese producers, grass fed beef growers and many local organic farms. When I think about it, we all here in Marin could live very healthy lives consuming foods that are exclusively grown here. Marin can't grow coffee, but those who crave it (like myself) can buy organic coffee that tastes great. It's really not about the extra costs, free trade or not, it's about the quality and lack of carcinogens.
Uncle Fishbits September 07, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Lizzard King's - Say hi to Jim for me. Unless it's you. Anyhoo.... I quite dig the track. Much of my youth was defined by Monty Python and Dr. Demento, so, I have my own issues. I did *NOT* know that was Mummy. Brilliant trivia. THANK YOU! =)
Jennifer Hammond September 07, 2012 at 05:05 PM
There has been a lot of misleading reporting this week surrounding this study. Its absurd to say the report concluded that organic food does not have health advantages when the study found organic food contains 30% less pesticides. That is a health advantage. And of course the environmental benefits are not addressed, including fertility of the soil and creating a healthy habit for bees, responsible for the production of 40% of the food we eat. Please read this blog for a more accurate assessment of the study: http://myemail.constantcontact.com/A-Doctor-s-Response-to-the-Stanford-Study-on-Organic-Food.html?soid=1101789601113&aid=sdtVPCT_PPU . "The study also did not look at genetically modified foods, in part because the companies that make genetically modified seeds do not allow independent research on their products."
Rico September 07, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Great link Jennifer, A few things that are not mentioned are that the powerful systemic fungicides, herbicides and pesticides used in conventional crop production are expensive. Sure a corporate agricultural been counter would say that these toxic chemicals yield higher production per acre, but those chemicals cost a lot. One of the benefits to big ag is lower labor costs, one person sitting on a tractor spraying chemicals all day can eliminate many workers jobs. In some poorer countries like Mexico, the small farmers often cannot afford those chemicals, so there is more organically produced and minimally processed food. Then we have the big U.S. conglomerates that come in and start using chemicals, some that are banned here in the U.S. Then they burn endless fuel to transport their tainted produce to the U.S. for our consumption. If peaches are out of season in California in the winter, find another locally produced fruit to eat instead of buying the chemically laden ones from Chile at Safeway (Slaveway). A friend of mine is a conventional apple farmer in Washington, he told me that 90 percent of the apples the broker buys from him go to China. So, this global food thing is good for some people, but maybe if he switched to growing organic apples, he could sell all of his crop here in the U.S. I guess the Chinese don't care as much about the chemicals as some of us do here.
John Ferguson September 07, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Roger Cohen wrote a pretty good (and to most on this board, inflammatory) piece on the Organic movement in the Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/07/opinion/roger-cohen-the-organic-fable.html?
Rico September 08, 2012 at 02:16 AM
John, I checked out that link briefly, We need pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and GMO crops to feed the world, and live longer than any other time in history, was one shortened sentence. Basically, all food producers need to "go big or get out" is what I get out of that N.Y. Times propaganda piece. Everybody is entitled to voice their own opinion, but whether anyone believes it is another story. The scenario is the same all over the world, and not just with meat, seafood and produce, organic or not, it is, there is no room for small independent producers, manufacturers, inventors or crafts people. Everyone must work for a large corporation , or starve. I give Roger Cohen an "F" on his piece, but you John think it is "pretty good" ? That very well describes your situation in the world. Obviously you have never been independent, always clinging to the corporate gods for subsistence. Bueno Suarte.
Rico September 08, 2012 at 02:56 AM
For those of you who are interested in the corporate control of the worlds food supply, here is one link to check out: www.alternet.org/story/154951/millions/against/monsanto%3A_the_fight_of_our_lives
Rebecca Chapman September 09, 2012 at 10:04 PM
joining the conversation late, as usual, just to thank uncle fishbits for his intelligent comments & being able to voice my similar opinion way better than i ever could. after cashiering at health food stores for much of my adult life, it's just so nice to now be spending my few dollars (when i'm lucky enough to have 'em) at safeway, not because i'm an avid fan of the ultra chemical lifestyle, but simply because i'm so happy to be eating some grub without the ridiculous hype that goes along with 'whole' foods, when it just doesn't get much more fractured than that store full of gmo's, high fructose corn syrup & frozen &/or already cooked nonsense. but the signs sure are pretty, aren't they? and the customer base of righteous yoga doers & mala wearers, oh god, don't get me started. it's a ridiculous waste of money. i'd rather do a little gardening out of some small pots in my kitchen someday, but, for now, it's safeway (& mill valley market, sometimes) for little 'homeless' me...
Rico September 10, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Hi Rebecca, Do you have a bone to pick with Whole Foods Corp. ? If so, I understand, they are a corporation like any other, but they are also in the grocery business which is predominantly union. Whole Foods is non-union and they pay no "health insurance" benefits, which sets them apart from Slaveway and the markets. Slaveway sells organic food too you know. You say that you think organic is a bunch of hype, but it is the market sales figures that tell what people want, and that is all that counts. Uncle Fishbits article is about how successful the organic food industry is, and that is demonstrated by the great sales figures. Let's face it, people vote with their pocketbooks, and if a product is not perceived as good, nobody will buy it and the corporations will try something else to market that is accepted and sells=profits. The Monsanto Mafia is stupid to boast about how good organic food sales are, and they are not pleased at all. Monsanto wants that organic market share for themselves, and will resort to any means required to squelch the organic sales, that is the hype that you and Fishbits fell for. Also , I got a kick out of the part that says that it is better to truck in 1000 heads of lettuce than having 1000 SUVs going to a farmers market. What is that about ?, thinking that people don't drive to the supermarket but do to farmers markets ? That is the corporate hype that you and Fishbits fell for Rebecca.
Rebecca Chapman September 10, 2012 at 02:22 AM
um, like, whatever! i don't tend to fall for hype, am a big believer in hard science, and dream of living on a healthy, happy planet full of well fed people, just like all other idealists. and, i'm a HUGE supporter of 'organics', just not the false labeling & uber marketing schemes that whole foods is so expert at. i'm mostly interested in what works, like the natural foods movement in germany, for example. or that cow guy in oregon (i think) featured in a recent new york times video. it's a complex problem, there's way more folks to feed that just the children of mill valley, & i've just had it with people thinking if they have a chicken coop & make their own applesauce, that it's making a better world, for themselves, their children & the whole globe. get real, people! look at the cancer stats for mill valley alone. i watched a lot of customers get sick & die during my stints at all the health food stores i worked at, and one of the saddest things was watching people try to diagnose & treat themselves at the grocery store, rather than seeking proper treatment from a qualified doctor. but, that's just my view. my dad was an md, my life's been saved by western medicine, so i'm just not big on hocus pocus, which i feel the natural products industry promotes in way too big & profitable of a way. this really doesn't have much to do with all the other bones i have to pick with my old store, especially their excessive waste, among other things!!!
tony masi September 10, 2012 at 03:03 AM
I just want to add that the most everyday and obvious Monsanto products you can boycott are: Roundup Herbicide, Ambien insomnia medication, and NutraSweet & Equal (both aspartame). The majority of us ingest some form of Monsanto GMO food because of their monopoly over corn and soy products; but until a label law is passed, it will remain extremely difficult to distinguish GMO from non-GMO food in retail markets.
Rico September 10, 2012 at 03:46 PM
There have been many articles that say that the Stanford organic bashing article was a sham, false advertising using junk science cooked up by corporations. There is even a petition to sign demanding that they retract the article. I found it at this site: www.NaturalNews.com They discuss many important things, like how the CDC lied about 36,000 people being killed from the flu, it was actually only 18. The vaccine business is another multi-billion dollar per year industry and the CDC is in bed with the pharmaceutical manufacturers creating false pandemics to sell vaccines.
Rico September 10, 2012 at 04:14 PM
You say that you are not big on hocus pocus, but you think "western medicine" is the only good, that is kind of contradictory and pro big pharmaceutical corporations. Why do you think Obama was ordered to mandate that all citizens make payments to private healthcare insurance corporations ? It is because more people will have medical problems due to all the poisons marketed marketed by the Monsanto Mafia and their other fellow gangsters. And how about the FDA firing their own scientists who exposed the radiation dangers of colon and breast cancer screening machines . I think that your AMA, ADA, CDC, WHO and FDA are the ones promoting hocus pocus to make big profits, much more than the organic industry. They like to say that the organic movement generates so much profit, but they never announce how much profit that they make off of dumping (selling) their chemicals, vaccines and GMO seeds. I'll bet that the chemical and pharmaceutical corporations make 1000 times the profits that the organic industries make, but they are not happy until they can corner the market and eliminate organics off of the shelves.
Rebecca Chapman September 10, 2012 at 04:36 PM
whoa, dude! whoever said i was only into western medicine? i'm actually really into health. why do you think i worked at health food stores for all those years? because i like money &/or people??!!! but, what i mostly saw was people pretending to be pursuing good diet, exercise & meditation either to get a better looking body &/or a better looking boy &/or girlfriend (oh, & a richer one, of course). people who shopped at whole foods were so hung up on their superior choices in lifestyle that they often forgot the grimaces on their faces spoke volumes. now that i'm poorer than i've ever been, i'm just happy to be eating food, man...
Rico September 10, 2012 at 05:05 PM
When you write "people who shopped at Whole Foods", do you think that they are all the same ? That would be pre- judging and stereotyping. I would hope that you would be smarter than that, especially in the situation that you are in-dude. I shop at WF because they have a large selection of products that I happen to like and are not available elsewhere, and they have some good prices on some things that are better than Woodlands and Mill Valley Markup. Of course, I care about my health and appearance, who doesn't ? And Slaveway is more expensive now than ever before, food prices are going up worldwide. I'm glad that you are eating food, and wish you luck on finding a home.
Rebecca Chapman September 10, 2012 at 06:38 PM
thanks, ricardo. of course i don't think people are all the same. i love certain items at whole foods, mcevoy olive oil, cowgirl creamery cheese & radius toothbrushes being three of my faves. i just like that when i go into safeway, people there just seem to be buying the groceries they can afford, not being all 'showy' about what they eat. i'm not a safeway fan for all the coke & diet coke they sell, along with all that other inedible (& poisonous) crap, but they do have a bathroom i can use, plus those yummy little japanese candies with the cool fortune inside. and i happen to be one of those weirdos who doesn't care about their outward appearance, hence my fabulous new hairdo. it's shocking how a simple shave can get me even MORE disapproving stares. good lord, mill valley housewives! and thanks to all the lovely compliments i've mostly gotten from people who happen to remember punk rock...
Rico September 10, 2012 at 07:49 PM
I think a lot of this "showey" stuff is in your mind. I don't think anybody notices or cares what I buy or where I shop for it. I shop at places that have the things I need and as close to my house as possible. And I try and support local producers as much as I can, even if it costs more. I try and buy organic as much as possible, but some things I buy are conventional. I shop at Slaveway occasionally for 5lb. cans of honey, they have a good price on honey. I also shop at Trader Joe's, I take my mother there about once a month and load up on things that they have that I like. Hairdoo ? I don't consider bald being a "doo".
Uncle Fishbits September 10, 2012 at 08:20 PM
The Blithesdale Whole Foods, according to many friends, is one of the cheapest around, b/c of our proximity to the farms & producers (I assume). Whole Foods is generally not this "local". Usually, organics are shipped in from South America, just like Trader Joe's. Our locale affords us fresh *&* local products from producers who are small farms & families in our community. If you have carbon footprints that offset any good of organic, you have to question what "organic" really means. What's the point? In this sense, it's simply marketing. That's why we need to get to chemical ratings, and ditch organic. It doesn't mean anything anymore. I would take local over organic 100% of the time. The local angle is important - We take for granted how lucky we are. What is prosaic/normal, not showy/ostentatious, to you would be jaw droppingly pretentious to someone forced to shop at Walmart because of where they live. A good example --> "I know my farmer" stickers Those seem cute, but that sticker is perhaps the most petulant, arrogant, showy thing you could ever put on your car. Just b/c we have the graces to be near the world's bread basket & cornucopia doesn't mean we should deride or smack people in the face with their inability to live such a privileged, uppity lifestyle. We take it for granted, but yes.... it's showy. Self-awareness in a bubble hurts, but it can be quite sobering when you actually open your mind outside of the Marin mentality.
Rebecca Chapman September 10, 2012 at 11:05 PM
thank you, again, uncle fishbits, for being such a lovely voice of sanity & reason. i'm happy ricardo enjoys shopping around in marin, as many people do, without the ultra awareness of how full of themselves many other customers are for making their extra special choices in groceries. that sad realization only came about for me when i cashiered for many years at whole foods, and constantly had people rubbing the particulars of their diets in my face all day long, every day, year after year. they were so lucky to be buying what they were, and probably didn't have any inkling that many of us employees were living on '365' cheese puffs to make it 'til our next paycheck, after paying mill valley rents, mostly. as to my latest hairless style, that comment really nails it as to this town's attitude towards me & my homelessness. i've lost almost every family member to major tragedy, am about to lose my sister to cancer, unless this town succeeds & i die of epilepsy (&/or starvation) out in the streets 1st. but, keep insulting my appearance, folks. it does wonders for my remembering why i never wanted to live in this miserable locale in the first place. i wanted to live on the water in sausalito instead, but my dad liked this place better for some reason. or maybe it was what we could afford (back in the day when it was much cheaper, of course). c'mon, pal. bald IS a do, dude! and mill valley people used to accept each other so much better, vegetarian or otherwise. what happened???
C Ross September 11, 2012 at 12:34 AM
I'm sorry for what you are going through! It is truly horrifying that in one of the wealthiest counties in the US, there are people who are homeless, hungry, unemployed, sick etc. Very few people who do have the resources actually care, or do anything about it. I'm also disgusted, though not surprised, that any store promoting healthy food would not pay a decent living wage or provide medical benefits to its employees, in addition to giving them free and/or majorly discounted food. Ironically, I know a few people who have worked for Safeway and gotten paid pretty well. (Safeway also participates in programs that puts disabled people to work.) That said, I'm not trying to defend "Safeway". But I do find that, especially when pressured by consumers, they have responded by providing more natural and organic products. Overall they are much more affordable than Whole Foods, or Good Earth, and often nicer to boot! I eat organic as much as possible, but find I shop more at Safeway and TJs, not only because it is cheaper, but I also don't have to deal with "attitude", or feel like I'm on a mission every time I have to buy food. I'm against GMOs, but do I really have to be lectured, or to pay $8/lb if I want asparagus or blueberries once in a while? While you may have had some weird customers, I'm tired of cashiers that judge me, and don't even have the manners to say "Thank you". (Funny how the more expensive the food, the nastier and more "entitled" the employees often are. Hmm.)
Rico September 11, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Uncle Fishbits, You really don't know much about our local food producers in Marin. Most of the successful ones practice organic methods, to reduce chemical dependence, reduce costs and preserve the land and water sources for future generations. Some examples of local organic producers are: Strauss Organic Dairy in Tomales Niman turkey ranch in Bolinas (he sold the name Niman Ranch to beef producers because they went against his standards of no beef should be trucked over 150 miles, and no feed lots) Martinelli produce in Paradise Valley (Bolinas) Green Gulch farms in Muir Beach Nicasio Cheese Co. and a host of other local Marin organic producers that I am just learning about. In Sonoma county, there is Clover organic dairy, they also sell non-organic too I'm sure that there are plenty of more less known organic producers in Sonoma county for poultry. You can label anything anyway you want, but the bottom line is that the most successful, educated, environmentally aware local growers ARE organic. No, it's not for show, as I said, nobody watches me shop, if I buy organic and how much money I spend on food. I make sure of that by paying only in cash. Sure, I like to spend my money on good food and I spend plenty. But my attitude is, I would much rather spend my money on organic food, vitamins and anti-oxidants than wasting it on useless health insurance that would cost me about $600 per month if I chose it over providing my own healthcare program.
Rebecca Chapman September 11, 2012 at 01:01 AM
yeah, cashiers can be pretty rough too, not always by choice, either. i tried to be polite, ring quickly, bag carefully & get people out the door, but sometimes after 375 customers in a busy shift, and with no money to eat & often not being allowed to pee, my temper would often shift towards the negative. those middle management people were always breathing down my neck to smile more, and i always told them the same thing: i smile better when i've eaten & peed. so, the customers sometimes suffered my wrath, & i felt terribly afterwards. those were some of the most poignant moments, though; the crazy times when we were all just crumbling together at the cash register. and i continue to cherish my friendships that were forged at that store, so please don't get me completely wrong. it was just way too challenging after a while, & just sucked at the end when i was bullied into oblivion by a certain manager there. whole foods has done some really great things over the years, i still shop there on the rare occasion, & my experience shouldn't necessarily interfere with one's choices as to where to shop. i'd just prefer customers to not idealize that place too much, especially when i'm just one of MANY who has suffered abusive treatment as a 'team member', that's all...
Rico September 11, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Rebecca, You should never take a job that wants you to be a "team member". Your complaints are valid indeed, since WF only pays their cashiers $11.50 per hour and provides no benefits. I hope that you learned your lesson about these new age- low wage corporations. It's the way of the future now with all this anti-union sentiment, so steer clear of non-union scab jobs, and you will be better off.
Uncle Fishbits September 11, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Ricardo... pardon that. You are 100% correct, and I didn't make myself clear.... I wasn't saying they don't do organic. I just poorly explained that, all things being equal, I rather have a conventionally produced carrot locally made, than organic carrot shipped up from south america. I think local should always trump the arbitrary and loose canon of what it means to be organic, especially with almost no oversight in foreign countries. It just so happens we live in the most ideal of circumstances, hence the breadbasket and cornucopia comment. =) We are beyond lucky, and it's likely most people don't really realize how lucky we all are. Yay! But you are spot on. Thanks for clearing that up. Cheers!
Rebecca Chapman September 11, 2012 at 11:36 PM
thank you, ricardo. as contrived as it sounds, one of the main lessons i've learned over all these crazy years in mill valley is: 'don't make something what it ain't', as in, don't think of a dismal cashiering job as some sort of networking opportunity, don't think of an illegal cottage with a miserable, alcoholic landlady as a peaceful sanctuary, etc., etc. i've made such foolish decisions over the years, and am definitely paying an extra steep price this time. so, yes, hopefully these painful lessons will stick better this time!
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Bob Silvestri September 18, 2012 at 01:55 AM
An investigation into why the results of the recent Stanford University study comparing the nutritional value of organic and conventionally grown food are irrelevant. Why The Stanford Organic Food Meta-Analysis is “Scientific” Nonsense http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-stanford-organic-food-meta-study-is-scientific-nonsense
Bob Silvestri September 18, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Chuck Benbrook of the Organic Center published a response to the Stanford study: http://www.organicconsumers.org/benbrook_annals_response2012.pdf, and Common Dreams reported today on Cornucopia Institute research on the funders of the Stanford study, which include Monsanto and the industrial agriculture conglomerate Cargill. http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2012/09/12-8


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